Sunday, March 15, 2009

Who watches the Watchmen?

Me, that's who.

This is an overdose of mind candy for any fan of graphic novels, Alan Moore fans especially.

His original Watchmen was hallucinatory in its visual brilliance -- or visual potential. Don't get me wrong: X's graphics were great. But they pointed to something more; I think I could see what he was trying for in the infinite budget movie in my mind's eye. This film actually looks like that movie.

The story has been progressively strip-mined by several waves of graphic novelists and film directors. The Incredibles comes to mind. I.e.: a law makes masked superheroes illegal and drives them underground. Someone starts killing superheroes forcing the survivors to unite and deal with the threat and find out who's behind it.

As in all good narrative art, story flows out of character. If masked crime fighters really existed, they'd be vigilantes outside the law -- a death squad with capes and tights. If you didn't question your own absolute moral righteousness, you'd essentially be Travis Bickell in a mask (Roarshack). If you questioned it, and wiped people out anyway (on the you-can't-make-an-omelet-without-breaking-eggs theory) you'd either be a smug version of Adolph Hitler protected by your own rationalization (Ozymandius) or a thug coming psychically unglued because you don't buy the rationalization (The Comedian). The character logic holds -- and, I have to say -- holds better than it did in The Dark Knight Returns. I loved that movie, but looking back at it, TDKR sacrificed the inner life of its characters in favor of a relentless narrative drive. You just sorta assume Batman is a tortured soul, and that's that. The Watchmen is all about the inner life of it's characters. It's not an action movie. It's a movie about souls in conflict occasionally punctuated by action. It's a higher level, a higher standard, and much darker material.

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