I still haven’t seen the Iron Man movie. Shocking? Yes. And that’s why I am stating it right up front. So you can get over your shock and pay attention to the rest of the article.
The movie of 2009? Watchmen, of course. It doesn’t even matter if you can’t stand super-hero movies. The Dark Knight was the movie of 2008, and Watchmen is the greatest graphic novel of all time. The bizarre legal troubles Fox and Warner will be resolved before the release date and will drum up even more public awareness. But I have doubts. Can this movie be as good as people expect it to be? Can this movie be good enough to honour its source material?
Watchmen is unique in the very short history of comic books. It is the comic book everyone treats with respect. One of the top one hundred novels of all time. Not graphic novels. Novels. Of course, that honour was earned in an online poll, so what is really surprising that a lot more graphic novels didn’t also make the list. Watchmen was one of three 80s graphic novels that helped change the way we think about the medium - Watchmen, Maus, and The Dark Knight Returns - and because we started thinking about them differently, other people started thinking about comics differently too. But Maus has become something a part from the medium. Its an Important Book. Many of its readers would never touch a lowly comic. DKR, on the other hand, is too close to the source material. It’s a Batman comic, for crying out loud, and in spite of its own strengths as a comic, its influence has not been all for the good. Too many hacks have been convinced that dark is good. So many that DC has had to reel back from Batman: The Caped Psychotic. So that leaves Watchmen.
Now I am a fan of comic movies. I even liked X-Men 3 and I wasn’t afraid to tell people then or admit it now. True, it is the only one of the three I didn’t get the DVD of, but at that time, only a couple of years ago, comic book movies were neither as common or as good as they are today. Two of this year’s made every film critic’s best of list, Iron Man and Dark Knight. It hasn’t been a big movie year for me. I don’t when I have seen fewer. I did get out to the Dark Knight. It’s a Batman movie. I saw it twice at the IMAX. I bought the DVD as soon as I could. I got the Hellboy DVD too. But I am a big fan of both these characters. Outside of them I didn’t see many films at all last year. No, not even Iron Man.
One movie I did rush out and get was the direct to DVD release Justice League: The New Frontier. Darwyn Cooke’s story of the origin of the Silver Age heroes is one of the best comics I have ever read. In a way, it serves as a counterweight to Watchmen. While Moore’s epic exposes the myth of the superheroes to the reality of everyday life, Cooke’s reminds us again of why we want heroes, of why men and women chose to be heroes. And the DVD? It was okay. Unlike Moore, Cooke, who has a background in animation, worked with the producers to make the film, so it had the advantage of drawing from the original creative well. But it simply couldn’t match the book. It followed the core story well enough. Hal Jordan gets his ring and becomes a hero. A Green Lantern. But it cuts away so much else. Everything that elevated the book above other comics. All the other stories and digressions that set the tone and gave Jordan’s journey context and a greater meaning. There just wasn’t room for all that in a 75 minute cartoon.
Of course, Watchmen will be more than twice as long, I know, but when it comes to recreating a story that spans decades and includes such a large cast more time may not be all it needs. Snyder did a good job with 300. I am not really a fan of the book or the film, but he did succeed in adapting the story from one medium to another. Frank Miller was a very hands on part of that, true, but I am willing to give the director his due. Maybe it’s time we started shifting our expectations a bit. I don’t mean bring them down a bit. I mean appreciating that the movie will be a Zack Snyder film, not the Alan Moore book. I don’t know if I can do that myself. I don’t know if I can sit there and not think, ‘Oh, they changed that’ or ‘Why did they drop…’ Should the movie be judged solely on its own merits, or should the skillfullness of the adaptation be a part of our evaluation? I don’t have an answer for you. Right now all I have are doubts.