I walked into Watchmen particularly nervous that it was going to suck. In addition to being a fan of the comic (though not as blindly devoted as some of my friends), I had defended 300 upon its release more than I probably should have, going so far as to call it one of the best movies of 2007. Back then I was responding to cries of fascism by 40-something critics who couldn’t detect the light-hearted, comic book framing of deep political issues that eventually overshadowed the excellent if imperfect qualities of that film.
Yet, from the moment I saw the spoof of the McLaughlin Group in the opening scenes of Watchmen, through the opening credits which focused on a mix of historical and alternate historical footage to the backdrop of “The Times They Are-A-Changin’,” I could immediately sense that director Zack Snyder was not just making a cool comic film, but was tapping into something artistically culturally significant that I could have in no way anticipated before seeing the film. Rather than meticulously reproducing a dated piece of literary history, Snyder was exposing a crucial and almost farcical element of our culture that no one who lived through the 1980s could appreciate. For the generation currently in their 20s, those who have college degrees and adult wits but never lived through the height of the culture wars, Snyder was reducing one of the seminal texts of the culture wars to what people of my age perceive it as: a comic-book, fairy tale story they’ve seen in passing. For people who didn’t live through the culture wars, they may as well have been the Persian Wars.
The reviews of Watchmen have been decidedly mixed. They were similarly mixed with 300, but that film’s supporters were eventually drowned out by the film’s fiercest critics who saw the film as a fascistic, right wing, Iraq War-supporting vision of ancient Greece (and Frank Miller, 300’s creator, certainly held those beliefs). Those complaints have followed director Zack Snyder to Watchmen, but both movies proved to be remarkable box office successes. What was less expected among Hollywood types, and caused Snyder's detractors to be even more aghast, was that not only did young people go see the two films en masse, but more often then not, they also liked it. A lot. That the opinions of people in their 20s differs so much from those 20 years older is as good a sign of any of a generational divide in taste, as well as how they treat the American cultural imagery of old.