The Watchmen Movie Got Every Except The Deconstruction
Before going further, let's establish one thing: the Watchmen movie is good. Long-believed unadaptable, that Zack Snyder managed to do a narratively faithful adaptation where the comic panels were essentially a storyboard is a minor miracle. His visual style suits the alt-1980s almost as well as 481 BC Greece, and the casting is (mostly) spot-on. Perhaps the biggest praise comes to the biggest change: the "alien" being swapped out for replica Doctor Manhattan bombs may seem like sacrilege, but as the book's decision was centered on it being a comic book - the creature was designed by kidnapped artists - it had no purpose being present in the film, with Snyder's chosen fix tying the overarching scheme more to the characters. The film released theatrically struggles to fully find its voice, but the Watchmen: Ultimate Cut, which readded deleted subplots and the entire Tales of the Black Freighter comic-cartoon, is probably the director's most complete work.
However, despite all that, there's one thing which, even in the four-hour version, Snyder didn't fully convey. He captures the themes of personal regret and global fear, but what's lost in the translation - and is why the graphic novel was deemed unfilmable in the first place - is the placement of the story within the medium and the form's development. Moore's tale was putting a looking glass up to what comic books are and exploring what the ramifications of the tropes and narratives it played with would have on real characters. You see this across his work - Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? was an earlier, lauded attempt - but in Watchmen the scale is staggering.
And little of it is Snyder's film. Why this didn't work on film is pretty simple: Watchmen couldn't be so directly adapted and applied to the then-present superhero movie genre simultaneously. Comic books in the 1980s do not match their cinematic adaptations in the 2000s, and so the best fit was to deal with everything else (this is also why the HBO Watchmen series isn't adapting the book in a direct way). The film gives Ozymandias a rubber suit with nipples in a nod to Batman & Robin (the trailers also used a version of that film's tie-in song), updates Nite Owl to be even more an impotent twist on Batman, and the decision for the villain's plot to be a big blue light is incredibly prescient, but it's mostly superficial referencing, with none of the character's arcs making a greater comment on the medium of film.
The result is a movie that's aged very well in the decade since, slowly shedding its divisive labeling, but is far from being a counterpart to its print source. Although, it could never be - because that already existed.
Incredibles Deconstructs Superhero Movies Like Watchmen Did Comics
As already established, The Incredibles has broad aspects of plot and themes from Watchmen, yet unlike the direct adaptation uses the pieces to tell an entirely original story. Being divorced from a comic book influence and instead rooting those ideas in Saturday serials, Bond and superheroes as viewed before their films truly exploded, Brad Bird was able to present a nuanced take of what a superhero movie is. With Mr. Incredible's failed murder of Mirage the morals that guide a PG-13 hero are pushed; with Syndrome's scheme the logistics of a villain in a grounded world - from the justification of their plan to the logic of monologuing when they are victorious - are recontextualized; and in the family life the limitations of Supers are drawn. This wasn't anything new to comic book readers per se, but it being applied in a movie with consideration for the story being a movie showed incredible understanding of these types of stories.
Indeed, The Incredibles has only gained more weight in the years since. The disgruntled fan as villain has evolved from basement-dweller cliche to commentary on toxic fandom, while the work-life balance the Parr's struggle with almost seems like a rebuttal to the Marvel Cinematic Universe's move away from secret identities. The MCU, in fact, feels like an extension of The Incredibles thesis, with a similar balance of influences that has gone on to great success.
The cinematic Watchmen would never be a Watchmen movie - and that's OK. Both the 2009 and The Incredibles offer far beyond the meta-commentary discussed here. But if we're taking in the full impact of both, there's only one that's truly incredible.
- Incredibles 2 (2018) release date: Jun 15, 2018