Monday, August 4, 2008

Who watches the Watchmen?

Warning: very minor Watchmen spoilers follow.

So how do you adapt the most celebrated graphic novel of all time, anyway?

Perhaps the definitive adult take on the superhero genre, Watchmen was the first comic to really deconstruct the concept of "people dressing up in tights to fight crime" and explore all the ramifications. If the various tropes of the costumed crimefighter/superhero genre existed in the real world, what would the results be?

Watchmen, that's what.

The problem with adapting Watchmen to film is that doing the source material justice would involve constructing the world's most expensive character-driven ensemble drama. Actors would walk from one budget-busting set to another, doing little more than, well, talking.

Occasionally in costume.

Judging from the preview, director Zack Snyder's approach to adapting Watchmen is to adhere fanboy-frothingly close to the source material while sexing each scene up as much as possible. The characters will spring directly from the pages and trace the well-familiar plot but with with explosions in slow motion and colors as saturated as possible.

Watchmen fanboys--a demographic that includes myself--have so far been pretty pleased with what promises to be a visually stirring faithful rendition of the most holy of comics, and as such I feel almost remiss in shitting on the party and reminding everyone that Watchmen really, really shouldn't be sexy.

Watchmen is a brutal, gritty book of characters either plagued with self doubt or driven by power to amorality. Characters fight, argue, and have sex, but to make them seductive is to place the audience too clearly on their side. Batman movies are about how cool it would be to be Batman--let's face it, for all the man-it's-tough-being-Batman shit you leave the theater wishing your parents had been gunned down in an alley--but Watchmen is about the self-conscious knowledge that dressing up to play vigilante is inherently kind of unhealthy. Watchmen is unflinching in its examination of the men behind the masks, and the need to dress up is constantly likened to a form of borderline-juvenile addiction. It is sexy, yes, but only to those weird enough to ignore the what-the-fuck of it all and feel the calling in the first place.

Not exactly helping matter is Zack Snyder himself. As he said in a recent piece published in Entertainment Weekly:
"In my movie, Superman doesn't care about humanity, Batman can't get it up, and the bad guy wants world peace," Snyder says with a smirk. "Will Watchmen be the end of superhero movies? Probably not. But it sure will kick them in the gut."

While everything Zack said is accurate in regards to the source material, his delivery promises badass transgressive entertainment, which is about as un-Watchmenlike as you can get. Superman doesn't care about humanity and it's cold and lonely. Batman can't get it up and it's linked to insecurity and addiction. The bad guy wants world peace, yes, but it's the introduction of a complex moral question.

Watchmen is a deconstruction of a genre. It is not "a kick in the gut."

Watchmen is not sexy.

Rorschach is debatably the Watchmen character that gains the most from his alias. His everyday life is pathetic and squalid, but there is a genuine power he derives from his alter-ego, and it's difficult not to sympathize with the nasty little shit's feelings of violation when he is unmasked.

And yet, even Rorschach eventually drops the alias and faces his fate as a man, not a superhero.

One wonders if such an action will make sense in Snyder's universe.

And in the end, who watches the Watchmen?

Me, whether it turns our good or not.

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