DC has released several utterly brilliant comics over the last few decades, but the one that remains at the pinnacle of them all is Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ unparalleled 1986 masterpiece, Watchmen.
There really hasn’t been a comic before or since that managed to seamlessly weave in heavy philosophical themes about the humankind’s folly while subverting superhero tropes in ways readers haven’t seen yet. The complexity of the narrative was so great that it’s no surprise why a Watchmen film adaptation didn’t come about until 2009 when Zack Snyder decided to work his “magic”.
And as the movie turns 10 years old, Snyder’s Watchmen still remains the most visually stunning yet tone-deaf comic book comic adaptation ever made this side of Batman v Superman, which happened to also be directed by Snyder.
The laundry list of just why Watchmen didn’t click would span the length of Rorschach’s journal, but the basis of all these problems stem primarily from Snyder being the completely wrong person for the source material.
Whereas Snyder put the Watchmen comic and heroism on a pedestal (just watch 300 and you’ll know what I mean), Moore basically hates superheroes and portrays them as seriously flawed and utterly ridiculous.
So immediately from the onset there’s a disconnect between a director who wants to celebrate superheroes, and the source material’s entire point, which is to completely deconstruct the hero trope and render them into nothing more than useless people who wear dumb costumes.
The comic was a product of the 1980’s Cold War era and was thematically outdated by the time 2009 came around. But rather than update the story to a more contemporary backdrop, Snyder stubbornly stuck to the comic’s setting and added nothing new or interesting, essentially missing a great opportunity to update the comic to younger audiences.
The film’s characterisation of the comic’s characters is also wide off the mark. Rather than depict them all as flawed people who are in over their head as the comic did, Snyder couldn’t help himself and turned them all into badass fighters straight out of a John Woo flick. Watchmen didn’t have any of the visceral fight scenes as seen in the film and what action scenes there were present in the comic are all depicted as horrific and unforgivable acts.
On top of just not understanding the comic, Snyder’s direction also resulted in some truly weird and awful bits that still grinds my gears, such as Matthew Goode’s uncharismatic portrayal of the ridiculously charming Ozymandias and that “so bad it’s funny” sex scene set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.
If there was one silver lining, it’s that Snyder absolutely nailed the visuals because Watchmen is probably the best-looking flop of an adaptation we’ve ever seen, right down to the painstaking detail in getting Doctor Manhattan’s swinging blue schlong just right.
It ultimately stands to reason that Snyder was simply not the right person to adapt Watchmen as a film, no matter how much of a fan he is of the comic. Hell, he should steer clear from comic book stuff for a while after what he did to Superman and Batman.
We’re going to get a new adaptation soon as Damon Lindelof is working on a brand new Watchmen series for HBO, but it remains to be seen how that goes. For now, we have Zack Snyder’s film as a shining example of how you can love a comic book to bits and yet still not understand a single thing it is trying to say.