Q: Can Zack Snyder please fans of the most revered comic book in history while simultaneously make a film that’s accessible to those who haven’t read the 400-plus page source material?
It was always going to be a challenge. After all, it’s taken twenty-odd years to get the comic on screen. With creator Alan Moore dismissing the project as “inherently unfilmable”, it’s up to Zack Snyder to bring the same loving eye he brought to the atrociously bad-yet-pretty-to-look-at 300.
Writing a review of Watchmen is as hard as adapting it because it’s an impossible challenge. Reviews are entirely objective, the summation of one person’s opinion of hundreds of hours of work by thousands of people condensed into two hours. And in this instance, this reviewer chose deliberately to not read the comic beforehand. You see, there was an experiment at stake – this reviewer loves to play with chance – so the film was watched with a close friend who *had* read the comic and knew what to expect.
This reviewer – hell, fuck the formalities a second – *I* was left disappointed, struggling to survive to the end of a film that weighs in at almost three hours, constantly questioning the film as to why it hadn’t bothered cutting out most of the material to make a decent movie.
The characters were exceedingly bland and badly acted; all muttering gibberish as if it were an embarrassment to say, which is true in the most part, thanks to a monologue-heavy script co-written by David “Solid Snake” Hayter. The unforgivable flabby and overlong second act is excruciating to sit through, as Silk Spectre (who is not called by that name at all during the film) flits between her superpowered lover Dr Manhattan and infuriatingly boring new flame Nite Owl. Meanwhile, Rorschach, the only character with a different voice in the film, gets thrown in prison and then busted out. I just summarised an hour of film right there.
The biggest flaw with the film is that it’s made by fans of the comic.
I’ll say that again.
THE BIGGEST FLAW WITH THE FILM IS THAT IT’S MADE BY FANS OF THE COMIC.
Therefore plot elements, characters and scenes are liberally thrown into the film with no introduction and no explanation either. It’s almost like nobody expects the film to be seen by people who haven’t already read the comic. The biggest example of this slap in the face is towards the end of the film, when a BLUE TIGER WITH ANTLERS walks into shot and NOBODY SAYS ANYTHING. Likewise, there’s the constant appearance of Hollis Mason and his book, “Under the Hood”. Neither of these add anything to the film or are paid off in any way. So why are they in it? Like most of the scenes in the film, the answer is purely because they were in the comic. It could really have benefited from somebody detached from the comic to be involved in the filmmaking process to point at the unneeded scenes and cut them out. As it stands, we could lose half the film and not notice.
This is the key problem: the review concerns a film. Films have one central protagonist and one antagonist. Here we have a comic book that featured five incredibly detailed protagonists and several antagonists, an idea the film slavishly tries to adhere to, which is where it fails.
Yes, it is incredibly striking visually. Yes, it is an amazingly detailed world. Yes, the CGI is absolutely wonderful throughout. But is feels empty. It’s lacking something, some spark that needs to drive it onwards. The opening of X-Men 2 has more kick to it that this whole film.
Action scenes feel forced and incredibly contrived, almost like Snyder would rather have more dialogue. And the amount of slow motion used is actually offensive – no fight scene comes without a ludicrously unnecessary and overlong slow down of the moment. It becomes a hilarious joke, one that extends the film’s running time by about fifteen minutes.
I am reliably informed that only Dr Manhattan is a superhero. Apparently the other characters are all just normal people in costumes. If that’s true, how can they kick people across alleyways, catch bullets in their hands and fight groups of thugs without breaking a sweat?
The plot is a confused and muddled affair. It starts out as a murder mystery, but quickly divides the attention of the audience with several other plot strands – the ongoing Cold War, the previous team of superheroes, the love triangle, the struggle for energy, what it means to be a human and what it means to be a superhero. Any one of these would make for an entertaining film. As it stands, all of these squeezed into two hours means that they are all as under-developed and silly as the Richard Nixon mask. Dr Manhattan’s rambling, boring, uninvolving and ultimately pointless visit to Mars is the single most laborious moment in the movie, while the killer in the murder mystery is given away TWICE – once in the opening scene!
Fortunately, though, the end arrives and doesn’t quite resolve anything. If at all, it feels dull and unsatisfying; another hangover of the comic form. Without spoiling anything, it’s a long ride for a very small splash.
In the end though, it did what it had to do. My friend was satisfied with the translation, so we have an answer for the question posed at the beginning.
A: Zack Snyder will create a film that pleases the majority of comic fans, at the expense of the rest of the cinema-going audience. If you must see this film, read the comic first or face alienation.
And, by the way – CANCER GAS? Are you fucking kidding me, Hayter?