The Good the Bad and the Watchmen

by |
03/10/2009 11:50 AM |

In which Jesse Hassenger displays far more equanimity than your film editor.

Like pretty much every nerd I know, I went to see Watchmen this weekend. Some analysts have wondered if it will have a massive second-weekend dropoff based on laypeople generating word-of-mouth akin to Ang Lee’s version of Hulk (although, I should say, in many ways Ang Lee’s Hulk is a more artistically satisfying film). This is ridiculous; it will have a massive second-weekend dropoff because approximately eighty-eight percent of the U.S. population that wanted to see this movie has now seen it.

Indeed, Watchmen is sort of the ultimate comic-book fanboy movie: such an expensive, elaborate mixed bag entwined with such beloved source material that it can be argued about, nitpicked, and overanalyzed even if your feelings are dominated by indifference. In that spirit, I’ve made some lists of stuff I like and don’t like about this Watchmen movie. Spoilers abound, but come on, you’ve already seen it.

Five (of approx. 200) Things to Like About Watchmen

1. Preservation of Rorschach’s bean-eating, which my comics-expert friend adamantly insisted was important. He’s right: some fans clearly consider Rorschach an avenging badass (or, in the paraphrased parlance of my buddy, “like he’s fucking Wolverine”); the biggest cheer at my opening-night IMAX screening came when he doused a fellow prisoner in fryer grease. So it’s heartening to see that the movie preserves evidence of Rorschach being, you know, essentially a sewer-dwelling hobo.

2. Jackie Earle Haley in general, in fact, gives an excellent performance beyond even his bean-eating virtuosity.

3. The opening credits sequence. This has already been called out as the best part of the movie; I’m not sure if that’s true, but it displays a certain playfulness lacking from Zack Snyder’s more reverential rest-of-movie.

4. The way the (virtual) camera zooms out from the bloodied smiley-face logo all the way up to the top of a building. Yeah, I have to say, on IMAX that was pretty damn cool.

5. Malin Ackerman. Not because she’s especially great as Silk Spectre II, but because she’s way better than I had been led to believe, which is to say she’s adequate, even if it seems pretty likely that she was cast for her physical resemblance to Silk Spectre and possibly her proven comfort with nudity.

Five (of approx. 200) Things to Hate About Watchmen

1. Slow motion. I thought about just listing “Zack Snyder” here because I’ve managed to lose patience with him just as he’s arguably made his best movie. But I have to give the guy credit in the sense that he must have been at least partially responsible for what I actually liked about the movie. That said, good lord, Snyder really should cool it with the slow-motion wankery. The thing is, it could’ve been effective if used sparingly — my 200 likes would certainly include the Silk Spectre’s slow-mo crime-fighting hair-toss. But it’s hard to separate satire and/or beauty when they look so much like action movie fetishization.

2. Ultraviolence. Speaking of which, why was this movie made more violent than the book? Oh, right, because Snyder kinda gets off on this stuff. Kind of a shame — again, the violence would be a lot more effective if it weren’t splattered everywhere with such a massive, uncontrolled brush.

3. Dr. Manhattan’s time-skipping origin is probably my favorite sequence in the book. It’s strikingly reproduced in the film, with a lot of sustained beauty and pathos. Only one problem: did anyone else notice how the movie sort of failed to drive home the fact that Dr. Manhattan is experiencing all of these flashbacks at the same time, all the time? And that he lives that way? All the time? I mean, they mention it in passing. But that seems like kind of an important point to me, and key to the heartbreaking nature of his backstory. Maybe a split-screen or weird overlapping editing or something would’ve been too showy, but it’s disappointing that this amazing bit of work by Moore and Gibbons didn’t inspire more than handsome faith from the filmmakers.

4. Maintaining the CGI cat creature thing. Use it or lose it!

5. “All Along the Watchtower.” Snyder futzes around with recognizable pop songs throughout, to varying degrees of cleverness and/or on-the-nose obviousness, but the way he blasts the Hendrix “All Along the Watchtower” as Rorschach and Nite Owl hightail it to Antarctica had me convinced that Snyder mostly knew the song from its appearance in somewhere between thirty and fifty thousand movie trailers in the eighties and nineties.