Saturday night, after seeing Watchmen with TG and LG, I commented on Facebook that it was a “magnificent disaster.” After letting it sit for a few days, I think I’ll let that stick.
Really, two reasons.
First, because simply the acting was horrible (not helped by the dialog which was lifted directly from the comic and not smoothed to make it sound like real humans were speaking). With the exception of Jackie Earle Hayley, who was magnificent – as good as Cagney in ‘White Heat’ – even though I kept seeing Mooch when he spoke (my problem, I’m a ‘Breaking Away’ fanatic), the acting was consistently subpar.
Malin Akerman (Silk Spectre II) and Patrick Wilson (Night Owl II) needed to be realistic people – part of the story is how they fall in love – and just weren’t. When you see Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, you see something in him that makes you believe that he really could be going out at night and kicking bad guy ass. Wilson left me remembering that I need a new accountant.
The problem extends throughout the movie; no one except Hayley really feels like a grounded character at all.
That works for Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian, because he’s playing an archetype, rather than a person (he also gets the grin-inducing line of the film, when he says “I haven’t had this much fun since [I’m assuming he meant to say “I killed”] Woodward and Bernstein.”)
And that’s the other problem – the core problem – with the film.
Great comic-book movies break into two groups – the fantastic (‘300′, ‘Sin City’, ‘Kill Bill’) and the realistic (‘Spiderman’, ‘Batman Begins’, ‘The Dark Knight’). the realistic films are real human dramas that involve situations that require CGI. The fantastic films are not human dramas, they are about the conflicts between archetypes that we can nontheless relate to – Leonidas, The Bride, Hartigan.
Watchmen tried, I think, to stand in the middle of that gap, and failed on both counts as a consequence.
It’s a magnificent, ambitious, failure. It’s probably worth seeing if you love visual spectacle and can relax about story and character. If you loved the comic, you’ve already seen it, so I’m not writing to you. But if you haven’t, in these hard times, I might consider picking up the graphic novel instead and saving $20.
Others have commented on the politics of the movie; it’s a period piece politically, but it’s worth remembering that the archetypes in the story (even if badly presented in the film) do have something to do with what America is about. They don’t represent all of it, by any means at all. But the comic was powerful because it was archetypical and because we see those in our national character.
Dispassionate science, and the power that comes from it. Casual brutality (read ‘Born Fighting’). The desire to help, and somehow make the dark and chaotic world a better place.