Who’s Watching Watchmen?

728_watchmen.jpgI’m not usually a devoted follower of the ratings at Rotten Tomatoes, but looking at advance reviews of Watchmen this week, I started to wonder: has there ever been a greater disparity between the tracked “T-Meter Critics” (a quite inclusive pool of online and print reviewers) and the so-called “Top Critics” (a more elite, print-centric pool of big-name writers)? As I type this, the fim’s “T-Meter Critics” rating is a very respectable 73%, which indicates that of all those reviews, 73 percent are at least marginally positive. But the corresponding “Top Critics” rating is only 14 percent.

Granted, the “Top Critics” sampling is much smaller. Essentially, 14% means that, out of seven writers, only Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly liked the film (he gave it an unenthusiastic B-). But it seems like there’s something happening here, with the larger group — mainly onliners — admiring the film and the body of more traditional critics dismissing it outright. (Before a screening of a different film yesterday morning, I overheard a conversation that started like this: CRITIC A: I saw Watchmen last night. CRITIC B: Piece of shit, right?)

I’m seeing it on Thursday night with the rest of fandom (I must be on the Z-list at Warner Bros. because I get cut from screenings of hotly anticipated films like this and The Dark Knight) so I don’t have an opinion yet. Despite my distaste at the prospect of sitting through another hypertrophied 300-style adaptation, I do love Watchmen and so I’d love for this film to be awesome — even partly awesome, or awesome in compromised ways. My fingers will be crossed.

4 Replies to “Who’s Watching Watchmen?”

  1. Oh man.

    Piece of shit is right. Toward the end, when Xena Warrior Princess said, “John would say nothing ends” I looked at my equally disgusted friend and said, “Like this movie?”

    All the blue nudity was amusing.

    I think C+ is generous. Interested in reading your take on it.

  2. It seems to me that it would be very easy to perceive Watchmen as a cash-grab for those thirsty for a trendily cynical, dark action film with the trappings of superhero fantasy, especially if the critics aren’t very familiar with Moore’s cult following, or the real impact of the original Watchmen comic. At the same time, it seems that a lot of the positive reviews are more forgiving of the film’s flaws because of the effort put into the film and its lofty thematic ambition, rather than its actual success. The more traditional critics may find no use for praising a slick, overlong, multimillion dollar stab at existential nihilism (in spandex!) when they can lavish that praise on a gritty, modestly scaled existential drama playing at the art house down the street. The fact is that Watchmen isn’t doing anything fresh, but a lot of viewers seem to think it is because it’s in the form of a superhero fantasy, rather than a war picture or domestic tragedy. Of course, these comparisons are a bit arbitrary, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were a factor.

  3. And part of the problem is that Watchmen is, again, more than 20 years old. Just being Watchmen isn’t enough. It’s not fresh or unexpected — the conventional Batman franchise has been evolving over the years by taking cues from Frank Miller and Alan Moore in the 1980s — and it’s become part of our pop-cultural mythology without ever actually being filmed! The Incredibles, for instance, kicks off from the same very basic template (superheroes have been driven underground, reach middle age) as Watchmen. It’s problematic when your adaptation has already been beaten to the screen by playful parodies of the source material!

  4. Hi, Sharon. Sorry your comment got swallowed in the vortex that is Movable Type! C+ is kind of my default grade for movies that I wish I could be positive on, but can’t. It’s the borderline where I can’t say that I enjoyed the movie, but I’m not sorry I saw it either. But, yeah, in the face of other, better movies currently playing a C+ picture is generally a waste of time unless you have a special interest in the genre, the filmmakers, and/or the subject matter.

    I just thought about your comment on “all the blue nudity.” I kind of assumed you were just talking about Dr. Manhattan’s schlong, but when Silk Spectre II gets her kit off, she’s all bathed in blue, too. I wonder if that’s just swiped from the comics’ color scheme, or if Snyder was trying to connect the two characters visually. Ah well, doubt I’ll be seeing it again to try and figure *that* out.

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