- HEROES, C. 1985: Living in a moral gray area.
So there's this new big-budget superhero movie you've probably heard about called “Watchmen.” Except it's not just a superhero movie, it's also the biggest Internet nerd fight since Greedo shot first.
You see, it's a film adaptation of a landmark comic book, one of the most highly regarded stories ever written for the medium, by Alan Moore, one of its giants. Moore's work has been adapted before, mostly unsuccessfully (you might recall a cinematic wedgie known as “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”), and he's pretty grumpy about that. The fans of this book are, well, fans. Many of them rabid and slobbering great gobs of fanboy foam.
I am one of them, which is to say that I'm probably the worst person in the world to review this movie. Because let's face it, if those last two paragraphs contain any facts you didn't already know, then you couldn't give a crap about how faithful the adaptation is, you just care if it's a good movie, and I don't have your open minded perspective. If you do give a crap, odds are you're going to see it anyway (and probably already have), so you couldn't give a crap about my review. So I really shouldn't bother, but hey, I get paid money for this, so let's pick it apart just for giggles.
There is no short version of the story that wouldn't take a whole lot of spoilers to tell, but here's the jump off point: Imagine it's 1985 and superheroes are real. People actually dress up in costumes and go fight bad guys. Only one of them has super powers (nearly god-like powers, in fact, due to a physics experiment gone horribly wrong), but they're all very effective. So effective that they help Nixon win in Vietnam and get him elected to three terms. Imagine a story that attempts to examine what sorts of people would actually want to live such a life, how the world would respond to their presence and how far they should be allowed to go to better that world. Imagine all of this wrapped in a detective story that begins with the murder of one of these heroes and steadily unravels to reveal a conspiracy that makes Watergate look like a historical hangnail. This, in a nutshell, is “Watchmen.”
Now to the question of whether it is any good, which is the hard part. Director Zack Snyder is himself an avowed fanboy who wanted to make as faithful an adaptation as possible. This is both helpful and hurtful — on the one hand, he did an excellent job of distilling a huge story into less than three hours of runtime, and he preserved most of its important points; on the other, he probably cared a bit too much about sticking to the script, which tends to strangle the story in places. If you haven't read the book, it may take you awhile to understand what's going on.
Snyder also appears to have created a story that is much more fascistic than it should have been, indicating that he missed a good deal of the point. Its use of violence and nudity are mostly well done, but occasionally gratuitous. It's sometimes overblown and overly serious. You may find yourself wondering, as I did, whether Snyder has issues with women.
Which is not to say that it's a bad movie — on the contrary, I enjoyed the hell out of it, because I forced myself to watch it as a movie and not an adaptation of a book I have loved very much since childhood. On that score, even much of what I think is worse than the source material actually serves the story well. For instance, that streak of fascism I mentioned certainly makes even the best of the heroes seem less heroic and more cruel than I wanted them to be, but it also forcibly underscores the moral gray area these men and women occupy. Which is part of the point.
So yes, it's violent and dark and sometimes almost cloying, but on its own it works very well. Snyder probably would have been better served by deviating more from the story, but this is better than I, or any of the fans could have possibly hoped would come out of Hollywood. For the non-fans, it may come across as confusing and strange, but at worst you'll find it memorable.