March 1, 2009


Film review: Watchmen (SIOBHAN SYNNOT, 3/01/09, Scotland on Sunday)

The strengths of the film are the strengths of Alan Moore: ingenious, psychologically resonant stories full of breathtaking images and set pieces. Watchmen isn't an empty husk like The Spirit or a cinderblock piece of myth-making like Dark Knight. The character flaws extend to erectile dysfunction for one superhero; when it turns out that he just needs to beat someone up beforehand, Watchmen shows him conquering his problem to the tune of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah'.

Still, you can't help noticing that all this superhero revisionism doesn't appear to extend to the female crusaders, who are kitted out in form-fitting bustiers and suspenders. There's a joke about chicks in spandex in the film but it does nothing to solve the problem facing Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), who fights a bit but spends much more time fretting about her boyfriend's emotional remoteness or standing around like a babe in a nuclear Robert Palmer video.

Watchmen is pretty good, and certainly superior to many other graphic novel adaptations in scope and ambition. Even if you are not well versed in Watchmen lore (I wasn't), you will still linger over what you have seen long after you've left the cinema – especially since the violence and nudity seem even more forcefully presented than in Gibbons' artwork. This smacks of bread and circuses but you may fret more about Dr Manhattan: a man who solves the mysteries of the universe while simultaneously making love to his girlfriend in three different forms, yet can't find his underpants.

Personally, I never thought Watchmen was that revolutionary, because Stan Lee's Marvel in particular had been premised on the fallibility and dysfunction of its heroes. But two things are very enjoyable: first, though supposedly a critique of the form it is utterly faithful to that form in the telling; and, two--without spoiling the story, if you don't know it--the evil they're fighting against ultimately turns out to be intellectualism.

-PROFILE: The Observer profile: Alan Moore: With wild hair and even wilder ideas, this reclusive Englishman looks like a figure from one of his hugely influential comic series. But don't talk to him about Hollywood, especially not the soon-to-be-released Watchmen (Vanessa Thorpe, 3/01/09, The Observer)

Standing more than six feet tall, Moore has the flashing eyes and floating hair of the malign presence in Coleridge's Kubla Khan. An unsung British creative giant, with a flat Black Country accent, he looks more like a shadowy character from one of his own cult comics than a mighty creator of worlds. He wears silver, scorpion rings, has a penchant for magic, tarot cards and erotica and is rumoured to worship a Roman snake god. Yet this unlikely bloke, whose recent Lost Girls was a kinky comic strip fantasy about the sexual awakening of three young girls in the Austria of 1913, has somehow perpetrated the ultimate swindle on American popular culture.

As novelist and Watchmen fan Susanna Clarke puts it: "He took something very American - the superhero comic - reinvented it [more than once] and sold it back to them." And, one might add, didn't even want to keep the profit he made on the deal. When Watchmen first came out, its dark imaginings spawned a melancholy rethink of the superhero comic book culture and inspired Tim Burton to make his influential Batman in 1989. It also gave rise to what Snyder calls the current spate of "man movies": Spider-Man, Iron Man, X-Men et al.

Amid all the pre-release hype, Gavin Smith, editor of New York's magazine Film Comment, recalls how groundbreaking the comic book was. "It debunked the idea of the superhero by showing a seamy side and looking at the fascistic undercurrents and elements of sexual fantasy. But these days its story seems almost pedestrian."

It's true; Moore's illustrated novel is far from the violent, computer-game-oriented superhero blockbusters of recent years. The plot, after all, features erectile dysfunction, obsessive clone replication and four-in-a-bed romps. Watchmen is complex and relativist. Its heroes are more likely to talk or to have sex than to blast each other into the stratosphere.

"It's what separates it from all the other comic book movies out there," according Deborah Snyder, the film's producer and wife of the director. "We show that there is a consequence to violence and that it's not just Spider-Man crashing into walls".

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Posted by Orrin Judd at March 1, 2009 8:05 AM
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