Walking out of Watchmen two weeks ago, I felt awestruck, overwhelmed, moved and filled with a sort of bleary-eyed, swoony amazement. This isn't your typical graphic novel adaptation; it's a movie that skillfully approaches the level of high art, a movie filled with ideas: political, cultural, emotional, and even a bit sentimental as we watch our history wash over us in a hard-core yet frequently beautiful dreamscape populated by flawed superheroes we grow to care about. And we do care about them, even the scumbags -- sometimes the scumbags more so (I always love the scumbags).
The picture creates this rare amalgamation of graphic novel adaptation, paranoid '70s thriller, and uncompromising film noir. This is a picture Alan J. Pakula, Sam Peckinpah and Edgar G. Ulmer would get behind. And a picture that Watchmen creator Alan Moore (who refuses to see the movie or any of his adaptations) should get behind. Here, as any Watchmen fan knows, the concept of superhero is not a simple one.
But the movie goes beyond Christopher Nolan's flawed, socially maladjusted Batman. Batman isn't raping Carla Gugino or killing women pregnant with his children (like the gleefully insane, macho degenerate, newest crush, Comedian), or falling in love with his rapist, or staring down a deranged dwarf in prison and breaking a thug's fingers (like my new neo-noir hero, Rorschach), or running off to Mars for contemplation. Not that Batman should be doing such things; he's an entirely different kind of superhero. But I felt challenged by the spandexed, masked, and fedora-wearing saints and sinners of Watchmen, just as I felt challenged by the infectiously inspiring chaos of the Joker of The Dark Knight. Life is dark, life is a mess -- how can one make any sense of it all? With existential dread and a strange sort of glee, the Watchmen understand this.
The idea that director Zack Snyder could get all of these ideas across and present such subversive misdeeds in nearly two hours and 40 minutes seems amazing in itself (not to mention his playlist: Hendrix, Dylan, and two -- count them, two -- Leonard Cohen songs, all music he chose himself -- and a brilliant, funny and weirdly poignant opening credit sequence). But based on the popularity of 300 (a movie I fervently defend as a work of blood-splattered art -- watch my violent exaltation here), the now third-time director was allowed his vision. And thank God, or the devil, or whichever idol you choose to worship. All of you who hated 300 and now love Watchmen should appreciate those Spartans a little more. We'd probably never have seen such a rebellious vision had it not been for that group of half-clothed, hollering warriors.
And somehow Snyder knows that we need to watch and feel such things; we need to yell, we need to feel angry, we need to live vicariously through warriors, flawed or otherwise. In our current state of the world, many of us are like Howard Beale on Network: as mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore. If we can't scream it from the rooftops, or, in my case, tell all those assholes that I don't shine no fucking shoes no more (with "Atlantis" swelling behind me), we can live it through the grim musings of Rorschach. Snyder is tapping into both personal frustration and our country's collective consciousness of helplessness and anger with entertainment and innovation, and there's something revolutionary yet strangely lovely about that. As Bowie sang, and we all sometimes wish, "We could be heroes, just for one day." Defective, messed up, degenerate heroes, but heroes nonetheless.
Read more of my Watchmen mania at Hollywood Hitlist.
And please take a look at my picture and video page, Pretty Poison.
And...play it again. For you Mr. Snyder: