“Watchmen” is an easy movie to hate: It’s pretentious and corny. The dialogue has the subtlety of a creeping elephant. And the sex scenes make the dialogue seem like a nuanced Charlie Kaufman screenplay.
Yes, the film’s greatest weakness leaves it vulnerable to criticism—but it is also its greatest strength. Snyder’s masterpiece stays true to its Bible, the graphic novel, with religious fervor. “Watchmen” can feel a bit like the “Passion of the Christ” in that regard. As a result, the audience winces at some painful one liners and laughs at gratuitous visuals.
But while this meticulous faithfulness results in some clunky moments, it also is one of the reasons why Snyder’s film can leave you breathless. “Watchmen” isn’t “Harry Potter,” where you see the films and agree that, yes, you just saw the plots and characters of the books in movie form. “Watchmen” isn’t “All the King’s Men,” where you cringe, as a classic book falls completely flat on film.
To watch “Watchmen” is to experience one of the greatest novels of all time simply come to life. It is immersive yet repulsive. You feel every pop and absorb every color. The film is literature, in a way I have never experienced in the theater.
And experiencing “Watchmen” in film only strengthens its message. American fascination with superheroes doesn’t come out of liberty, justice and heroism. It comes out of the darkest parts of human nature—our need for blood, our crippling powerlessness, our selfish hunger. We can’t take our eyes of Octo-Mom, and Rihanna’s bloodied face is bought for $62,000 by TMZ. “Watchmen” has never been more relevant. To see “Watchmen” in IMAX is to viscerally feel the violence, darkness and bombast unearthed in the film.
The cinematography is arresting and inventive; the acting, for the most part, resonates; the special effects are unparalleled and historic. Since the movie was positioned as a mainstream blockbuster, the box office receipts have been disappointing. But that’s because “Watchmen,” the film, is as much in costume as its characters. Just as Dan Dreiberg only feels alive as Nite Owl, “Watchmen” falls flat as your average blockbuster; it excels as the smart, niche adaptation it truly is.