Saturday, March 21, 2009


Well, it's official: I've tried, tried to like films based on comic books. But the cold hard truth is, I simply find them boring. I've always found the metaphors to be a bit cliched and laboured, like the X Men's striving for queer symbolism. My suspension of disbelief is dangling by a frayed thread. I always find myself dozing off during the lengthy exposition and waking up during the denoument. I've just always been more of a fan of gritty realism. I'll take crisp, scintillating Albee-esque dialogue, Woody Allen-ish neurosis and Fassbinder-style irony over quasi-martial arts and re-heated Deepak Chopra quantum physics any day. But that's comparing apples and oranges. Unfortunately that tired old faux-Zen Oprah bromide applies here: "It is what it is."

The latest graphic novel to hit the screen is Alan Moore's Watchmen, and it's a doozie. I haven't read Moore's classic tomes, but he also created the original V for Vendetta, a film I caught a couple years back and, while admiring its radical philosophy, found the adaptation a bit bloodless, more a vehicle for a sinewy, in-her-element Natalie Portmouth than anything else.

Watchmen tries to be faithful to the source material, but at times you sense it's trying too hard. My friend Bernd had heard it was "dunkeler" and "ruhiger" than other similarly hyped films, so I braced myself for a slow, meditative exercise. Memo to Regisseur Zack Snyder: there's a difference between deliberate and flat boring.

The film begins in an alternate reality 1980's by sucker punching us with the one-two destruction of erstwhile rapist and all-around moral relativist superhero the Comedian. Yawn. We get it already. Comic book heroes, they're just like us! They ain't just black and white, folks! They're read all over (rimshot pur-leeeze).

And apparently they are paranoid as well. But as all of us mere mortals know, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. Rorschach Blot uncovers a vast right wing conspiracy against the remaining superheroes, enlisting his colleagues in the Clandestine Cape-and-tight Fetishists' Brigade to get to the bottom of things, and what do they find beneath the streets of Gotham (or rather, in their living room mirrors)? A big black gooey cistern of corruption, that's what. Quelle surprise.

Technically, the film is superb. The bravura opening credits sequence following Comedian's cliched demise is a mosaic of 20th century superheroes shenanigans, with guest appearances by the Kennedys, Andy Warhol, the Stonewall rioters, to name just a few -- it's DC comics welded with Forrest Gump, or Allen's long-forgotten technical masterpiece Zelig. The scenes on Mars were also great. I wanted the film to stay on Mars (according to friends who have read the book, the Mars scenes there are much more voluminous) and splinter off into a different story arc, never a good sign. There is also a scene in which a multitasking Big Blue manages to be in several places at once, including a threeway with his Missus and a replica of himself. I really wanted the film to split off into a porno involving only Big Blue and his replicants. On Mars. Also not a good sign.

Anyway, the whole thing culminates in a spectacular nuclear standoff which, thankfully, doesn't take the easy way out. But there's a hollow ring to all this pseudo-profundity, underscored by the pathos in Silk Screen's self-conscious relationship with her mother, and the Big Blue Penis' (voiced by Billy Crudup) pacifist take on old HAL from 2001.

The upshot is, it's been four days since I've seen the film, and, though I kind of enjoyed it at the time, none of it has stuck with me. There is a miasma where my memory should be. In short, it's not really moving, just an interminable series of maudlin moralizing, an how-to phantasmagorical primer on making the planet sustainable. The filmmakers want to tailor their bespoke heroes for these conflicted times, but, let's face it, America is post-hero, and the idea that some fey dude in a party mask, hair plugs, blue/silver tights and oversize clown shoes can save the world only by (spoiler alert!!!) nuking it for the greater good should by rights seem just a bit ludicrous to all but the most devoted slave, excuse me, fan boy. Maybe I'm just missing the point. But somebody please tell me, what is the point? I may be prejudiced, but I find no cold comfort in fantasy, and am not sure if I trust those who do!

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