Written by: Alan Hawkins, special to CC2K
An examination of the bad (and good) arguments for why Watchmen doesn’t work.
The reviews of Watchmen from the geek community have been mixed, and for a lot of very, very stupid reasons. Join me after the jump to find out what I mean.
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
– Leonard Cohen
Those lyrics rang in my head when I left my first viewing of Watchmen. They resonated with me, and I feel like they should resonate with all my fellow geeks, because when it came to a cinematic adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel, we all knew the dice were fixed. And I am disappointed in my geek brethren. Let me explain:
Christmas came early this year, and not for geeks. Yes, yes, yes – all of us were excited to see Watchmen finally make it to the big screen, but the Christmas I’m talking about came for reviewers who sneer at geekdom. The snobs who laugh at us for lining up to see Ben Affleck to play Daredevil or who make fun of us for getting excited about Doug Jones playing the Silver Surfer.
And hell, sometimes we deserve to get laughed at for going to see some of the terrible comic-book movies that have been made, but that’s not my point here. My point is that in the wake of Zach Snyder’s loving and energetic movie, we are giving them more ammunition.
Wow. I’m pretty angry. Normally a few bad reviews wouldn’t be enough to get me going, but it’s where the bad reviews are coming from and how the people behind these reviews are mounting their arguments that have me so torqued out.
I’ve been watching AICN, JoBlo and a few other sites only to see a 50/50 split on the geek reviews. That sucks. The geek world is spoiled by our own source material. We can love a comic for a time until it changes writers, artists or both. When we don’t like a comic anymore we move down the aisle or reread or back issues.
We don’t have the luxury to do that with movies. We have to take what Hollywood doles out to us, and nine times out of 10, it’s the same old shit wrapped in tights and force-fed to us while Hollywood drops a roofie in our pint and we wake up in a bathtub full of ice too poor to bid for our own kidneys on eBay.
I mean – Speed Racer, anyone? OK, that’s technically not a comic, but just because it’s not a comic doesn’t make me any less on dialysis!
Let me get back to my thesis, but before I do, let me tell you what I’m not arguing: I’m not saying Watchmen is a perfect movie. I’m not saying that geeks have to like it simply because it’s a comic-book movie.
I’m not even saying anyone has to like it at all.
But if you decide not to like Watchmen, at least make a good argument for why it sucks. During my survey of the geek blogosphere, some of the most common “reasons” why Watchmen didn’t work included:
• “Waaaaaah! Snyder skipped this part of the comic!”
• “Waaaaaah! Hollywood dumbed down this part of the comic!”
• “Waaaaaah! There was a big blue penis onscreen!”
Can you see what I’m getting at? To anyone who would gripe about why Snyder tweaked the ending, I have a question: Why are you being such a little bitch? Do you come from some parallel universe where Hollywood produces nothing but lavishly mounted, well cast, energetically directed, meticulously post-produced and thoughtfully written adaptations of quirky, character-driven graphic novels that deconstruct the superhero mythos?
Or do you live in the universe where The Phantom got made? And Elektra? And The Punisher: War Zone? And Steel? And Ghost Rider?
My geek brethren, you need to see the forest, not the trees. If you get caught up bitching and moaning about every little detail of a movie that doesn’t slavishly follow the comic, you’re going to hurt our chances to see great comic-book adaptations in the future, because no one will want to fucking touch them. And even if you don’t like Watchmen, I submit that it’s worth understanding and explaining why you don’t like it with real reasons and real arguments.
That’s the future I see – where we can really talk about comic-book movies.
This past summer, two comic-book movies opened the door a crack to this future – Iron Man and The Dark Knight. Both of those movies inspired spirited debate about what a comic book movie could be, and they took opposite approaches. Iron Man positioned itself as straight-up popcorn entertainment – the default setting for a comic-book movie – but lurking underneath was one of our generation’s great actors at the top of his game playing a character he practically shares DNA with. The Dark Knight, by contrast, avoided all the trappings of a typical superhero movie just to see if the genre could still fly without them. It could.
To be sure, there have been great comic-book movies in the past, but with Watchmen, we have the chance to kick open the door to that bright future I described. The world is just now starting to suckle on the teat that has nourished our dreams and our lazy Saturday afternoons for so long. They have taken a good hard suck of superhero lit – and they’re talking about it. They’re arguing about it. Some of them are even getting it. In fact, this movie is such a gateway drug, that it’s smart enough to leave you wanting more.
(On a related note, I’d like to direct some especial invective at the chortling masses who couldn’t stop joking about all of the big, blue penises in the movie. What fascinates me about this criticism when it comes from geeks – and it does – is that it’s not like they didn’t know it was coming, since Dr. Manhattan is naked for most of the actual comic. Zach Snyder and his team actually had the courage to present the clearest symbol of Dr. Manhattan’s disassociation from humanity – his nakedness – and your average geek couldn’t muster the analytical maturity to appreciate that courage. Fuck you.)
Just to drive my point into the ground, let’s look at some of the rich thematic stuff we get in Watchmen. First of all, Alan Moore goes out of his way to destroy old comic book tropes. For example, in your typical comic, the hero has some kind of mentor – a shamanesque, wise-man father figure who pops up every so often to say, “I told you so.” Superman had two. Batman has Alfred. The Watchmen have none. The closest thing they have to a moral compass is Rorschach, and, well – I don’t want to spoil the ending.
On this note, Watchmen reminded me of a great moment in a very underrated Disney movie called Cool Runnings. In this scene, someone asks John Candy why he cheated in the winter Olympics. After he explains his motives, he tells his protégé:
”If you’re not good enough without a gold medal, you’ll never be good enough with one.”
But these heroes did not have anyone to give him or her that sage advice. In fact, the movie goes out of its way to show exactly what kind of role models these heroes had.
No one to say, “The costume isn’t wearing you … You wear the costume.”
(God, I miss John Candy!)
Moving on, Watchmen (the comic and the movie) has the audacity to present sexually dysfunctional characters with honesty. These people are so mixed up in their superhero personas that they can’t even achieve an orgasm without maiming a pack of thugs. (Incidentally, why have I never seen a Viagra ad that plays that angle? You typical Viagra ad either has Bob Dole or a couple of old-timers sitting in bathtubs on the beach. Why can’t we get a Viagra ad that’s like, “If you want a boner, you can either take Viagra or kill a bunch of street thugs. Your call.”)
But I digress.
Get over your gripes, my fellow geeks and commit yourselves to discussing this movie – like it or hate it – with intelligence, insight and maturity. Get people to read the book. This film is one huge inkblot, and even if you see a dog with its brain hanging out, there’s no reason you can’t say you see a pretty butterfly and make a new convert for the team. Because the more of us there are, the greater the chances that we’ll get more movies like Watchmen.
Build the monster, my friends.