Watching the Watchmen …

So, as already stated, I watched “Watchmen” yesterday.  I was browsing in the store when a comment from a young woman about it reminded me that people said it was good and that I hadn’t watched it yet.  Unfortunately, the comment was basically that she couldn’t take the movie and had to walk out in the middle of it, and so was being told that she actually had to watch it at some point.

That shouldn’t fill one with confidence, and it would have bothered me if I cared about what other people think.  My tastes in everything are odd, so relying on other people’s opinions is quite likely to get me watching things I don’t like and not watching things I would.

So, I’m going to comment on Watchmen here.  I’m not going to spoiler anything, so be prepared for massive spoilers.

So, first, I’ll give my overall opinion of the movie: meh.  It was okay, but it’s not a movie that I’d buy on DVD and not one that I’d watch again.  I don’t regret renting it, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone either.  So, here are the reasons why:

1) Watchmen is a long movie.  No, not as long the “Lord of the Rings” movies, and I can’t even really tell you how long it actually is (I was watching it while doing laundry and so had to stop about every hour or so to take things out of the washer and put them in the dryer or put things away.  That being said, I’d started washing before I went to get the movie and only had 15 minutes left on my third load when the movie ended, and each load takes about an hour, so you can do some math from that).  The problem is that it isn’t long because great things of plot are happening.  It’s long because great things of backstory are happening, but things that didn’t really need to be said.  Take the subplot about Silk Spectre II being the child of The Comedian, who tried to rape Silk Spectre and then, it seems, she slept with him anyway.  This gets revealed in the scene with Dr. Manhattan, but it’s hinted at earlier.  Through a lot of backstory reveals that seem to have nothing to do with the main plot.  And, ultimately, it doesn’t really.  Sure, I guess this is why Dr. Manhattan says that she’ll be crying at the end of the discussion, but so what?  Who cares?  That whole part of it could have been left out and it wouldn’t affect the story one bit.

The same thing applies to the backstory of The Comedian.  Other than his having figured the plot out first, he’s irrelevant to the story.  We don’t really need to know that he was a jerk, tried to rape Silk Spectre, or that Dr. Manhattan didn’t stop him from shooting that Vietnamese woman.  We didn’t need to see him shooting at the protestors and commenting about it to Nite Owl.  He’s mostly irrelevant.  So why do we know so much about him?

The retrospective on Dr. Manhattan on Mars, I guess? is also pointless.  Up to that point, we’ve pretty much figured it out; he’s becoming more and more distant from humanity, probably because of his powers, and he’s afraid that he gave cancer to the people closest to him.  Okay, got it.  So I don’t need to see his origin scene.  It adds nothing to the plot of the movie.

The same can be said of the romance and sex scenes between Silk Spectre II and Nite Owl.  And the scene where she engages the flamethrower on Archimedes.  I thought that that might have been a set-up for her betraying them … but she didn’t.  It just … happened.  Was it because she was some sort of pyromaniac?  Was that supposed to indicate that she’s an adrenaline junkie, like Nite Owl?  Who knows?

And there’s a lot of this in the movie.  Now, let me anticipate the first objection to this: this is, in fact, character development, building backstory, letting us get inside the characters, letting us know who they are and why they’re the way they are.  And, sure, that does make some sense.  But it highlights the differences in different media.  Those scenes built a cool and interesting backstory and worked well … in a comic book.  Or, at least I’m presuming they worked well in the comic because people liked the comic and do cite those scenes on TV Tropes.  But in a comic, taking some small scenes to build backstory or reinforce what we already know works well, and can be done without getting in the way of the plot.  In movies, that’s harder because you have less time to get everything in.  It starts to get annoying in a movie when people get beaten over the head with things they already get, when they’re waiting for the plot to advance.

Compare this to, say, the X-Men movie.  The X-Men movie brought in some similar issues, like Wolverine’s rivalry with Cyclops over Jean Grey.  But it did it while advancing the plot, basically as a side effect of the plot.  Watchmen seems to put the plot on hold while it does this, in a ham-handed and heavy-fisted manner.  That drags the movie out and often made me think “Just get on with it.”

Now, I suspect that a lot of these things made it in because those were parts of the story that people really, really liked.  But making a good movie adaptation is knowing what to keep to keep fans happy and what to drop so that you don’t bore or irritate non-fans.  I know that’s not always easy, and that people who try will get criticized no matter how it’s done, but as a non-Watchmen fan, I can only say: the way it was done here made me not care about your movie.  That can’t be what you wanted.

2) It was a very brutal movie.  Even the fights with the less insane characters involved some fairly brutal moves, like a close-up of the breaking of an opponent’s arm.  So a lot of people will find the gore a bit off-putting.  But even worse than that is that it often seemed like the brutality was done for the sake of the brutality.  Again, scenes were there that didn’t need to be just to show people getting the stuffing beaten out of them, and brutality was over the top just to show over-the-top brutality.  The most egregious example of both is the scene where Rorshach is in prison and the midget comes to kill him during the riot.  Rorshach ties one of the thugs’ hands to the door, and the midget orders his other thug to cut  his arms off so that he can get at Rorshach.   We didn’t need this scene at all; these were minor characters that added nothing to the movie except maybe to give Rorshach more bad-ass cred, which he doesn’t need.  So, we didn’t need the scene, and we didn’t need the arm-slicing either.  But this sort of scene will turn people off the movie.

Now, let me compare it to Sin City.  Sin City, at times, is just as brutal if not more so.  But, again, it — at least usually — doesn’t feel forced.  It feels like a logical consequence of what’s going on and what the story is saying.  For example, the scene with the amputations matters because, well, that’s what the guy is doing.  We’re supposed to be shocked by that, and by some of the murders.  In Watchmen, it seems gratuitous.

Ultimately, overall, that’s the problem with Watchmen.  Too much of it seems to be done just to do it, and not to tie it into the story or plot.  That might fly with fans who want to see their favourite scenes, but it isn’t good for the average movie-goer who might have heard of Watchmen but never read it.  If you aren’t a fan of Watchmen, I’d recommend that you be very wary about this movie.

One Response to “Watching the Watchmen …”

  1. Persona 4: The Animation | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] all for those who don’t know anything about that and just want to watch a good movie/anime. That was exactly my problem with Watchmen. And you have to add to that that most writers and directors don’t want to just copy the […]

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