I'm allowed to make this post because everybody in nerdland is talking about this movie anyway. I dreaded this movie when I heard the 300 guy was doing it, and the trailer that got everbody's fanboy dicks all waving in the air got me dreading it even more. It seemed to me-- and it still does, having seen the movie-- that glamorous, slow-motion heroic bloodshed is about the least Watchmen thing in the world. But the visuals were dead on, and it would obviously be worth the price of admission to even see elements of this book brought faithfully to life on the big screen. So I read all the advance reviews, I built my expectations, and I saw it opening night anyway.
My expectations lined up exactly with what I got: the movie is a loving fanboy tribute, except it's the kind of fanboy that cranks all the violence up to "ludicrous", carefully strips the original work of all subtlety and moral ambiguity, and kinda forgets about pesky shit like character or whether or not the viewer cares about any of this. On its own merits, it's a fun ride, but it's a poor representation of the comic as a whole. The more you think about it, the worse it becomes.
Please be informed that I am going to spoil the hell out of a movie that came out yesterday and a 20-year-old comic book. Enjoy this spoiler space, and hit back on your browser if nobody's already told you yet.
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Let's just get to the violence first, because it's one of the few times that ridiculous ultraviolence hasn't worked for me. Every incidence of violence has been blown up. Every punch is turned into a kung-fu setpiece, mutilations and fountainous ejaculations of blood are worked in wherever possible, and when Dr. Manhattan disintegrates people in the comics, the movie has them exploding into goo ala Fist of the North Star. These scenes are all shot the 300 way, which is to say in slow-motion, no matter how redundant.
The single most point-missing part of the movie is probably the scene where Nite Owl and Silk Spectre are attacked by gangsters in an alley, and are supposed to rediscover the weird thrill they get from playing superheroes and beating up bad guys. This is all well and good, but then they start killing people. Detaching limbs, slitting throats, breaking necks with a joy that is in-character for, well, a Zack Snyder movie, but not for these characters. There are unrepentant killers in Watchmen, and these two are not them: Nite Owl is a nerdy, insecure Batman and Silk Spectre has been groomed for the profession since childhood and never really cared for it. The movie doesn't even really acknowledge that there's a line between "costumed hero" and "casual murderer", which really ought to be a big concern for Watchmen, you know? The movie's overwhelming bloodlust gets in the way of issues like that.
My friend said that Snyder films his sex a lot like his violence, and I guess that's how you sum up the sex scene. What was elegantly handled in a page before becomes straightforward titillation on the screen. (The music, by the way. What a collection of groaners.) It really becomes clear here that they only hired the actress who plays Silk Spectre for her likeness to a comic character and her willingness to do this scene. It wasn't acting chops.
Speaking of which, the cast. Most of the cast are spot-on duplicates of their comic equivalents and play them well, with the exception, again, of Silk Spectre. This is really unfortunate, because her character is the emotional center of the whole thing. As such, any emotional scenes-- particularly the fateful conversation with Dr. Manhattan on Mars, which was an astonishing botch-- are snubbed out by bad acting. This is fine by the movie, because it's really not very concerned with that pussy shit.
The other thing is Ozymandias. Spoiler: Ozy was behind everything all along. He's the bad guy. This used to be a surprise, but in the movie they've rewritten him into a really obvious movie villain. He's recast as an effeminate young man with a slight accent who hangs out at Studio 54, and ominous music plays whenever he talks: this is Hollywood action movie shorthand for evil. From the first scene it's obvious not that he's behind everything, but that he's a huge douchebag. Comic Ozy was a pretty smug guy, but he projects this strong, wholesome "I'm your other dad!" image, which is lost in the rewrite. When people say "But that guy's a saint!" about him in the comic, you buy it. Nobody calls Ozymandias a saint in the movie. In a related, amazing botch, Ozymandias' climactic declaration-- "I did it thirty-five minutes ago"-- has no impact whatsoever. The audience barely even noticed it happened.
And then there's the script. Every whisper is turned into a scream. Everything that's implied in the comics is stated outright in the script, and in places where the original dialogue was sufficient, it tends to tag on some cliched line to make sure the audience understands what is being said. But I'm not even sure the audience that isn't familar with Watchmen understands what the hell is going on here at all! It's not really made clear that these are supposed to be normal people wearing costumes, not superpowered types (and then they all inexplicably know kung-fu so maybe they are...), and it feels like that fact is omitted-- and there is kung-fu, and the violence is amped up-- so that people would go see this movie.
Also, the part at the end where Nite Owl runs back to yell at Ozymandias was like self-insertion fanfic.
Complaints aside, the movie's visuals are outstanding. Scenes like Dr. Manhattan's transformation and Nite Owl's dream about making out during a nuclear holocaust are translated to the screen as oh-my-god perfection. And the changed ending is just fine, jeez, of course they couldn't have had the squid. There's a hell of a lot to see here if you're a fan of the book, but you'll still probably be disappointed. On the other hand, it's tough to recommend this movie to a non-fan, and the reviews (also the intense fanboy rage in response to them) really reflect the total confusion and bewilderment this movie has caused in anybody who hasn't already read the book. If you want to see a lot of stuff (mostly humans) explode, then I guess this movie's still got you covered, though. It's all visceral: the brain comes in second and the heart may as well not exist.