Positive Cynicism – It’s not Watchmen, it’s you

Aaron Davis

Aaron R. Davis

As many predicted, Watchmen had a huge drop-off in its second week -something like 78 percent – and quickly went from anticipated masterpiece to epic disappointment. I’m honestly not surprised. After all, I thought it was one of the great science fiction epics of recent years. That alone seems to guarantee that people won’t get it.

Yes, I think that’s the real problem with the movie: you don’t get it. I know it sounds snobbish and cynical (see column title) to say so, but I also think it’s true. I think there are some basic things that people are getting hung up on that are keeping them from understanding this movie.

A movie is not a comic book. The sex scene is supposed to be slick and stupid. The violence is supposed to be over-the-top and graphic. The heroes are supposed to be able to throw people around like rag dolls and look incredibly muscular for no reason when they put their costumes on. It’s all a commentary on the glossiness of action movies. Watchmen has adolescent attitudes towards sex, violence and casually breaking the laws of physics because action movies are inherently ridiculous. It’s an ironic satire of the kind of movie the studios wanted to turn Watchmen into. The comic book uses comic book devices to deconstruct the very idea of comic books as an outlet for adolescent fantasies of power. The movie does something similar: it takes the conventions of action movies and plays them for how lame they actually are. And it does the same for Alan Moore’s dialogue; the bits that sound dumb in the movie were dumb in the comic book, but they were more acceptable in a comic book because most comic books have dumb dialogue. That was part of Moore’s point, too.

The characters aren’t realistic; they weren’t realistic in the comic book, either. The one thing I’m sick of hearing about the comic book is how realistic the characters supposedly are. I’m not sure Alan Moore’s point was to make the characters realistic in their world of Owlships, bioengineering, electric cars and a nuclear man. His point was actually to show what people who dressed up in costumes and acting like vigilantes would be like if they were real people. There’s an inherent fascism in something like that. By putting on costumes and decided you’re above the law and capable of making rules for everyone else to abide by, you’ve already set yourself apart from the rest of us. The characters in Watchmen reflect that attitude in a variety of ways and with a variety of reactions, but it’s what drives each and every character in both movie and comic. I’m not sure where this realistic humanity is that people are seeing, but it’s not in Watchmen. The characters are psychopaths on some level or other. Which brings me to the next point …

Ordinary human characters are beside the point. Lots of people have complained that they wanted more of the people on the fringes to put a human face on what the characters are trying to save. I don’t think it matters; I think Alan Moore was trying to show a human race that was better off without the policing of costumed nutcases (and would survive regardless of them), and in the movie, no one is particularly concerned about them. There’s a real case to be made that the characters don’t really give a damn about people; they get off on feeling powerful and better than everyone else. Or, like Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian, they just don’t care. Ozymandias’ plan doesn’t have anything to do with saving humanity, and everything to do with self-glorification. It’s no accident he idolizes pharaohs and Alexander the Great; they were greater than the faceless sea of Homeric spear-carriers around them. (See, I can also mix metaphors, too.)

Matthew Goode is miscast. Well … you know, I can’t argue with that one.

Watchmen is a much better movie than The Dark Knight. After months of overpraise for The Dark Knight, it’s no wonder people don’t dig Watchmen more. So many people were cramming down my throat the idea that The Dark Knight was this masterful film that was at once a “metaphor for life in our times” (never got tired of hearing that one repeatedly) and the perfect commentary on the meaning of superhero movies. But really, the criticism of Watchmen seems to me much more descriptive of how I saw The Dark Knight – bleak, soulless, caught up in symbolism, inhuman, unrealistic, too violent, dull and pretentiously overserious. Watchmen – which actually is a great metaphor for our world situation and a great commentary on the meaning of superhero movies – is getting dissed simply for not being more stupid and obvious.

At the end of the day, I think the worst I can say about Watchmen is that it’s too smart for an audience that was hoping it would validate their respect for comics to people who don’t give comics the literary cred they sometimes deserve.

So when I read any review of Watchmen, all I can hear is “I didn’t get it because I wanted it to be something different.” But I think my favorite part of the movie right now is that you didn’t, because it makes its point so much better that way.

Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at samuraifrog@yahoo.com.

  1. H March 17, 2009
  2. Joel March 24, 2009
  3. Aaron March 31, 2009
  4. Victoria April 8, 2009

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