Subversion of the Superhero Genre in Watchman and the Dark Knight

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When you think of a superhero movie you think about a man with extraordinary powers or abilities fighting for justice. That, through the use of their strong moral code and great courage, can overcome any obstacle put in their path. These films are always fun to watch, but they are also predictable. The movies that are the most memorable are the ones where the director has done something with the film we were not expecting. Many movies accomplish this by using our perceptions of what a particular genre should be and then disrupting those conventions. Both the Watchman and The Dark Knight movies subvert the superhero genre, but while Watchman’s inefficient characters lead to it undermining the traditional style, The Dark Knight’s use of a realistic style makes the hero altogether irrelevant in his own movie. The core concept of being a superhero is the fact that they have so much power, yet instead of using it for evil they use their abilities and powers to save people. Their actions, without a doubt morally sound, cannot be questioned due to their straightforward nature of being good. This is not the case in Watchman, though. Every single character in this movie is flawed in some way that makes the viewers question their motives and mortality.

The whole film is filled with heroes making decidedly unheroic like decisions. The Comedian kills a woman who says she was carrying his baby and is also accused of raping a fellow watchman. Rorschach's inability to compromise on his sense of right and wrong has lead him to killing many men and women he believes to be morally corrupt. Silk Spectre and Nite Owl start back up again with crime fighting only because they want to feel relevant again. They exploration for their identity crisis has lead them to trying to pick up their superhero disguises again. These characters might have started off by wanting to make a difference and help people but by the end of their career and by the end of this movie their motives are purely self-centered. The actions of each of these characters, whether it was to get justice for the murder of The Comedian in Rorschach’s case or to stop the death of humans in Dr. Manhattans, was completely ineffective. They accomplished nothing in this movie besides letting the murderer of thousands get away with his crimes. Not only does their morality lead all of them to committing horrible crimes the same people that are supposed to save the world are powerless to stop the destruction of their own city.

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There is a common theme of triumph in superhero of movies that was absent at the end of both the Watchman and The Dark Knight. Neither movie actually has any of the superheroes saving the day in the traditional way. In The Dark Knight, Batman doesn’t defeat the Joker. instead we see the Joker continuously out smart both Batman and the cops plan of capture. They go as far as to fake a cop’s death and still, even when they have the Joker behind bars, he is five steps ahead of them and has a plan to get himself free. At every turn the Batman seems to be losing a battle with Joker. He doesn’t end up saving the girl and the person he does end up saving turns against him. He does vanquish his enemy and there is no victory at the end of this movie. Batman ends up taking the fall for Dent and he becomes the public enemy, instead of their hero. In Watchmen, Veidt whose master plan is to kill thousands to hopefully end conflict between Nations, accomplishes his goal. This superhero movie is filled with characters that fail at actually saving anyone. Instead, they allow Veidt to get away with his crimes and even end up killing Rorschach, their friend, to help Veidt cover up his murder. “You taught me the value of life. If we hope to preserve it here, we must remain silent” (Moore, Watchmen). Since the world might potentially fall back into chaos and war the Watchmen are put in the position to tell the truth or cover up Veidt’s actions. In the end, the superheroes are ineffective at stopping Veidt and are ineffective at telling the truth to the world. At the end of this movie there it’s not clear if what Veidt did was for his own personal gain and was therefore actually the right thing to do or not. The ending of this movie consists of a mass murder and leaves viewers with an almost dirty feeling. The saving of the world happened at the cost of thousands. Like we saw in The Dark Knight there was no victory for the ‘good guys’.

The movie The Dark Knight is has a very much realistic style to it. The Joker, instead of some silly cartoon villain is a real-life terrorist using his anarchist mentality to cause mayhem on the people of Gotham. His extremely and often times well thought out plans make him an extremely interesting character. In this movie it is interesting to see how much the Batman is controlled by the Joker. In an attempt to catch the Joker Batman attempts to set multiple traps, but only to find out that the Joker has been three steps ahead of him the whole time. He is constantly running after the Joker, always behind. Batman’s complete helplessness when going up against the Joker is proven time and time again when he can’t break the case, underestimates the Joker’s sinister nature, and most importantly stop his violence. In most superhero movies the hero has unrealistic powers and can easily defeat the criminal through out of the box thinking and teamwork, but in this case the villain seems to be smarter. This movie demonstrates how the villain doesn’t always lose and the hero won’t always win. In the movie Harvey Dent says that “you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”. (Nolan, Dark Knight). This holds true for both Batman and Dent. By the end of the movie Batman is on the run from the police, having been wrongly accused of Dent’s crimes. In most every superhero movie the superhero is the what the whole movie is about, he/she is the most interesting character. In The Dark Knight it’s unusual to see how the director turned the superhero into one of the least interesting characters of this film. We see development of Dent from being called “the white knight” of Gotham to being considered a murderer. His black and white view of life and now the law is represented by the two sides of a coin, which he now lives his life by.

Then the background stories we hear about the Joker lets us know a little about him. We even get to meet Gordon’s family and watch his dynamic with his wife and his son play out with other characters in this movie. Overall it seems like Batman’s only role in this movie was to chase the Joker around Gotham and allow for character development of the villain. Genres can either be a really good tool or can make the movie seem conventional and boring. On the upside, understanding what genre a movie is classified as can help viewers understand the plot and characters better. The disadvantage is that the filmmakers can find themselves sticking to traditional themes and styles of that specific genre. When you find a movie that has taken a certain genre and subverts those traditions it can make for a very interesting film, which is what we see with The Dark Knight and Watchmen. By subverting the traditional genre, the filmmakers have added a layer of meaning to the characters in the movie. To make decisions that other superhero characters never had to make. The choice between one life and another.

Watchmen takes the superhero genre and creates a movie filled with characters that have dubious morality and whose actions leads to thousands of deaths, but whose inaction leads to the saving of millions. The Dark Knight uses a realistic style of storytelling that creates characters that are more interesting than the superhero himself. Both these movies have taken the superhero genre and created movies that completely changed the formula for what we believe this genre should contain.

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