Watch This

watchAh dammit looks like they got me again. I know the reviews for the American release a year or more ago were mixed, but 4K Watchmen… I don’t know how many times I have this film (in its various incarnations) on disc already, it must be heading towards Blade Runner levels of indulgence/stupidity. This disc is out in just a month or so, too (no doubt on the back of HBOs new spin-off series) so not only a surprise but an imminent one too.  Mind, that Ugliest Cover Art Ever nominee really isn’t helping.

Funny thing is, I was only musing this morning about how nostalgia can be a really negative thing, a trap that for film fans in particular keeps us going back to old films, old favourites (I’d watched the 4K disc of Angel Heart the night before which was probably why such thoughts were on my mind) over and over, as if trying to recapture the original thrill/experience, or the old times we originally saw the films. So several hours later I see this come up for pre-order, completely out of the blue. It looks like my musings have been answered: Nostalgia is a virus.

Maybe ugly cover art is the cure.

Did Watchmen almost destroy the DC Superhero movie?

bvs22016.68: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Cut (Blu-Ray)

The shadow of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen looms large over BvS, right from the very beginning, with a portentous/pretentious (delete as applicable) flashback to the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents. In slow motion it looks and feels like a continuation of Watchmen -it even features the Comedian playing Bruce Wayne’s father. Watchmen is one of my favourite films, particularly of the Superhero genre, mostly because, whatever its faults, it remains true to its source and consequently has the internal logic that Alan Moore laboured over. But the central problem of BvS is Snyder still thinks he’s making Watchmen, resulting in a film that isn’t true to its source material (whether it be Batman comics, Superman comics, or Frank Millers Dark Knight Returns which is, crucially, wholly seperate from any Batman continuity I’m aware of, something many fans forget). Sometimes BvS feels more like Watchmen 2 than the Man of Steel 2 it should have really been.

Perhaps it was a reaction to criticism of Man of Steel, and Snyder falling back to what he ‘knows’. He obviously felt that the solution was to adopt the Watchmen method of treating the Superhero genre. The whole point of Watchmen was to put superhero archetypes in a real-world situation and analysing their impact and ironic tropes. But that’s not really the ‘point’ of the Batman strip or the Superman strip. They are ‘just’ superheroes. There’s this weird dichotomy of a crazy billionaire dressed up as a bat beating up what he perceives to be people who deserve it, a centrally daft premise, and trying to validate that as a real-world response to real-world problems. Nowhere is this more infuriating than with the constant agonising that is the film’s treatment of Superman, something extended from the previous Man of Steel. It’s clear to me that Snyder is confusing Superman with Dr Manhattan, which is misguided in the extreme.

bvs3Note the similarity to the scene of the Vietnamese surrendering to Dr Manhattan in Watchmen (bowing to him as if acknowledging his Godlike status) to scenes of people reaching upwards to Superman as if again, surrendering to his Messianic, Godlike status. In just the same way as an untrusting public scared of his Godlike powers turned upon Dr Manhattan, so people turn against Superman in BvS. Its far removed from the treatment of the character in Superman: The Movie, in which he is simply accepted as a ‘good’ guy in whom everyone can believe in to do the ‘right thing’. Okay, that might be simplistic in our modern cynical world, but that’s Superman, and over-analysing and agonising over his place in our real-world is what Watchmen was about in creating Dr Manhattan. This is supposed to be a Superman movie, not a Watchmen movie, and psycho-analysing superheroes just backs you into the Dark Knight corner and ultimately gets you nowhere.

Instead of the Caped Detective, this film’s Batman is a rogue vigilante, a younger variant of the DKR version and more Watchmen‘s Comedian than is really necessary (is there indeed something deliberate about the Comedian playing Bruce Wayne’s father in the prologue?). The Comedian revelled in the chaos of the world and saw all the greed and depravity and crime as the natural way of things in a cold universe with humanity lacking any decency. Batman in BvS follows this direction, even branding villains and killing when necessary, in his almost perverse version of justice, traumatised by earlier events involving (it is inferred, at least) the death of Robin. The central difference is that the Comedian laughed and smiled about it, seeing the irony of costumed heroes only making things worse, while Batman just frowns harder at his inability to ‘cure’ Gotham of the blight of crime over the course of decades of effort and whose only response is to, well, just try harder.

