Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Superhero Media: Watchmen (2009)

Who watches Watchmen? People who find the graphic novel too cerebral and angst-ridden teenage boys looking for validation for their impotent rage. This adaptation completely misses the point of the classic Watchmen comics and puts in more nudity and violence to give it mass-market appeal. Sure, Watchmen looks good, Zach Snyder is nothing if not a talented cinematographer, some of the scenes are simply gorgeous and look ripped from the panels of Dave Gibbons' art. Rorschach and The Comedian are well realised, but most of the rest of the characters are major missteps in some way. The narrative does not hold up to scrutiny, the changes to the story only make it less coherent and less impacting. The question I'm always left with when thinking about Watchmen is "why?". Why were certain choices made? Why was x changed but y left in the adaptation? Let's throw some out there. Why are Laurie and Dan not hiding their identities in their last scene? They've committed several federal crimes, who pardoned them? And why is Dan coming up the stairs when he enters, is Archie somehow in Sally Jupiter's basement? In her retirement condo in Florida? How did a massive airship fit in there unnoticed, let alone fly there from Antarctica without being noticed? This is just one scene! A major one in the comic that introduces the concepts of the Dark/Iron Age of comics to signify the element of "never-ending stories" that defines the medium, in the film it just gives the audience a "happy ever after moment". Which is then immediately undercut by Rorschach's journal arriving at the New Frontiersman office, a place not laid into the film previously (unless you're watching the bloated "Ultimate Cut"). 

Again, all of that nonsense is one two-minute scene of the three-hour film! All of the changes don't simply undermine the narrative weight and meaning of the comic, they work against narrative strength of the film. Let's talk about the squid. Many praised the change in the film that has Ozymandias frame Doctor Manhattan as the enemy of the world rather than a race of psychic alien brain squids, but they forget that the impending doom and arrival of the squid is laid into the comic as early as the first issue. In the comic, Ozymandias kills the Comedian because the latter uncovers his plan to save the world; the Comedian is later revealed to have done this by infiltrating an uncharted island on governmental orders, suspecting a communist plot. When the Comedian arrives on the island, he finds a community of artists, writers and scientists creating an entire alien race, planet and culture. How did this happen in the film? How did the Comedian uncover Ozymandias' plot? It's never explained, he just did because the plot says so. Therein lays the major problem of Watchmen; it is not simply a bad adaptation, it is, whole cloth, a bad film. Poorly paced, oddly edited and leaning heavily on a visual style that is not as unique or interesting as it purports to be.

Zach Snyder is, as I've said before, a brilliant visual director and cinematographer. He's ideally suited to direct adaptations of visually-driven source material, which is why the film version of 300 works so well; both Snyder and Miller are image-focused and often work with the hyermasculine. Snyder is not suited for something like Watchmen, a narrative and metatext-dense deconstruction of traditional superhero tropes set against a backdrop of Cold War paranoia, the commodification of the punk ethos and a burgeoning queer sexual revolution. Did you honestly get any of those themes from the film? I rarely say this about any film, as I believe that something redeemable can be found in almost every production, but I hate Watchmen. Honestly hate it. It may not be as "bad" as Catwoman, Super Buddies or Zoom, but none of those left me literally yelling at the screen in frustration as the entire point of the narrative was steamrolled over to get more action and blue penis on screen. I never want to watch a second of this again. 

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