The other event that inspired nostalgia this weekend was my going to see Watchmen. For those of you who don’t know, Watchmen was THE COMIC of the 1980s. It was well written, excellently illustrated and dealt with more than just superheroes being super. It brought the comic book world into a much more realistic place with flawed heroes, sticky ethical situations, and real questions about why someone became a hero in the first place. And that just scratches the surface of the issues raised by Watchmen, but having said all of that it reads very much as a product of its time, namely the Cold War. Sure, there is a lot that doesn’t revolve around the geopolitical conflict of the 1980s, but Alan Moore obviously had an ax grind in regards to the global climate of the time, the place of the United States within said climate and where he eventually saw things going. The movie is an alternate reality, like the comic (more on this in a minute), and it is set in the same year as the original story, 1985. Of course Alan Moore’s dystopic vision did not come to pass and the threat of nuclear holocaust was averted and anxiety of such an outcome feels almost quaint in retrospect. It makes the movie almost feel like a time capsule. This isn’t helped by the fact that Zach Snyder, the director, practically lifts images and dialogue from the pages of the comic and uses them throughout the film. As the critic from Entertainment Weekly commented, he stayed too true to the comic. At some point there needs to be a break between the mediums, what necessarily works in a comic book doesn’t always work in a movie. Snyder used the same technique in 300 and gained far too much praise for it in that film as well. In short it is less of an homage and more like a rip off.
What’s more, it isn’t 1985 anymore. I’m not discovering mature material for the first time. The movie centers on the crime solving plot line, probably the least interesting aspect of the comic, but the rest of the subtext isn’t as enthralling as it once was. My tastes have expanded and matured from the time I was fifteen. Or as Art Spigelman said when asked about Watchmen “it’s like doing an elaborate cross stitch puzzle only to decode the secret message that says, ‘have a nice day.’” The world has moved beyond the point were Watchmen was first introduced. There is a host of global issues and topics that could have been addressed still using the same characters and internal struggles they face, those themes are timeless, the Cold War is not. Also superheroes, especially their film adaptations, are influenced by Moore and Gibbons work, but have pushed beyond it. When the Dark Knight sets the standard for comic films, Snyder missed the opportunity to use Watchmen to go even further, instead settling for a glossy copy of the original book.
Perhaps I’m being a little too hard on Watchmen. I did enjoy the movie, after all. However it did produce the feeling one gets when passing through their hometown. It’s nice to see some things haven’t changed, but sometimes things need to change in order to stay relevant.