In Which I confess My Geek Heresy

Elvira and I saw Watchmen this weekend. The short version of my review: What Scalzi said. It was good, though it did drag a little. Most of the graphic novel was there on the screen, which, while impressive, was unnecessary.

Now the long version (with spoilers, or as close as one can get to spoilers for a film slavishly based on a 20 year old Graphic novel):

I’ve always thought Watchmen was overrated. Sorry fellow comic book geeks, but it’s a ponderous and pretentious story, utterly rooted in its time and made irrelevant by better, sleeker and more nuanced stories that have come after. And yes, I realize the irony in this. These better, faster, stronger comics wouldn’t exist if not for Watchmen. Oh, the Paradox!

Right away, contemporary readers are burdened by the implicit alternate reality of the story. And I’m not talking about just the “realistic” super heroes. I’m talking about the persistence of the Soviet Union as a credible adversary and Nixon as a 5th term President. Watchmen has a Cold War hangover. And it’s a detail so integral to the plot that you can’t simply update the story to make it about terrorists rather than commies. That threat doesn’t scale, however much the Neocons in Washington wish it would.

Then there is the intertextual problem. Unless you are a hardcore comic book geek, a lot of the detail is just going to wash over you,making it a little rich for the regular non-comic Book geek moviegoer. This isn’t bad, per say, just a bit busy. Where The Dark Knight got it right, stripping away 70 years of excessive storytelling to get to the heart of Batman the character, Watchmen puts it all on the screen and wallows in it. And that’s fine, if it’s your thing. It still works as a movie, though why they decided to change the ending escapes me. If you’ve got a world in which a blue skinned demigod can serve as the lynchpin of your Xanatos Gambit, why would a giant mutant tentacle vagina monster be that much harder to sell? it might have even added the necessary umph of the numinous to get us over the top.