Who Rewatches Watchmen? (I Do.)

watchmen

In “anticipation” of Zack Snyder’s latest dour ‘n desaturated super hero action orgy, Bats v. Supes: More Titles Plz, I decided to rewatch Watchmen, because I kinda liked it before, I was curious how it’d hold up, and I wasn’t yet in the mood to rewatch Man v. Steel: More Fur Pecs Plz. Some cries for help can wait until the weekend.

As such, here are some scant thoughts I had upon revisiting Zack Snyder’s first foray in superhero cinema:

  • To get it out of the way right off the batman, Watchmen holds up fine, I guess. It feels like the movie where Snyder really starts to come into his own, and that engenders mixed feelings. The practical effects and hyperviolence of Dawn of the Dead are there, as are the slow-motion and heavy reliance on CGI from 300. It’s undeniably gorgeous, but it’s so beholden to its source material that it often feels like an overabundance of style in an absence substance. Watchmen is postured to always look cool, but looking cool isn’t what Alan Moore’s graphic novel is about. In a sense, Snyder’s Watchmen is a drag act.
  • The good thing about drag acts is that they’re very camp, and if there’s one thing I’d revise to my original review, it’s that Watchmen is definitely more camp than I first gave it credit for. For example, while the overall visual tone is edging towards the cool, desaturated palate that defines Man of Steel, there’s still a lot of pop to the color. It’s like a butch queen Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, and then there’s the performances.
  • If anybody gets that Watchmen is a comic book movie, it’s Carla Gugino, Matthew Goode, and Malin Akerman. While everybody else seems engaged in Serious Acting, these three bring levity to a movie that desperately acts like its climax didn’t originally involve a rainbow-colored squid monster. Carla Gugino’s Silk Spectre Sr. is an all-too-brief master class in DRAMA and a continual reminder that Ms. Gugino doesn’t get nearly enough work. Meanwhile, Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias is equal parts James Bond villain and vainglorious superbitch, with (judging by the opening credits) just a touch of aging Studio 54 disco slut thrown in for good measure. And then there’s Malin Ackerman, who is much better than I previously gave credit. She’s playing a character whose defining traits seem to be sexual arousal by way of a Blue Man Group muscle daddy, vigilante justice, and Patrick Wilson’s sweet, sweet dadbod, and she makes it believable-esque.
  • And to be clear, some of the other performances are very good in ways other people appreciate, too. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is smug, gross asshole. Patrick Wilson is appealing and noble and conflicted about his calling to fight crime. Billy Crudup’s Dr. Manhattan is uniformly excellent even though technically he’s in his birthday suit. As for Jackie Earle Haley, he delivers a very good Christian Bale Batman voice and an equally good audition for the Nightmare on Elm Street remake.
  • Jokes aside, I’m not trying to knock Haley’s performance. It’s very well done, for sure, but it’s also the point where you have to start to ask, “But for what?”, because if Rorschach is your fave, your fave is problematic. Rorschach is a murderous sociopath who might be generously described as complicated. I can’t shake this feeling that Snyder regards Rorschach as a Martyr for the Truth, a Frank Miller antihero writ as messiah. It’s fascist FanBro philosophizing masquerading as astute social observation, and it feels like a fundamental misreading of Alan Moore’s work.
  • I’d be more inclined to give the benefit of the doubt were there not the random references to 300, which isn’t a movie as much as an ideological nightmare. I get that Zack Snyder would be proud of the successful Frank Miller adaptation that landed him Watchmen,  and I know a lot of people like 300, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a swords-and-sandals garbage fire about gay panic and screaming, and if I want to see that many muscled dudes not actually f*ck, I’d just watch two-hours of Sean Cody interviews.
  • Nearly seven years later, Watchmen still works on the strengths of its source material, but being the slavishly faithful adaptation that it is is as much it’s greatest liability as it is its strength. Maybe it’s the fact that keeping the 1980s setting makes Watchmen a period film instead of a contemporary reflection, or maybe it’s that it came out well before it the current boom of comic book movies. Either way, it feels hermetically sealed, a zealously literal curio instead of a satisfying meta commentary.
  • Alan Moore’s Watchmen is a world where violence has consequences and destruction has a cost, but in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, it’s all just super cool. Snyder is a consummate visualist with a penchant for excess, but his near absolute focus on style leaves the substance feeling cruelly skewed. If anything strikes me at this point, it’s how easily you can connect the dots between his Watchmen and his take on Superman. It indubitably looks great, but there’s a lot of unpleasantness beneath the surface. Like I said, it’s a drag.

[Poster via Rotten Tomatoes]

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