I saw Batman Begins 2: The Dark Night over the weekend (Don’t worry, the review is forthcoming!) and the audience was treated to an interesting trailer. It seems that fans of the comic book movie genre will have an intriguing little movie to see next year. “The Watchman” hits theaters on March 6, 2009 (or 03.06.09. Oh, CLEVER use of multiples there). I thought I would offer my first impressions on the trailer for you, my loyal readers.
What is going on here? Only in a comic book movie!
First, yes, this clearly looks like a comic book movie. There are nicely designed costumes, bright colors, hand-to-hand combat, fire and explosions, and funny looking set pieces, so you immediately know what you’re getting into. And even though that point is clear, it looks completely derivative. I’m there watching this trailer thinking, “Haven’t I see this before?” And it’s not that I’ve seen it in one movie, but just about every comic book movie that came before it.
We’ve got some guy in a cape and head gear who’s either a squirrel or an owl, clearly an *ahem* homage to Batman, who also happens to be cleaning up the Hollywood box office this summer. We also meet a guy wearing a sock over his head with ink stains on it. How would he be able to see in that crazy getup? Whether he’s naturally without sight or if the mask completely blocks out his vision, we certainly have our standard “blind superhero” here, based off of the archetype Daredevil, famously portrayed by Ben Affleck in 2003’s flawless Daredevil.
The Batman "Homage"
And we’ve got a hero who is, get this, basically naked, completely blue-skinned, and got his powers from some sort of radioactive accident. I guess I didn’t see that before in Ang Lee’s masterpiece Hulk from four years ago or The Incredible Shrinking Hulk, that came out in June and starred Ed Norton. Sure the Hulk is GREEN, so I guess it’s not a total rip-off. And sure, the blue guy can split himself into three, but then again we do have two Hulks running around. I’m looking forward to the rumored upcoming Hulk movie where Eric Bana’s Hulk does battle with Ed Norton’s Hulk and some other as-yet-unseen Hulk! But nice try with the blue Mr. Clean, Hollywood! We almost didn’t catch that!
Let’s talk about casting for a minute. Just who are these people? Not one Hanks or Pitt or Hathaway or Fanning in the bunch. And while I’m sure this cast of complete unknowns are fine actors in their own rights and they will handle their parts with grace and nuance, one big question remains. How do you sell a derivative comic book movie to the public, in WINTER, without a superstar headlining the cast? I guess the boys in marketing will have their work cut out for them!
I will make one note about one of the characters, who looks like he’s being played by Robert Downey Jr’s stunt double. It’s like they hired an actor that would resonate with folks because he resembles the biggest summer draw this year. Just take a look at this cigar-chomping ne’er-do-well, and compare him to Downey’s look on two recent projects, Iron Man (which will top out with around $316 million in U.S. grosses) and the upcoming Tropic Thunder (which will easily make somewhere around $100 million).
One, two, buckle my shoe. Ten, twenty, you’ve got Downey! Is it just a coincidence that Iron Man was the hottest comic book movie in recent memory AND that it came out only two short months ago? And now this new supposedly event comic book “film” has a guy that is basically Downey’s long lost twin brother? I think audiences will see through this, but it may not stop them from going to satisfy their unending lust for psychotics running around in spandex and leather kicking the crap out of each other. I, of course, will still be there opening night!
The trailer is not without some merit, and it does manage to put together a short narrative so non-comic book fans may find a reason to go. I will try to tell the story from what I remember. There is a world where superheroes were once the big thing but now don’t have a place in society. It looks like 9/11 didn’t happen, probably thanks to the superheroes wiping out the terrorists and winning wars in the past. I think one scene is a flashback; the large blue guy is fighting in Vietnam and literally atomizing people with his blue death touch. (Okay, so maybe the Hulk he isn’t, exactly.) But the heroes seem to know something really huge is coming and they’re all bitter about it and maybe when regular people look to them for hope and salvation, the heroes will say, “Ah, too bad, so sad.” The plot, I suppose, is not very conventional. I mean, just imagine superheroes turning against the people they’ve sworn to protect! But I swear I’ve seen this, probably in something from Shakespeare, where I guess all great stories come from.
But let’s see what positives we can find. There were some great other sequences that give us a taste of the action we will be in for: A dude gets knocked out the window of a skyscraper, some alien-looking ship comes out of the ocean, a superheroine crashes through a burning building, the aforementioned Vietcong getting atomized on a battlefield. These all point to a movie that will at least live up the standards of what can sell a comic book. There seems to be a love story tied into the plot, so there’s obviously something there for all the nerds’ girlfriends (oxymoron?) who will be dragged to the theater on 03.06.09 (Now I’m falling for it!).
“The Watchman” is definitely an effects-driven movie, also. I suppose most critics will say it’s a “stylistically fascinating treat,” as we see the accident that caused the origin of the blue man, the atomized Vietnamese fellow (boy, I can’t talk enough about that!), teleporting, and an exploding storefront! Wow, so much going on!
Not a selling point.
I don’t know, I don’t really think I can get too excited about this thing. At least with Spider-Man and Batman you know what to expect. This seems to be some director trying to turn the whole genre on its head. I guess it makes sense that humans are flawed, and superheroes are all human, so therefore all heroes are flawed, but don’t I go to the movies for escapism? I don’t want my heroes to be flawed! I want them to be beacons of hope! I want to look up to them! I want them to keep me safe and not have extra-marital affairs with the neighbors and cry about their problems. Those types of things are for schmoes like me! The trade papers and the Internet will have more information for us as we approach that oh-so-memorable release date, so keep your eyes peeled. Not all first impressions are accurate, especially mine! So don’t forget, people! “The Watchman” 03.06.09.
Anyway, I’m going to put together my review of Batman Begins 2: The Dark Night, so be on the lookout for that. And here’s a not so subtle hint about my verdict: Save your money!
Ciao for now!