There are few unassailable truisms in this world. One, Val Kilmer was the worst Bruce Wayne ever. Two, the Ditko Spider-Man is vastly superior to the Kirby Spider-Man. Finally, three, Zack Synder absolutely loves Watchmen, with the white-hot passion that only true comic book fandom can generate. I can imagine him, obsessing over ever page, every panel, every single word contained within the Alan Moore / Dave Gibbons masterpiece. He is elated and horrified. He can feel the weight of millions of fans, comic and “literature”, breathing down his neck. He knows he better not mess this one up.
This isn’t some underwear-on-the-outside adaptation. This isn’t some title that can get a simple reboot where all is forgiven. Hell no. This is Watchmen. Watchmen dammit! Snyder knows he’s gotta’ get this one right. If he doesn’t, no one will ever forgive him. No one will ever take his passion seriously ever again. Am I placing too much on one book, on one movie? Sure I am. Then again, this is Watchmen. This is the book that fans the world over use, for right or wrong (and that is a debate unto itself); use to justify their love of superheroes. Every argument about the foolish nature of comics, and superheroes in particular, ends with a simple phrase, “Well, you ever read Watchmen”? Zack Snyder knows that. It is evident with every frame of film. You can hear him screaming louder than any Spartan, “I did my best”! And you know what, he did. But that achievement is also the hindrance.
Snyder’s Watchmen might be the best we can get on the silver screen.
That is both the success and flaw of Watchmen. As much as it pains me to admit this, Alan Moore – in all his Crowley-loving, beard growing, spotted-dick eating ways might have been correct. Watchmen might be such a personal and emotional work of art, that perhaps one shouldn’t attempt to film it. (Although, Alan, I love ya’ I really do… But could you stop being such a Nancy about all this, come on dude, you’re drawing the big money).
What about Watchmen is a success?
Plenty. First, I’ve said in every Snyder review or comment, the man has a stunning visual style. That style continues to grow and mature as Zack himself grows and matures as a director. Some people give him grief for his use of “slo-mo cam”, to those people I say, “grow up”. For what Snyder wanted to create, that is a living comic book, his visual choice works and it works very well. In fact, it works almost too well. There was more then a few times when I found myself distracted from the story and characters because of the visceral beauty of the film. Snyder’s use of the slow motion / sped up technique isn’t as pronounced as it was in 300. But, when he wants you to feel every punch, kick, stab, and explosion, dammit he makes certain you feel it.
There are some extremely powerful performances in the film. I want you to repeat after me: Jackie Earle Haley is a god, Jackie Earle Haley is a god. He is, flat out, the stand out performance in this film. His portrayal of Rorschach / Walter Kovacs is wonderful, horrifying, heart breaking, and flat out wonderful. Hell, I could just watch him stare into other characters eyes and intimidate them. He is that fantastic. Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian is exactly what I expected and wanted. He’s slimy, dirty, ugly, and in the end, wholly sympathetic. Morgan can make you hate and pity him within a few frames. Patrick Wilson’s role as Nite Owl II / Dan Dreiberg felt layered and true. He is the character that never wanted to give up on the dream of costumed heroes making a difference. Sadly, the world gave up on him. They didn’t want him anymore. Rendered impotent in the prime of his life, an impotency from which he may never recover. You feel for poor Daniel. He is a man of lofty ideals, but they are ideals that no longer work in the modern world of shadow politics and nuclear war.
Matthew Goode was completely in the right for giving Internet Trolls the big ‘ol finger. They can all eat Fox’s big bowl of ‘D. For the first time ever, even after multiple readings of the graphic novel, I found Ozymandias compelling. By compelling, I mean for the first time Ozymandias didn’t come across like a pretentious egghead that was walking exposition. (I know that one will get me hate mail). Yes, Ozymandias is the fulcrum from which the plot swings. Hell, I even consider him the “hero” of the story from a pure philosophical stance. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t boring as hell. Matthew Goode brought him to life for me. His Ozymandias / Adrian Veidt is perfect in his righteous belief. So, to all those fanboys giving him grief, eat it fanboys! Finally, Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan / Jon Osterman. His voice conveyed the melancholy that comes with being a god among mere mortals. If only his physical appearance on the screen matched his vocal acting.
This brings us to the not so good, I suppose.
Right out the gate, Dr. Manhattan looks “off”. Perhaps, as Fatboy called it in his review, Dr. Manhattan falls victim to the Uncanny Valley. Or, perhaps someone was in such a rush in the postproduction they skipped a few frames during the syncing. I swear, there were a few moments when I thought Dr. Manhattan was auditioning for Blue Wang in Black Cobra’s Shadow or something. Still, that is some F/X nitpickery I can forgive. Besides, for all of Snyder’s visual style, Watchmen was never about the whiz-bang effect moments. (Except for that ending). Watchmen, to me, has always been about the emotional journey we as readers take to the logical conclusion. Not the conclusion we want, but the conclusion we need.
Alas, Snyder never quite sells the emotional punch. He never quite gives the audience what we want. That is the most frustrating aspect of the entire film. It gets close, it gets so very close. Snyder moves the story along with near perfection. Never once are you bored. Never once are you confused. However, frustratingly, you’re also never given a moment to let, well, the moment sink in. Snyder, in his commendable effort in bringing the Watchmen to life, left the soul behind. Zack Snyder is Dr. Frankenstein, he manages to construct a beast of a film, but in his desire for cinematic perfection he didn’t take into account the soul of Watchmen. That is the film’s biggest “failing”. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is a paint-by-numbers adaptation. Everything is in the lines. The colors are vibrant. It looks stunning. But when you look deeper, something is missing. This isn’t the original work that shattered your mind all those years ago.
Which brings me back to grumpy ‘ol Alan Moore; maybe for once, he was right. Maybe Watchmen is unfilmable because it is so many things to so many people. To casual comic book fans, or fans of superheroes in film, Watchmen will blow your mind. It is big and loud and exciting and still manages to deconstruct the superhero genre. If you’ve never once picked up a comic or if you’re one of those people that assume anything made with a four-color palette is childish. Well, chances are this film won’t sway your opinion. Indeed, it might even reinforce that belief. I take that back, this is a movie with people in highly sexualized rubber suits that get their rocks off in beating the crap out of people. It will totally reinforce your belief. Finally, if you’re me, if you are the person that grew up reading comics, still reads comics, and truly loves the comic as a form of storytelling, Watchmen will leave you… Wanting. The film didn’t let me down. The film didn’t anger me. On the flip side, it didn’t blow me away either. Stranger still, I am okay with that. Snyder went to adapt a comic that he loves. That love is in every frame. For that reason alone, I am cool with the film. Watchmen is a good film, not great and not bad, simply good.
Perhaps, when we Geeks finally get the massive 6-hour BluRay disc with all the cut scenes and Tales of the Black Freighter inserted, perhaps then we Geeks can honestly judge the work.
Or, maybe Alan Moore is right and we should all just shut up and read.