I’m probably the only Alan Moore fan in America who didn’t know that filmmaker Zack Snyder had altered the ending of Moore’s monumental postmodern graphic novel, Watchmen. That’s probably why I sailed through most of this brutal, yet gorgeously realized movie wondering why reviews have been so mixed thus far. My only quibble with it was the film’s over-reliance on Bob Dylan songs, yet even that was drawn from the book. This onscreen realization of the 1988 DC masterwork hews so closely to the often breathtaking comic that I actually found myself laughing out loud in the more pleasurable scenes-the Nite Owl in his super flying craft popping out of the Hudson River, for instance, or Dr. Manhattan’s clockwork palace on Mars. That is, until the end, upon discovering that the monstrous visual payoff I’d most awaited for had been changed-completely. Maybe the movie is more narrative logical now, but it’s a far less satisfying apocalyptic dance. In short, those other critics are right; it’s marred.
Watchmen tells the story of a very parallel America where masked avengers and superheroes intervene in history. Besides a motley crew of fallible enforcers with names like The Comedian and Rorschach, there’s also an atomically mutated blue dude named Dr. Manhattan who’s able to leap prosaic limitations, like space and time, in a single bound. Manhattan single-handedly wins the war in Vietnam, helping Richard Nixon remain president through the mid 1980s, although conflicts with the Soviet Union have the world at Shibboleth’s edge. Moore’s complex and convoluted story plays with narrative conventions and myths of masked vigilantes, viciously critiquing American hegemony. Both the comic and the film are sexy, violent, and visually fantastic.
The movie gets so much right-especially in casting-that it’s hard to remain negative. (I couldn’t shake its images the next day.) The book came out two decades ago, and readers like me eagerly anticipated following its month-by-month serial release. We were stunned by its scope and comic book aesthetic thrills, not to mention its relevance. (The book appeared during a late apex of Cold War nuclear saber-rattling.) How this all will play with young non-readers is anybody’s guess. While other films, like The Dark Knight and The Incredibles attempted the same caped crusader deconstruction, Watchmen is the most relentless, which is why the Hollywood ending is so upsetting. Moore suggested that American macho posturing endangers the world. Snyder’s version says, “Yeah, but ain’t it cool?”