The deconstructionist middle finger of Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” showed an industry built around taking masked heroes seriously just how silly it was.
It was the punk kid in the back of the classroom who knew everything already, and was angry with and bored at the kid in the front of the classroom who didn’t know the answer but was the quickest to throw his hand in the air.
It told everyone to grow up, and they did. By and large, the Watchmen made Batman who we know today. It made Superman a demigod. It made the X-Men take their allegory seriously. It made the Punisher a big old anti-war parable. Comics were never the same after the final issue of that series, they say.
Zach Snyder’s “Watchmen” simply can’t live up to that. And I suppose I shouldn’t tell a guy to give something an honest try, because everyone should try. But Snyder’s a kid wearing his dad’s suit and tie.
Snyder isn’t as brilliant, as angry, as well-versed in the medium he works in, or, simply, as crazy as Alan Moore, but he loves Moore’s book, and his earnestness really shows. I feel like if Hollywood kept training on lesser Moore books, like, maybe if they had a different director keep taking stabs at “V for Vendetta” until they got it right every two years, maybe in 20 years or so we might have had a “Watchmen” movie as insane and as genius as the book.
See, the next comic book movie we get? It’ll still be a comic book movie. The absolute genre subversion of the source material didn’t come through with the adaptation, and that’s the movie’s central problem.
Beat for beat, Snyder did pretty well. The movie is weird, but not as weird as the book. It’s philosophical, but nobody’s got the brain Moore does. It questions the genre not of comic books, but of comic book movies, a genre only a bit more than a decade old in its current form, which started, (I hate to say I know this), with the stupefying success of the 1997 “Blade” movie.
I get the changes to the source material he had to make, which I really don’t want to discuss here. In a way, they do sort of work: the movie is less a sprawling epic than it is a taut novel, where everything in the story revolves around the central characters. I suppose given three hours (but it didn’t feel like it) and not a series which can take even the most assiduous reader a week to read cover to cover if they do it right, the movie did admirably enough, but if you go to the book’s deepest bit of strange, the chapter of Dr. Manhattan on Mars, you’ll get to the book’s philosophical core.
The movie? Not so much.
I suppose that’s the problem. A lot of the philosophy of the book had to be trimmed down to make room for the fight scenes which didn’t appear in the original in the first place.
But here’s what worked, as I’ve sure you’ve heard. Doctor Manhattan, the Comedian and Rorschach are practically trying to wrestle the show from one another. Billy Crudup is transcendent in the role, and where other people saw detachment in his character, I picked up on a great deal of sadness. The special effects team that created him, too, deserves no end of praise. The Comedian also was played with a layer of depth that one might not notice at first. And Rorschach? Jackie Earl Haley just walks away with it. It was amazing.
If the rest of the movie lived up to the promise of its central characters, I would have no problem calling it one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. As it stands, though, the three best-played characters feel like they’ve walked into a lesser movie.
Go if you love the book already. You’ll spend the hours after the movie talking about where it went wrong.
Otherwise? Take the three hours and watch “The Dark Knight” again.