Allright, so, the Watchmen movie.
Let me begin by saying, “Relax. Calm down. Breathe.” Many of you, like me, have been engaged in a protracted effort to eliminate one’s expectations for the event in question, and I think I succeeded. I feel I went in to Zack Snyder’s film last night as impartial as one such as myself could be, at least on a conscious level.
For starters, any movie that has a scene with two superheroes fucking while a Leonard Cohen song plays in the background warrants at least 3 stars out of 5 for that scene alone. However, Watchmen the movie as a whole never really transcends that moment, though it does warrant further analysis. Comparing Snyder’s version with the original comic book, while inevitable, is ultimately counter-productive in judging the merits of the film on its own. While comic-book superhero movies of late generally deal with characters and premises that have seen many different versions and interpretations printed up over the years, Watchmen, as we all know, was a finite 12 issue comic book series with a definite beginning and ending. So this 3 hour movie was more of an adaptation of a novel more than an interpretation of a character or characters that have been interpreted many times. For many of us Watchmen, the book, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, represented a high point in what stood in for punk rock for the sexless and uncool adolescents of yesteryear. Like me. No film adaptation of a conventional novel is ever given this sort of scrutiny; but because the source material here is a comic book, what any other version of it may look and feel like visually is already laid down. Fortunately, Hollywood has quickly established a cinematic language for the genre of comic-book superhero movies, much of it established by a film that wasn’t even originally based on a comic book, the Wachowski bros. film, The Matrix. In Zack Snyder’s film adaptation of Watchmen, he uses this language without reservation; it is indeed, typical of most “comic-book movies.”
And that’s the problem. If Christopher Nolan can generate an artful, deep, hypnotic spectacle like the Dark Knight, then it stands to reason that the artful and deep source material of Watchmen would lend itself to being adapted to a film that rises to such heights. While still an ambitious, enjoyable film, Snyder’s Watchmen has more in common with Favreau’s Iron Man, Raimi’s Spider-Man films, and Singer’s X-Men movies than anything as inviting of serious critical attention like the Dark Knight. I feel comparing Watchmen to other films of the genre is the way to go; Snyder clearly was given the task of making a “comic-book movie” (as his previous film, 300, was) and he did not feel the need to do too much more than that.
Now it is ambitious, in its length (almost 3 hours) and complexity; however the moments I appreciated most is when Snyder chose to take liberty with the source material. His adherence to the plot, imagery, and details of the book felt at many times restraining, an exercise in dork satisfaction. The possible ire of message board comments, I feel, have never been more influential on the making of film before, and it shows. When a different take on one of the novels ideas or scenes came up, it was like a pressure valve being released, and a brief moment of Snyder’s interpretation was witnessed. His streamlining and simplifying of the story made sense, what he left out made sense – you cannot put a book on screen without changes; i.e. the film of a book is about the changes. Part of the production of comic-book movies typically involves internet research into what the fans expect and want. Unfortunately, at this point in Snyder’s career, I don’t think he is capable of crafting a film that invites the criticality that Moore and Gibbon’s book warranted and balance the essentials of why the source material is so revered. (For starters, he could lose his fetish for slow-motion action scenes. How he could film a story that is ostensibly about confronting clichés and un-ironically fill it with them is beyond me.) The book wasn’t a big deal because it was “badass”. It was a big deal because it was art. Art in the most unlikeliest of places: A superhero comic book.
So, 3 stars out of 5. Like I said, its not bad. It’s fun. It’s cool. It’s neat. It’s sexy. Some good performances. Some amazing imagery. Within the genre of comic-book movies, its ambition and scale put it a bit of a notch above some of the above mentioned movies. Did Nolan raise the standard on comic-book movies with the Dark Knight? Maybe. But Moore and Gibbon’s book Watchmen created a new standard back in 1986, and now a fun, cool, neat, sexy movie has been made of it. Go see it for yourself.