This weekend is Warner’s first tentpole weekend of 2009 as Zack Synder”s Watchmen debuts nationwide. From where we’re sitting it looks like a flop in the making. Of course, nasty critics aren’t helping. Here’s the best of all that.
The bad news about “Watchmen” is that it grinds and squelches on for two and a half hours, like a major operation. The good news is that you don’t have to stay past the opening credit sequence—easily the highlight of the film.
Dr. Manhattan’s existence is busy and fairly melancholy, but I do envy him his ability to perceive every moment of past and future time as a part of a continuous present. If I had that power, the 2 hours 40 minutes of Zack Snyder‘s grim and grisly excursion into comic-book mythology might not have felt quite so interminable. (“It will never end,” says Dr. Manhattan. “Nothing ever ends.” No indeed.)
You don’t need 12-sided dice and a fictitious Canadian girlfriend to “get it,” but it certainly helps.
Yet the movie is ultimately undone by its own reverence; there’s simply no room for these characters and stories to breathe of their own accord, and even the most fastidiously replicated scenes can feel glib and truncated. As “Watchmen” lurches toward its apocalyptic (and slightly altered) finale, something happens that didn’t happen in the novel: Wavering between seriousness and camp, and absent the cerebral tone that gave weight to some of the book’s headier ideas, the film seems to yield to the very superhero cliches it purports to subvert.
Indeed, the ideal viewer — or reviewer, as the case may be — of the “Watchmen” movie would probably be a mid-’80s college sophomore with a smattering of Nietzsche, an extensive record collection and a comic-book nerd for a roommate. The film’s carefully preserved themes of apocalypse and decay might have proved powerfully unsettling to that anxious undergraduate sitting in his dorm room, listening to “99 Luftballons” and waiting for the world to end or the Berlin Wall to come down.
The problem with Watchmen is, in the end, that it is a bit of a big stiff bore for two acts with an improved, but mostly uninspired third act.
There is a moment, about 2 hours and 25 minutes in, when the movie shows us exactly what its promise was. It is The Showdown Of The Film… which I will not spoil here. But suffice it to say that it had strong character choices, little fat in paying homage to the book like it was the m-f’ing Bible passed down by God himself, and the book’s perfect combination of narrative and ideology.
Lasted about 10 minutes.
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