Friday, March 13, 2009

Who watches ‘The Watchman’?

At this point I’ve read reviews I don’t agree with, reviews I do agree with, and others that have struck me as condescending or dismissive. But none have mystified me quite like this piece by one Brooke-Sidney Gavins. It’s in the otherwise solid Pop + Politics, which was founded and is edited by legit journalists.

Where to begin? How about the lede:

It’s really bad when the state of humanity hinges on a bunch of pseudo-sadomasochists parading around as costumed heroes who haphazardly decide to save the world for mere kicks and giggles. This is the twisted sense of humor and entire point of the mystery adventure The Watchman.

Ignoring for the moment the error in the title, is this really what the film is about? Do “pseudo-sadomasochists” (?) decide to save the world “for mere kicks and giggles,” and “haphazardly” at that? Most critics have figured out that the story is about Batman-style crime-fighters who, adrift and powerless in the real world, discover “the futility of heroism,” as one writer put it.

But I know how Gavins feels. I once saw a film that, despite a very long and labored build-up, turned out to be all about a guy’s sled. Talk about a “twisted sense of humor”!

Like her I was disappointed by some aspects of the film, such as the lack of depth in characters like “Oxymandias,” and its failure to convincingly portray the anxiety of a society on the brink of nuclear war. The movie is also very violent. Some have said excessively so, although I believe there’s a worthy debate to be had here, since in its time the comic was seen as shockingly gruesome. I learn from this review, however, that such a debate would be moot: “The violence depicted in scene after scene was extremely bloody, gross and overdone — enough to make a grown man cover his eyes.” 

The sex scenes have also been called out as fetishistic. I agree with that complaint, although I’m not sure Gavins exactly zeroes in on the problem by saying that these sequences “weren’t worth actress Malin Akerman even baring her breast.” Butt, maybe. Breast? No — Malin Akerman, you have gone too far.

But these are mere details. Surely we can agree that the movie has something to do with the idea of superheroes, and what it says about our society that we fantasize about salvation by these gods in Halloween costumes. Gavins illuminates:

Aren’t most superheroes like Superman concerned with unnecessary violence and killing people? Don’t most champions of justice risk their lives to save others and humanity? And don’t all superheroes have a special power or two that us mere mortals could only dream of?

On these accounts, viewers could legitimately question whether the movie had any bonafide superheroes at all.

Here’s the thing, Brooke-Sidney Gavins: The movie is about people who dress up like superheroes but have no special powers. They learn the limits of their humanity in painful ways: they are condemned by the society they strive to protect; their vigilante personas infect them to the point where they are sexually impotent without the costumes; and despite their excitement about getting back into the crime-solving trade, they can’t stop the deaths of millions of innocent people.

Let’s be fair to Gavins: it’s a complex movie, with a lot of big ideas in it. And how can you expect this Huffington Post contributor to piece it all together when she hasn’t bothered to look up the title, or even look beyond the press kit to find out who actually wrote it? (“... based on DC Comics’ award-winning, limited series graphic novel illustrated by Dave Gibbons.”) Given, that, I understand how she missed these rather important plot points, and also why it left her no time to spell-check. But at least Gavins got the “main theme”:

Thus, the only characteristic Watchmen smiley face this movie deserves is one that is turned completely upside-down and covered with the blood of its own fake super heroes. Like the main theme of The Watchmen: “Life’s a joke,” clearly this movie was too.

Or at least the review.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Jesus Christ. She should lose her credentials for writing "Oxymandias" alone. Has she not heard of Percy Shelley either?