[sic] Magazine

Movie Review – Watchmen

The event that comic book geeks and fanboys have been waiting for with equal amounts of dread and excitement has finally arrived: Watchmen, arguably one the most important and influential comic books of all time, has arrived on the silver screen. It’s been an arduous journey, to be sure. Over the years, the film has passed from writer to writer, director to director, with nothing ever coming of the efforts but more frustration and doubt (Terry Gilliam once described Watchmen as unfilmable, which ought to tell you something). But that’s not really surprising: Watchmen is an incredibly complex work, full of deeply layered narratives and intricate visuals. That, combined with the cynicism, and even nihilism, that runs through its pages, as well as the alternate timeline setting, would be daunting for any filmmaker.

What happens in a society that is constantly on the brink of war? How do superheroes make a difference in a world where the very terms of “good” and “evil” seem to have different definitions depending on the day of the week. What if the heroes are worse than the villains they fight? What if they’re flawed, damaged human beings like the rest of us? Do the ends always justify the means, especially if the existence of the human race hangs in the balance?

These themes and questions are in the movie. But whenever he can, Snyder is willing to place those things on the back-burner so that he can give us another dose of the ol’ ultra-violence—and usually in super slow-motion so that we don’t miss a single second of it. But what Snyder seems to think constitutes dark and gritty eventually becomes tedious, boring, and uninspired. And it lessens the philosophical impact and horror raised in the graphic novel. (It also raises some confusion as to whether or not the superheroes have powers—how else do you explain their abilities to easily toss folks across the room, punch through walls, and so on? In the book, it was made very clear that, with the exception of Dr. Manhattan, they didn’t have powers. In the movie, not so much.)

In one of the story’s darkest scenes, a hero tracks down a man who has kidnapped a little girl. To his horror, the hero discovers that the man has killed and butchered the child and fed her to some dogs, a revelation that causes the hero to snap. In the novel, the hero handcuffs the murderer, douses his home in gasoline, gives him a hacksaw to cut through his arms to get free, and sets the place on fire. In the movie, the hero simply hacks him up with a meat cleaver.

The former is horrifying with little blood shed “on screen”. But it tells us so much more about the lengths to which the hero is willing to go to “punish” evil. In the movie, what should be a critical scene in telling us the hero and his motivations is reduced to a little hack n’ slash—which is far less revealing, not to mention dark and gritty, and far more gratuitous, blood for the sake of blood.

(And the less said about the film’s sexual content, the better. But one quick note to other filmmakers out there: don’t ever use Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for a sex scene that’s supposed to be a pivotal moment for two of your characters. That is, unless you want the audience to burst into guffaws during it.)

So where does Watchmen ultimately end up? It’s certainly not the colossal blunder that geeks and fanboys have been dreading all of these years. At times, it’s remarkably engaging and quite entertaining, especially whenever Rorschach is on-screen. But in his attempt to make the film engaging and entertaining, Snyder jacks up the film’s “kick-ass” quotient whenever he can and effectively undercuts the story’s inherent deconstruction. Which doesn’t result in a train-wreck, but rather, a film that, for all of its extreme violence and apocalyptic destruction, is ultimately hollow and unaffecting.


For more from Jason, please read his ‘zine Opus