March 5, 2009
Rambling thoughts on Watchmen and movie reviews
I’ve always thought that the best movie reviews describe both the movie and the reviewer’s reaction to and opinion on it, and those descriptions allow me to get a feel for whether or not I will like the movie. So, for example, while I might not always agree with Roger Ebert (indeed, I think I’ve disagreed with him more often than I’ve agreed), I’m generally able to figure out from his reviews whether or not I’ll like a movie. (Of course, he has the advantage of being the movie reviewer I’ve had far and away the most exposure to.)
I ultimately felt like I was able to glean more from Anthony Lane’s review of Watchmen than Evil Bender was, but not by all that much, and not really enough for me to understand the rancor with which Lane approaches the movie and its source material. And you know, I appreciate a snarky movie review. Lane gives us the cast of characters and a bit of plot summary, but spends a good chunk of time bringing the hate in a way only The New Yorker can, I suppose (Lane uses the phrase “metaphysical vulgarity” at one point, and it seems like maybe it’s tongue-in-cheek, but still…). And I can’t help but feel like that comes across as elitist, which of course gets my hackles up.
And really, does it make any sense at all to begin a review by lauding Maus and Persepolis, then end it by wondering why the comics aren’t funny anymore? (Topics of interest if one is actually interested in exploring a format with literary potential, rather than simply looking down one’s nose at a sort of unworthy outsider art form: graphic novels and the Comics Code Authority.)
As EB mentioned, I’m certainly willing to believe that Watchmen will be a colossal train wreck. In the last sentence of his review, Lane states that the movie is “incoherent, overblown, and grimy with misogyny.” I can imagine it being fairly incoherent: it’s a 400-page graphic novel squished into… holy shit, 163 minutes? That’s pretty long. Still, though. Overblown? Sure — Alan Moore isn’t exactly into subtlety, from what I’ve seen thus far. Misogynistic? That is, perhaps, a bit more complicated.
One of the main female characters in the graphic novel is Sally Jupiter, and I can imagine that her portrayal is an aspect of the story that people might object to. She’s nearly raped, then goes on to have a relationship with the man who tried to rape her. Her other significant on-page romantic relationships include a for-show relationship with another crimefighter (the relationship is a cover for his homosexuality), and her (…not particularly healthy, natch…) marriage to her agent. The thing is, though, I think her character is quite well-rounded and complex — I think her story is a good example of a woman doing her best to survive in a patriarchal and often misogynistic world. Does she make decisions and take actions that are questionable at best and pretty fucked up at worst? Sure thing. So do lots of people here in real life.
Laurie, her daughter, is a less well-rounded character, and it seems like the movie might well flatten her out even further — for example, the movie’s IMDb page has her named Laurie Jupiter, while in the graphic novel she changed her last name to its Polish version, Juspeczyk, in an attempt to distance herself from her mother; Laurie became a crimefighter, at her mother’s insistence, when she was 16, and she’s fairly bitter about it, but I’ve heard (just hearsay, mind you) that they take that detail out, so Laurie’s still bitter but it’s no longer clear why. But Lane’s review doesn’t give me any feel for whether or not Laurie has become more or less engaging as a character in the movie than in the graphic novel; all it tells me is that he thinks Malin Akerman isn’t much of an actress and that “Silk Spectre” sounds like “a top-class shampoo.” His treatment of the other characters is similarly unhelpful.
So, I don’t know. I find it easy enough to get caught up in the spectacle that is superhero movies on the big screen, so I’m thinking I’ll find Watchmen entertaining, if nothing else. But that was my take on the matter before having read Lane’s review. After having read the review, my take on the matter is that I’m thinking I’ll find Watchmen entertaining, if nothing else — and the guy who reviewed it for The New Yorker appears to have a bug up his butt about comic books.