So here we are at last: After more than 20 years of hype, a few hundred doctoral dissertations, a thousand imitators, roughly a billion failed Hollywood deals, and one lawsuit, “the greatest graphic novel of all time” has finally been given semi-live-action life on the big screen. And? It’s kinda dull.
This might seem to be an anticlimactic take on director Zack Snyder’s do-or-die visualization of Watchmen, but it’s the single most lasting impression I gleaned from nearly three hours of vacillating between mild interest in the story and deep concern over my swelling bladder. Somehow, despite the fact that it features a giant, naked, blue man-hunk with an appropriately giant-sized blue weenie, Watchmen just wasn’t all that entertaining as a movie. Earnest, devout, well-intended, yes. Stimulating? Not really.
On one hand, you can’t fault Snyder’s fervor to stay true to the original comic book series—it is, indeed, a classic of the form. While just short of being slavish, he crams in as much original dialogue, plotting, and frames as humanly possible. And that takes a certain amount of guts when one of your main characters shoots his Vietnamese girlfriend dead after she tells him she’s pregnant.
On the other hand, however, there’s very little magic here—no zing, no life. It is, to use an outdated term, a carbon copy that doesn’t retain the sharp lines of the original. Taken out of the context of sequential art, the repeated text and replicated art make Watchmen the movie seem more like a filmed stage play—dry, reverent, and ultimately dull. This approach may keep comic-book fanboys satisfied, but it leaves me wanting more cinema, and less re-enactment.
Great films are made by filmmakers, not transcribers. While I’m happy we didn’t have to suffer through a ridiculous “updating” of the story, Snyder cleaves too closely to the graphic novel, creating a gimpy, slow-moving mongrel of a movie. It made me wonder what kind of film Terry Gilliam or Darren Aronofsky or Paul Greengrass would have created with Watchmen, had their deals not imploded. I have a feeling that even their failures would have been more surprising.