In the end, the looming shadow of Watchmen just confuses BvS and paralyses it. It wants to be dark and serious and Watchmen-like, but also wants to be a Marvel movie and launch a DC-Universe version of the Marvel Studios output. It wants to be a Batman movie, adapting DKR, but it also wants to be a Man of Steel sequel. It wants to be a Batman/Superman hybrid movie, but it also wants to be a Justice league prequel. It wants to be everything for everyone, and pretty much fails to be anything at all.

bvs1The last hope of DC fans and in particular fans of BvS was its Ultimate Cut. Of course its impossible for thirty minutes additional footage to save such an already troubled picture. Surprisingly, the additional thirty minutes do actually improve on some of the internal logic failings of the theatrical cut, and fix some glaring inconsistencies and plot holes. But you know, I think you could put those thirty minutes in and take another sixty minutes out and you’d have a better picture. As it is, it’s way too long and slow and contains too much redundant stuff.

The Apocalyptic dream-sequence adds nothing to the film. It may look visually interesting and feature another action sequence (if only to spice-up the pace of a flagging film), but it adds absolutely nothing to the film at all. Neither do the shots of a future-Flash shouting an enigmatic message about saving Lois Lane. Its almost like an intermission; BvS stops to show a scene from some other movie and then we’re back to BvS.  Indeed, it’s not even as if Bruce Wayne/Batman considers the dream or comments on it- not even “I just had the damndest dream” to Alfred, or a “I think I somehow just saw a vision of the future.” It isn’t referenced in the film at all. It happens and then it’s gone. Its adds nothing at all, utterly redundant, only functioning to confuse the audience, as if a trailer for BvS Part Three was edited into the film by mistake or an angry editor with a score to settle against Snyder. It really didn’t need be there at all. Its bad storytelling, it’s bad movie -making. Its just some nod to the geeks who know the original comic storyline and tease the larger DC Universe, but as far as making a decent movie, it’s a glaring error.

If you’re making a film about Batman and Superman, and calling it Batman v Superman, then thats your story. Everything should serve that story and that story should be your focus. If there is some elaborate scheme to orchestrate that face-off then establish that and see it out, and have that face-off be your big pay-off, your big finale. Don’t drop in a late cameo of Zod’s corpse turning into Doomsday just to excuse the appearance of Wonder Woman as an advert/tease for her own movie. For one thing, the logic is total bullshit- if Lex Luthor created Doomsday to kill Superman, and that scheme succeeded, then who’s going to kill Doomsday if Superman is dead? Doomsday is hardly going to be an obedient lackey for a despotic Luthor. I can imagine Doomsday killing Superman then turning on everyone else and Luthor thinking “whoops”as Doomsday lives up to his name and nukes the planet. I thought Luthor was a genius?

BvS isn’t about making a decent movie. It isn’t even really trying to be a decent movie, because if it was, it’d be about an hour shorter with a more focused story, As it is, it is just one long confusing tease for Wonder Woman/Man of Steel 2/ Batman/Justice League and all the other films Warner/DC are intent on making. It is a cynical and calculated attempt to sell a raft of further movies instead of making one decent or even great movie. Thats a betrayal of the fans and the movie audience in general, but sadly symptomatic of how films are made these days.

 

Watchmen: Ultimate Cut (2009)

watch12016.19: Watchmen-Ultimate Cut (Blu-ray)

I bought the Theatrical Cut on blu-ray. I bought the Directors Cut on blu-ray. I’ve now bought the Ultimate Cut on blu-ray. I don’t feel ripped-off at all by all this double/triple-dipping.

I think I must like this movie.

Well, to be fair, although I’ve always wanted to see the Ultimate Cut I’ve never been compelled enough to pay the crazy amounts charged on ebay over the years, only buying it now due to it being in a sale on Amazon. However, it is clear that I like, even love, this movie; it remains one of my most enjoyable and surprising experiences at the cinema, certainly in the past few decades. This was a film with a huge weight on it, based on a book that was widely accepted as being unfilmable, and directed by Zack Snyder (Man of Steel surely later indicating how bad Watchmen might have been). It should have been a disaster, but instead I came out of the cinema buzzing like I hadn’t in years; my mate Andy who had also read the graphic novel years before loved it too. Yet we’d just seen arguably the weakest version of the film- the Directors Cut that came out on blu-ray several months later was far superior and answered many of the problems of the theatrical cut.
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How much the world needed the Ultimate Cut depends on how much you loved the film, as that Directors Cut is pretty much definitive. The problem that the Ultimate Cut has is two-fold: the sheer length of the thing (three and a half hours of it) and how much the animated Tales of the Black Freighter distracts from the live-action and upsets the pacing. I can’t argue against it- the film is long and yes, some of the cuts to/from animated sequences can be jarring. On the other hand, having the Black Freighter stuff in it makes it feel more complete, and also adds some much-needed coverage of the ‘normal’ characters, the ‘real-world’ two Bernies, that adds some depth and another layer of ‘realty’ to the whole.  As for how long it is- well, better that than to have it cut to ribbons, and time-wary viewers are catered for with the theatrical cut anyway. The Ultimate Cut was clearly made for the films fans and as one of them, I appreciate it; just that it exists is amazing. Its unfortunate that we fans in the UK have to import the damn thing though and, in my case, have had to wait so many years to see it.

