OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: "A complex, multi-layered mystery adventure, WATCHMEN is set in an alternate 1985 America in which costumed superheroes are part of the fabric of everyday society, and the Doomsday Clock--which charts the USA's tension with the Soviet Union--moves closer to midnight. When one of his former colleagues is murdered, the outlawed but no less determined masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. As he reconnects with his former crime-fighting legion--a disbanded group of retired superheroes, only one of whom has true powers--Rorschach glimpses a wide-ranging and disturbing conspiracy with links to their shared past and catastrophic consequences for the future. Their mission is to watch over humanity...but who is watching the Watchmen?
RELEASE DATE: March 6, 2009
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
OFFICIAL SITE: WATCHMENMOVIE.COM
Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN turned the comic book industry on its head in 1986 and has since become one the most revered works of the medium and certainly the most highly decorated. Zack Snyder’s WATCHMEN, with which Moore wants no association, was a little late to the ball in terms of turning the comic book film genre on its head since Chris Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT took care of that last summer.
But that certainly did not stop Snyder and his film from taking the baton and running the next leg of the genre’s race for artistic recognition. WATCHMEN isn’t able to maintain the pace set by its predecessor, but a fine effort has been turned in.
WATCHMEN was never going to be easy to make. It was the wild horse that could not be tamed, the book that was “unfilmable.” Well, Snyder certainly filmed it and the result may not be as emotionally powerful as the source material, but the ambition is certainly present. Snyder crammed as much of the book as he could into a 2-hour and 45-minute window. By today’s standards, that’s a fairly large window, but in watching the film, I felt it wasn’t nearly enough and wondered if what I was watching on screen would be very coherent to someone who hadn’t read the graphic novel before walking into the cinema. There were multiple times in the film where I felt as if I was filling in gaps for myself from the book where the movie just wasn’t clear enough. A solution to this problem might have been to simplify the film and not try to be so accurate to the comic, but really, the ideal solution is a longer film. This, of course, leaves me eager to see the longer director’s cut of the film in July.
The performances in the film are more hit than miss, but the misses are significant and hurt the film. Malin Akerman just isn’t believable as Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II in the film. There’s no voice inflection and no expression on her face as she seemingly just reads lines throughout the film. A highly emotional scene on Mars between Laurie and Dr. Manhattan falls flat as the conversation is supposed to end with Laurie “in tears,” yet Akerman can’t shed even one. She might look the part, but when it’s time to be Laurie Jupiter, Akerman doesn’t hit her mark and brings the scenes she is in down a level.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan is fair, but inconsistent as Edward Blake/The Comedian. He is good throughout most of the film, but at times, it seems he doesn’t believe in what he is saying even though his character is clearly supposed to.
Billy Crudup hands in a solid performance as Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan, as does Matthew Goode in the role of Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias. Both of these characters, however, lack a proper set up to give audience members who have not read the book a clear sense of who these men are, how they do things they do, and why they do them.
The highlights of this ensemble are Jackie Earle Haley and Patrick Wilson as Rorschach and Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II, respectively. Haley is absolutely the live-action embodiment of Rorschach just as Alan Moore wrote him. He sets the tone and carries the viewer through the film better than any other. Wilson perfectly captures Dreiberg’s sense of self-defeat, as well as his costumed rebound. Haley may be the soul of this film, but Wilson is its heart.
Visually, the film is stunning to look at as it seamlessly transitions through beautiful style and desolate, gritty despair. The awkward use of slow motion is a bit of a turnoff, but the main problem from a visual perspective is an overemphasis on gory violence and sex that exceeds what the source material showed. It’s as if Snyder felt the need to appeal to the baser instincts, or rather the more stereotypical desires of the comic book film audience. Perhaps these things will generate more mainstream appeal for action movie fans, but they don’t serve the film well. Added action scenes like The Comedian’s fight for his life and the fight scene during the prison break might be “cool,” but people who haven’t read the book would have benefited much more from that time being spent elsewhere, like proper character establishment for Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias.
The ending is sure to bring some angry responses from purists, but it works. It doesn’t betray the message Moore conveyed back in 1986 and it fits the film nicely. Its only pitfall is the timing, as the change in the ending bares what is, in all likelihood, an unintended similarity to the ending fans just witnessed in THE DARK KNIGHT. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but mainstream audiences may find this plot point a tad redundant and won’t feel as deep of an impact as they could have.
For all of its faults, WATCHMEN is still a worthy tribute to its source material. It falls short of greatness, but Snyder has still handed in a very good film.
WATCHMEN may not go down as the crown jewel of its genre in this medium like it did as a comic book, but it will still be remembered as a loyal effort and respected for its ambition. It may not have done so as well as its source material, but the film still issues a challenge to its audience to look beyond the conventional standards and expectations of a genre long considered a second rate form of art.
As a film, Watchmen may not quite live up to what som wanted it to be, but it still represents another strong step forward in the evolution of its genre.