Elizabeth Rappe wrote a nice piece for Cinematical today in which she questioned whether Watchmen, on the back of its 67 per cent second-week drop-off and trouncing by Race to Witch Mountain, itself admittedly exceeding expectations.
The film has garnered mixed reviews so its critical success is maybe debatable, but the achievement, be it artistic or purely admirable, is there for all to see. It may be far from perfect, but Watchmen is undoubtedly an incredible piece of comic book movie making, more uncompromising in its vision than anything to have come before.
Business-wise, it should never have been expected to make Dark Knight-like money, or even 300 money. 300 may not have had a built in audience, but it was easy to watch, entirely comprehendible and only 90 minutes long. By contrast, Watchmen is a 2-and-a-half hour plus marathon of hero deconstruction, paranoia and psychological exploration, even if not all of those things fully interested the action-minded Zack Snyder. Rappe points to an article by CHUD’s Devin Faraci on which he notes the film had a bigger opening that both Batman Begins and Superman Returns, both slower and less conventional comic book franchise movies for sure but coming with existing audiences and nostalgic appeal.
Maybe it won’t be a supersize hit, but take into account the mitigating factors surrounding it. 1) It is not part of any franchise. 2) The book on which it is based is canonised to an extreme which few books, let alone comics, are ever exalted to and is view with trepidation by large swathes of the marketplace for being a geek bible, itself a turn-off for so many unable to believe that comics can be a serious business. 3) The film is extremely violent and gained a US ‘R’ and an 18 certificate in the UK. This significantly drops the chances of continued business as those over the age of eighteen tend to work/have social lives/have children or families/have online role-playing games to get on with and therefore are not great repeat viewers.
I don’t know if failure really the right word. The box-office will be considered disappointing given the budget and the blanket promotional activity, but it pleased the fans and gained extra respect for Warner Bros for putting it out. The studio is now leading the pack in attracting filmmakers who are concerned about having to play the game and could become a home to a new, post-recession vein of filmmaking talent driving through. Watchmen may not be a world-beater, but I’m pretty certain it’s not a failure either.