by Shirley Mak

greaterthan

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1. The villain wasn’t nearly as badass.


veidtjoker

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Comparing Heath Ledger’s Joker to Matthew Goode’s Veidt is like comparing Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal to one of the members from the Donner party. One engages in evil because he can; the other does it merely out of circumstance – who do you think gets the Oscar for scariest performance? Okay, so maybe that’s a really bad analogy, especially considering that the villains in Watchmen are few and far between, with multiple characters contributing their own little bouts of iniquity to the mix, but personally I didn’t find Goode’s performance in the movie particularly impressive nor fitting of the original character.
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Veidt in the graphic novel is a steely, overly ambitious individual who thinks he can save humanity out of sheer force of will and a meticulously crafted plan that, were it not for his superhuman intelligence, would have resulted in another Cloverfield disaster – i.e., all brawn and no brain. His one vice is that he’s too good to be true (and I guess, you know, the whole ‘I’m going to wreak Armageddon on the world thing’). Goode’s Veidt just seemed a little too shrimpy to pull it off – and anyway, how could such a (physically) small head house such a big brain?

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2. Both female characters sucked, but at least in The Dark Knight she died.

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laurierachel

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Laurie, or Silk Spectre II, had no character development in the movie whatsoever. If she wasn’t sleeping with either Dr. Manhattan or Nite Owl II, she was either whining about life or throwing things at giant pink structures while whining about life. Sure, she did that in the graphic novel too, but at least then she did it with some spunk – more rage than sheer teary-eyed girliness. In the movie she’s rendered almost completely flat, as though she were merely another part of the whole let’s-include-at-least-one-“strong”-female-character-so-the-movie-isn’t-a-complete-sausage-fest plan. And let’s make her really hot and annoying so that audiences won’t realize that she has no real personality whatsoever. Hmm… didn’t see that one coming.

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3. The biggest badass is not that badass. (And he doesn’t do the pencil trick.)

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rorschach

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In the film, Rorschach’s character, possibly my favorite from the book, is not nearly as multi-dimensional. He’s still vicious, still creepy, and still (strangely) relatable (Jackie Earle Haley’s performance as Rorschach is certainly commendable, almost as good as his role as the creepy but forlorn pervert in Little Children), but no longer as nuanced.

And nuances are clearly what define Rorschach – as evident by his name, by his subtly changing mask, by his very being. It’s the fact that you can’t really figure him out that makes him such a great character. On the one hand, his twisted reasoning doesn’t seem that far-fetched – with the state that humanity is in these days, why does it deserve to be saved from its “accumulated filth?” But on the other hand, he’s just another misfit who doesn’t really understand that in order to save society, you actually have to be a part of it. Why bother vanquishing evil when you don’t even believe in good? It’s complicated. He’s complicated – as a villain-as-hero (and vice-versa) should be. But in the movie, Rorschach’s motivations are made far too clear to uphold that nihilistic force of nature radiating from everything he says and does.

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4. Both movies derive their ingenuity from source material, but only one of them actually does something with it.

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Both Watchmen and The Dark Knight are credited with re-inventing the superhero genre and deviating from the typical niche of comic book movies as entertaining but campy. Both movies feature tortured heroes without any real superpowers, signs of the darker side of humanity, and themes not suitable for children. The only difference is, Christopher Nolan deserves credit for engineering the re-invention; Zack Snyder does not. If Watchmen is an innovative superhero movie, it is only because Alan Moore’s novel is that good.

Nolan took the idea of Batman and Gotham and placed it in a realistic urban setting, developing a Batman whose very existence comes directly from within himself and his own complex motivations and efforts. His costume does not so much serve as a cool-factor as it is a means of utility, and his strength is a trait manufactured over years of experience and practice rather than something already inherent in the Batman persona. The only director’s trademarks found in Watchmen are the frequent, and often unnecessary, instances of slow-motion that accompany nearly every other action (and sometimes non-action) scene. Slow-motion editing was cool in 300; in Watchmen it was merely annoying. If I wanted to watch people’s bodies freeze in mid-air for no apparent reason at all, I’d go watch one of the Matrix sequels instead.

It can’t be denied that Zack Snyder’s adaptation was faithful to the graphic novel – nearly every scene that he chose to replicate was almost perfect in detail and sure to appease devoted fans – but what else can be said about the film besides the fact that it was accurate?

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5. Only one made me eager to see a sequel.

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Okay, so this is a little unfair, as anyone who has actually read Watchmen will already know. I know Alan Moore purposely structured the novel so that no sequel can really come out of it (killing off half the characters was a genius move on his part) but hey, he also stated from the very beginning that a successful movie adaptation can’t be made, and clearly to some extent he was wrong, as the film is currently being heralded as provocative and entertaining by both fans and non-fans of the novel alike. So maybe a sequel could be in store after all? Stranger things have happened.

But the thing is, even if that were the case – I wouldn’t want to see a Watchmen sequel. Throughout the entirety of the film I was very much aware of its limitations as a film adaptation of a literary masterpiece. I was never convinced, not even once, that it could stand strong as a film alone. In other words, without the background I had going in (namely, as someone who had read and loved the graphic novel), and without the sheer audacity and appeal of the source material, the movie would probably have been even less impressive than it already was. Its primary strength lay in the arena blockbusters are known for: its aesthetics. It was a “cool” movie, visually speaking. But film as a medium is so much more than just the aesthetics. Lauding any one movie on that basis alone seems to me a bit like cheating – you’re getting a good thing, but it’s only one part of a package deal.

I know there are many who might disagree, but hear me out – part of the fun and intrigue of watching Watchmen was simply to see the characters depart from the elusive nature of one’s imagination and play out on the screen with their costumes and voices and colors intact, a visual feast that maybe only a Hollywood blockbuster can offer. I guess that’s good enough for some people, and that’s perfectly fine. But honestly, I came into the movie expecting a lot more.

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