Who Wants to Watch the Watchmen?
I was really looking forward to seeing “Watchmen.” While I had not read the graphic novel, I was familiar with Alan Moore's work from his novel “V for Vendetta,” and the Wachowski brothers' magnificent movie based on the novel.
I saw the movie eight times in the theater. Eight! I loved all the Spiderman movies, enjoyed Christopher Nolan's Batman films, and was pleasantly surprised with the depth of “Iron Man” and even the latest version of “The Incredible Hulk.” I own all three X-Men movies on DVD.
So you can imagine how hard it is for me to say I wish I could get the last three hours spent watching the “Watchmen” back. I so wanted to like it, but I just couldn't.
I imagine fans of the novel will enjoy it more than those of us with no prior knowledge. It was obvious, even from the title sequence, that lifetimes of experiences of the main characters were being stuffed into too short a timeframe to do them justice.
But even that is generous. I think the writers felt too tied to the novel and its fans, and were so busy writing a faithful, if condensed, adaptation that they failed to write a compelling movie.
The movie opens with Nixon in his fifth term, with no explanation as to when or why our Constitution was changed to allow this, and no clear explanation of how Nixon escaped the political fallout from Watergate, or if Watergate even happened. (Evidently, we won the Vietnam War, therefore all else becomes possible, or so we are supposed to believe.)
An early picture of the Watchmen shows them all in their thirties, or so it appears. But 40 years later, some of them have aged, while others remain in their thirties.
I'm willing to suspend disbelief the moment I walk into a theater. But when you break the basic rules of life, without any explanation as to how or why, sorry, you have already lost me.
In addition, this is the first superhero movie I've ever seen where the heroes all seemed to share a single power in common: brute force. They are all fast and strong. But where is the individual talent that makes each a superhero?
A couple have traits – one man is, we are told, the smartest person on the planet. Another character, Dr. Manhattan, has the only truly supernatural powers in the bunch. But most of the other superheroes just throw good punches and leap and kick a lot.
The story was also internally inconsistent. Dr. Manhattan, the superhero currently preventing the world from nuclear attacks as the film opens, is in love with one character and leaves the planet when she disappoints him.
Yet later, we are told that he was driven from the planet by his feelings for someone else he had loved and later cheated on with his current love interest. It probably made sense, in the novel, with additional context. It didn't make sense in the film.
I felt frustrated, too, because it felt like the original author had a lot to say about war and peace and politics, which got buried in all the business of trying to tell all the elements of the story.
The story opens with what would have been a spectacular fight scene, had we not seen it all before. After “The Matrix,” all the slow-motion breaking of glass and artful gymnastics seem, well, trite.
In addition, “The Matrix,” for all its violence, never used gratuitous blood, that I recall. This movie almost becomes unwatchable in its violence. Some moments would have been much more powerful, and palatable, had more been left to the imagination.
The film was so violent I cringed at the family behind me, with their young children. I hope they walked out – I never turned back to look. This is not a family film!
This is a gruesome, tedious enterprise fraught with more violence than intellect, more sex than relationships, with heroes so flawed it was hard to find anyone to root for in the story. And the two I settled on, while carrying the plot forward, were probably the least interesting people in the film.
But by virtue of their being at least somewhat grounded in reality, I could relate to them, a bit, unlike any other character in this strange story.
The visual effects are wonderful, but underwhelming, because we've seen so much magic onscreen already in prior films.
I found myself longing for the intelligence of “The Incredibles,” the parallels to our current political situation such as we saw in “V for Vendetta,” the commentary on those who profit from war ala “Iron Man,” and the fight against discrimination which runs rampant through all the X-Men films.
But for all its focus on nuclear war, if there was a message in this film, it was a strange one – that we'd be better off losing a lot of people to a common enemy to unite the world in peace, and that we'd be better off not knowing what really happened.
That's hardly a message I'd take to the streets to support!
This film just doesn't work, for the uninitiated. I can't help but feel a corner has been turned, and that this film may well herald the end of the over-the-top budget for comic book films.
Instead of going to opening weekend for the next such film, I'll wait for reviews from people I trust. Money is too tight these days to spend it watching a comic book hero film devoid of both comedy and laudable heroes.
Lisa Pease is a historian and a movie buff.
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