Watchmen is a long, boring film cranked out by Zach Snyder, based on the comic book by Alan Moore and David Gibbons which has gone unread by this writer. Everything about Watchmen the film seems animated by its determination to be some kind of meta commentary on—what, exactly? Comic book films? Action movies? Vigilantism? Twentieth century American history? Reagan's America? All of that, and none of that; Snyder is, seemingly, the cinematic definition of a dilettante, a fellow whose visuals, for instance, serve little purpose but to amaze and stun, or at least repetitiously wash the audience in the computer-generated imagery as in his adaptation of Frank Miller's 300. Likely fancying himself an enfant terrible, Snyder seems completely oblivious to the themes of the comic books from which he is making his films. Snyder's 300 was reportedly a painstakingly faithful adaptation of Frank Miller's “graphic novel”; Watchmen's fidelity to the source material has instigated much debate about whether or not, or to which degree, Snyder's film has remained faithful to Moore's original work.
It must be reiterated: everything about Snyder's new film is, apparently, aiming to convey a meta annotation, but Snyder's dearth of originality and finesse stifle his Watchmen. This is, after all, a comic book movie in which the villain—whose idols fluctuate between Alexander the Great and Ramses II—says, “I'm not a comic book villain.” The villain looks exactly like a comic book villain and behaves just like one—in appearance and social strata (blonde, handsome, charismatic, rich, brilliant and shot from low angle), he firmly belongs to a long line of villains, and perhaps that is the point. That same question mark lingers over almost everything about Watchmen. Are large swathes of the dialogue deliberately atrocious beyond the outskirts of camp on purpose—making ample fun at the very form in which Snyder and company are indulging? Or is it unintentional? Is all of the dialogue directly from the comic book?
Evidently disbelieving in the conservative thinker Richard Weaver's maxim, “Ideas have consequences,” Snyder darts from an ostensibly neoconservative dream like 300 to what seems like a left-leaning nightmare with Watchmen in which Richard Nixon enjoys a hold on the presidency into the 1980s not unlike Franklin Roosevelt from 1933 to 1945, and America won the Vietnam War so, as one especially wretched character feverishly notes, it would not go insane from the loss. This is not unlike Moore's dystopian England-based fantasy, "V for Vendetta," also written in the 1980s, with the heirs to Margaret Thatcher's government creating a fascistic police state that remains in 1997 with the ideal of gestalt serving as its—quite literally—organizing principle. (Moore would complain about the 2006 film adaptation for its cowardice in taking an England-based story and transmitting unmistakable American liberal concerns under George W. Bush to its telling.) Snyder seems to not care about the political undercurrents of his films, so long as he can slam on the brakes with slow-motion as his protagonists literally beat their adversaries to a pulp and tear them limb from limb.
In complete unison, screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse have spun an over-plotted and under-written film, which wearies its audience for little reward and diminishing dividends after an admittedly intriguing prologue. Uncertain of what properties of the Moore creation have been abandoned or carried over, one wonders whether or not a longer running time would have helped the film come together. As is, the only character in the film whose back-story and motivations seem wholly clear is Rorschach, who happens to be performed with an alleviating sharpness by Jackie Earle Haley, but the film goes into exhausting depth, journeying through all of the various Watchmen and their origins (sans poor Patrick Wilson's Nite Owl II, the group's resident milquetoast). Haley, however, has the benefit of playing the saga's one truly juicy part—but at least he brightens the film with his machismo-laden, tough-guy appearances.
In truth, Snyder's self-references are probably the most smugly annoying part of Watchmen. First, in the long opening scene's battle, a digit on a door is knocked off, leaving the number “300,” naturally shot in slow-motion. Later, amidst a panoply of television sets on which various films are visible, the 1962 movie The 300 Spartans is playing. Other keynotes seem to be influenced by Moore's beliefs and realizations—such as an homage to The Outer Limits television show at the film's end, as Moore purportedly realized that his “Watchmen” epic bore many similarities to the famed episode “The Architects of Fear.”
Yet just as frustrating is Snyder's inability to bring anything new to the proverbial table. There are numerous reasons why many view Christopher Nolan's Batman films as truly adult, even if they happen to be under the auspices of a PG-13 rating, and one reason for that is Nolan's adroitness of tying the thematic overtones with the rather crisp pacing demanded by his films' action-packed narrative movements. One imagines that if Snyder made The Dark Knight, Batman and the Joker would have actually met in a diner as the protagonists did in Heat. Indeed, one of the chief differences between the highly talented, borderline excessively deterministic Nolan and the adolescence of Snyder is that Nolan actually understands the themes of the films to which he is paying homage. Snyder's infantile tributes to Dr. Strangelove and Apocalypse Now (deeply, obsessively political films which transcended political platitudes: the anti-Watchmen) are paper thin—placed in Watchmen for no greater reason than to allow others to know that he has seen them. As is apparently the case with the adaptation itself, Snyder is so literal he chokes off any of his own film from breathing in some much-needed oxygen.
Alas, who cares? Render unto the fanboys what is the fanboys'. It is they to whom this film is gifted. So, with that in mind, Rorschach is a truly cool bad-ass; Dr. Manhattan is a sick creation; Carla Gugino is really hot, but kind of ancient (she's approaching forty—long live Jessica Alba or whomever); and Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl II is a decent continuation of the Peter Parker syndrome of nerds ultimately prevailing. Perhaps this would be the best time to seek out Moore's “Watchmen” to see which themes and nuances were lost in translation from page to screen. Humorously, the very alleged fanboys so enamored with the source material seem the least troubled by the film's own confusion. If one must be “in” to “get it,” perhaps getting in may be worth it. Or maybe not.