Tuesday, March 3, 2009
It’s difficult to “review” the Watchmen movie.
Considering the source material: a 23 year old comic book that wears the crown of “Greatest Comic Book Story Ever Told” by pretty much any serious comic reader and comic book insider alike, there isn't much room to critique it.
And everything that can be said about it (negative or positive) has been said many times over and the book is still universally praised as creatively innovative and a triumph in story telling.
The film is as loyal of a movie based on a book that can exist, so it’s pretty hard to criticize something people have been calling genius since I was 7 years old.
The trailer even advertises it as “The most celebrated graphic novel of all time”. The category itself, “graphic novel” implies that this is more a work of literature than a mere comic book, even though the graphic novel itself is a collection of the 12 issue comic book mini-series created writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons.
And while advertising it as such can be a nifty way to help explain what Watchmen is, it could also very easily be what will make this movie fail.
“How could something that so many people think is amazing be so long and boring?”
That’s an actual quote I heard while leaving the screening last night. And it sounded crazy at first but even as a fan of the book, I can see how this movie could disappoint a casual movie watcher.
I’ve read the novel several times over the last 7 or 8 years. I enjoyed it, I respect it, but I wasn’t old enough to appreciate its impact on the comic book industry when it was released and by the time I read it I was told several times that it was going to be a mind blowing read and I still really liked it, but it didn’t blow my mind, and I walked away feeling that it was over hyped. At first. It gets better with more readings and today I understand how amazing it is.
But ironically, the same reason why some found it disappointing is why others were calling it the greatest movie ever. The structure is weird, the pacing is very different and there is a lot of story going on and that may be hard for some people to deal with.
I tried to imagine what this movie is going to look and feel like for people who have never heard of it. I saw at least 4 people walk out and when the credits rolled, a dude next to me jumped up, scrambled to put his coat on and said “that was awful”, and it looked like his date co-signed his sentiment.
Those people seemed like regular every day folks who don’t read comic books but would have no problem enjoying Batman, Superman or Spiderman movies. Movies with characters who appear in cartoons and cereal boxes and that they’ve grown familiar with over the years and who follow a good-guy-vs-bad-guy rhythm that you don’t really have to think about.
That’s exactly what the Watchmen Movie is not.
Watchmen shows us a never before seen look at the concept of hero’s. As a film it's way more cerebral, and thought provoking than what people may be used to. It’s not X-Men, it’s not Spiderman, and as much as I respected The Dark Knight for being more than just a “comic book movie”, it even blows that out of the water in terms of the courage to stray from the norm.
Imagine what kind of twisted sociopath Bruce Wayne would have to be in real life? Or what a demented, government tool Captain America would be? Or how being a God compared to humans would eventually effect Superman if he were really real? And what about the political ramifications? And how would the world view these people?
That’s just some of what Watchmen is.
The story is set in an alternate 1985 where Richard Nixon is serving a 3rd term and the fear of nuclear Armageddon weighs heavy on the world. “Costumed Avengers” exist, but in a very real way, in the sense that they are a group of horribly flawed people who drink, kill, fear, love and share what would have to be an insane notion that they can dress up, "fight crime" and change the world.
The most powerful of them (and the only one with any real “super powers”) is growing more disconnected from humanity as he feels that life, and time and space are insignificant, and the most diligent of them is trying to solve the murder of their former crime fighting partner.
The murder mystery is the hook that the plot of Watchmen hangs on, though the plot eventually grows to a point where the world’s safety hangs in the balance.
The great thing about the Watchmen movie is that it actual does an amazing job of capturing the pacing and character development of the book. A book that for years, no one could imagine seeing on the screen and even Author Alan Moore noted was deliberately designed to showcase the advantages of comics over film in terms of story telling.
A few minor things are left out from the book, but considering how much is in the books, no fan of the book would actually complain. The ending is different, but only in details, and all in all it's an engaging and unique film that will leave fans thrilled and open minded viewers pleasantly surprised.
I stayed around the theater afterwards to ask some people what they though, everyone who read the book either really liked it or loved it, people who never read it thought it was just OK or wack. The nerds marveled at how faithful it was to the book, but even they couldn’t deny that it may end being a flop because it’s so different than any other movie, and they all pretty much agreed that most people wouldn't "get it".
Other people left the theater confused about what they just saw. Was it a cautionary tale about power? A deconstruction of the super hero genre? An over inflated attempt at both that maybe took itself a little too seriously? A love story? An awesome comic book adaptation that no one ever imagined could be pulled off in such an artfully well done and faithful manner? The movie that will be regarded as the beginning of a new era of comic movies? The movie that will be the nail in the coffin for comic book movies? A movie with way too many shots of penis? It could be all those things.
Alan Moore (who completely separated himself from this film as he did with the film version of V For Vendetta and The League Of Extraordinary Gentleman) was once quoted as saying that he was “consciously trying to do something that would make people feel uneasy."
Taking that quote into consideration, anyone who thinks they can bring a kid to this movie is dead wrong, so be forewarned. This will be Shocking and mind blowing to anyone who accidentally brings their underage kid to this movie. The R rating could have easily been NC17.
Aside from the bone shattering, skull cracking violence, there’s nipples, penis, butt, F-words, graphic sex, cold blooded murder, attempted rape, emotional breakdowns and all kinds of other craziness that you’ve never seen “super hero’s” do.
But that’s kind of the point