So how is this biggest-movie-ever Watchmen superhero flick? Well, not so good if many critics are to be believed. Should have been kept in holy reverence as a comic book (or graphic novel or whatever).
And the dramatic conflict revealed, at long last, in the film's climactic arguments is between a wholesale, idealistic approach to mass death and one that is more cynical and individualistic. This idea is sickening but also, finally, unpersuasive, because it is rooted in a view of human behavior that is fundamentally immature, self-pitying and sentimental. Perhaps there is some pleasure to be found in regressing into this belligerent, adolescent state of mind. But maybe it's better to grow up.
A no-future nihilism bled from the very grain of Moore and Gibbons' pop vision of the 20th century. But that's a real problem for the movie, since the Cold War nuclear fears of the '80s never did come to pass. Watchmen isn't boring, but as a fragmented sci-fi doomsday noir, it remains as detached from the viewer as it is from the zeitgeist.
And yet as this continues, for 162 minutes, the usual question arises: Has the film added anything? Which forces one to confront the book, after more than two decades, with a little more critical distance. For years, people have wondered if it is filmable. But the real issue is whether the novel is worth filming at all.
To be fair, on the other hand, "Watchmen's" plot is in no way chopped liver, and reverentially sticking to the source material, as the first "Harry Potter" films did, is the only thing that gives this film what watchability it has. Even if you haven't read the book, even if your first exposure to the story is in this denatured form, you can at least sense the power of the original, and that's what will stay in your mind, not what's on the screen.
Maybe there's no way the rest of the film could match this opening, and for sure it doesn't. Snyder spends much of the movie's 2 hours and 40 minutes on the splatter of crushed limbs, the chatter of Strangelovean science fiction and the nattering of the obligatory romance. He also encourages a little festival of tone-deaf acting. Yet Watchmen has moments of greatness. It proves again that the action movie is where the best young Hollywood brains have gone to bring flesh to their fantasies.
Snyder's attention wanders when it comes to meat-and-potatoes storytelling, perhaps because he's never really had to tell one before. He draws performances that range from sublime (Jackie Earle Haley as a bitter antihero named Rorschach) to ridiculous (Malin Akerman, who has a sweet onscreen disposition but is nonetheless the Jar Jar Binks of "Watchmen"). ... Snyder also makes gross errors in tone, giving his flimsy villain a rinky-dink costume with nipples on its chest plate. He has said in interviews that he did it on purpose to preserve Moore's sendup of superhero self-seriousness, but that kind of subtlety isn't Snyder's strong suit, which is obvious the first time we see Dr. Manhattan wander across the screen in the nude, with his giant blue junk flapping in the apocalyptic breeze-another misguided sop to the novel and its R-rated sensibility.
At its best, Snyder's movie gets at the symbolism of that smile button splashed with blood on the first Watchmen cover.
So not so good from some of the bigger critics in the land. But does it matter? Probably not initially. The film opened big in midnight screenings early this morning, and it ought to outpace Snyder's previous blockbuster effort, 300. But on the plane of pride and prestige and long-term, Titanic style longevity? Yes it does matter. In the new superhero world of a critically-adored smash like the The Dark Knight—which had a raft of strong reviews behind it (plus far more recognizable characters and a famous death) that helped it juggernaut all through the summer—people are beginning to expect a little awardsy grit with their blood and explosions. Too bad Watchmen didn't quite get there. Many non-believers will probably be reluctant to fork over increasingly-harder-earned doughlars for a long, turgid movie that's just OK.
Once again, Batman foils another plot.