In the years since Watchmen (and isn’t it a little terrifying how long ago 2009 feels already?), Marvel’s series of Superhero films have dominated the box office with much better critical success than Watchmen ever had, and it could be argued that Watchmen has surely been forgotten in the wake of Marvel getting so much so right.

Studios have found that if your superhero film has impressive production values, likeable actors, plenty of action and humour and maybe some romance, then mainstream audiences will lap it up as much as the geeks, and if you can keep it rated PG-13, all the better. You don’t gross over a billion dollars without it appealing to everyone, and that includes foreign audiences with non-western cultures, so keep the plot fairly simple and the spectacle high. Even fairly obscure comic-book characters can have great success (who but the geeks had ever heard of Guardians of the Galaxy?).

So Watchmen was a clear example of how not to do it. It was long, it was dense, it was dark, it was more about character and its complex, conflicted world than good guys versus bad guys with big effects sequences. It was all about its subversive source and being faithful to that. Its box office compared to the Marvel films success speaks volumes. For a R rated movie it did okay; the geeks enjoyed it ( well, most of em) but the mainstream stayed away or were confused by it. Compare this to the similarly R-rated Deadpool, violent, simple and very funny- geeks loved it but more importantly the mainstream lapped it up too. Deadpool, despite also being R-rated and its audience (in theory) limited, has earned over $680 million worldwide so far. Personally I much prefer Watchmen, but I can understand why it didn’t have the success of Deadpool or the other PG-13 Marvel offerings. In anycase, to consider Watchmen as a failure is a mistake anyway- it may not have been a Deadpool, but neither was it a Fantastic Four.

I doubt it will ever get a Blade Runner-like reappraisal, but I think it deserves to. I think Watchmen remains a phenomenal piece of work. Indeed, watching it now I am often amazed at all the details, how so much has been squeezed in (particularly in this Ultimate Cut), how faithful to the original graphic novel it is, how beautifully it is shot and acted. Detractors of the film often fail to appreciate the craft and artistry at work in this film; the sets, the lighting, the costume design. They nailed it. It’s brilliant. It isn’t perfect, but it comes so close.

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Some people will argue I’m wrong and that Snyder’s film proves that Watchmen is indeed unfilmable. I think Watchmen is, like Blade Runner, an arthouse movie posing as a mainstream blockbuster. Unfortunately it’s not intimate enough for an arthouse movie or mainstream enough to be a blockbuster. It falls somewhere in between and will always fail to be embraced by critics or public, but I think those who like the film absolutely love it. I will admit it doesn’t get everything right, it’s full of little things that bug me, but I’ll forgive every one of them because of how much the damn thing gets so beautifully, gloriously, brass-balls-I-don’t-believe-they-did-that right. I’m the kind of guy who grew up with comics in the 1970s and enjoyed the critical resurgence in the 1980s and cannot believe they are taken so seriously now and transferred with so much care and attention into these amazing films. I mean, seriously, bad-mouth Watchmen and then see-

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Oddly enough, Watchmen isn’t completely forgotten, even though with the release of the Ultimate Cut a few years ago you’d think it was all done. The one good thing about its perceived ‘failure’ is that we didn’t get any talk of sequels or prequels. Even fans of the film would argue against any continuation of the story, and the prequel books that came out awhile ago don’t seem to have satisfied many (although I quite like some of them). Rumours persist though of HBO working on some kind of Watchmen series, something I would ordinarily be excited about did the film not exist, but it does, so,  what’s the point? I can’t believe, in so few years after the film came out, that anybody is interested in rebooting it already; but that’s Hollywood, nothing is sacred I guess. I’m sure the Comedian would appreciate the joke maybe, but it worries me. Surely there are other properties to turn to? Warren Ellis’ Planetary maybe? Or maybe Marshall Law? Can’t they leave Watchmen alone? Well, maybe Dr Manhattan knows…

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