5 Comments Wednesday, March 4th, 2009
KING Watches The Watchmen
Entertainment editor Matt Barone gives an in-depth review of the much-anticipated flick.
***This is a long one that’ll test a reader’s patience, so be warned. Especially since I just wrote without any true streamline. Again, you’ve been disclaimed.
There’s a tug-of-war going on inside me right now, that no geek-gasmic film is safe from, not even Zack Snyder’s intricately-faithful take on Watchmen. You see, I’m merely one within the ever-growing droves who adores Alan Moore’s 1986-1987 comic book masterpiece, which means I was initially skeptical when Snyder (the man behind 300 who apparently gets off on slow motion sequences) was announced as the man brave enough to finally bring Watchmen to the big screen. “Not only is the source material’s beastly page-count futile to film at anything less than three hours,” I thought, a length better served as a cable miniseries, “but the comic features a kid biting another kid’s face off, the gunning down of a pregnant woman, and superhero rape. Hollywood will never let all of that fly.”
Months later, however, The Dark Knight came out and pimp-slapped my preconceptions of what “superhero movies” can be, and suddenly I found myself more excited than ever about Watchmen. I’m still confused as to how The Dark Knight snuck by with a PG-13 rating, so the fact that the same studio (Warner Bros.) is behind Watchmen and gave Snyder his desired R-rating, it didn’t seem foolish to think that he’d get away with filming every single brutal detail from Moore’s “nerd Bible.” And then still-shots and teaser trailers for Watchmen started materializing, each looking/feeling cooler and more promising than the last, and my anticipatory anxiety began reaching a fever pitch.
Last night, that pitch was finally caught. I watched Watchmen, and I’m happy to report that Snyder and company have done a great, if not amazing, job at both doing the graphic novel justice and creating a movie like none other you’ve ever seen. I’ll get into the film’s flaws later; for now, let’s focus on the many positives. First off, and most importantly for fans of the comic, Snyder has executed the most faithful, reverential, Easter-egg-filled comic-to-film adaptation of all time. Honestly, I know I wasn’t able to catch nearly half of the minor winks at Watchmen lovers throughout the 2-hour-and-40-minute flick, so I’ll have to wait until I see it again this weekend (you can bet your ass I’m seeing it again—aside from the movie itself being the tits of entertainment, the new Terminator Salvation and Star Trek trailers attached to this are calling me) to run down the entire list, but I will say to fans in the know: keep an eye out for something known as S.Q.U.I.D.
Clueless as to what this Watchmen ish is even about? Here’s the quick skinny: In 1977, President Richard Nixon (in his fifth term) passed the Keene Act that banned all masked superheroes from doing their heroic duties. This leaves the six Watchmen, now in 1985, either to their mundane devices, vigilante ways, or celebrity fetishes. One of them, the cold-hearted, nihilistic government lackey Edward “The Comedian” Blake, is murdered, which causes the loveless Rorschach to conduct his own investigation into what he suspects is a “masked-hero killer.” From there, the rest of his former comrades toss their costumes back on, onlt uncover a massive conspiracy that involves nuclear war, the Soviet Union, and superhero impotence. Quite the mashup, huh?
Visually, Snyder surpasses the “whoa” factors of 300 here. The beating of your senses starts in early with the film’s extended opening credits sequence, which explains the story of Watchmen predecessor’s “The Minutemen” while showing glimpses of main character backstories. It’s quite possibly the coolest title sequence I’ve ever seen, with badass images of The Comedian assassinating John F. Kennedy to Andy Warhol using Nite Owl as painting inspiration. Take the Dr. Manhattan character, for instance. He’s a glowing-blue mass of nuclear energy in the form of a man previously named John Osterman (played with great restraint by Billy Crudup), with empty white vessels for eyes and the abilities to jump through the universe, split off into four clones at once, and become Godzilla-tall. Using all kinds of CGI and stop-motion trickery, Snyder and his team have turned Manhattan into a living, breathing specimen—he’s as life-like as you could ever make an atomic man appear to be, and it’s pretty awesome. As a means of escapism, Manhattan frequently relocates himself onto Mars, and the scenes on the red planet are eye-candy-overload.
The acting, as a whole, is good, but not nearly as memorable as what Snyder pulls off on the technical sides. Sexy-ass Malin Akerman (as Silk Spectre) and the usually-dependable Carla Gugino (as Sally Jupiter) provide some nice treats to look at (especially Gugino in a disrobing-down-to-perfection moment), but they’re unnatural, forced-lines acting leaves little to desire. As The Comedian, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is serviceable, but I found myself forgetting about The Comedian halfway into the movie, which is bad, since he’s one of the more effective characters in Alan Moore’s text. Patrick Wilson (as Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl) and Matthew Goode (Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias) fair slightly better, fortunately.
The real star of the show here, though, is Jackie Earl Haley (Rorschach/Walter Kovacs). For me, a heavy load of this film’s success was riding on how Rorschach—the story’s darkest character, a sociopathic, enigmatic detective of sorts who sees the world only through “right or wrong”—came across, and it gives me great pleasure to say Haley not only nailed it, he bent it over, dominated it, and left it begging for more. Whatever “it” is. When Watchmen digs into Rorschach’s background, after he’s been sent to prison, the film takes this angry horror show tone, and it’s something else (Remember this quote as the film’s nastiest scene commences: “Men get arrested; dogs get put down”). Says tons about Haley’s performance when I actually found myself preferring the maskless Kovacs to Rorschach.
Since this has all sounded slob-job in sentiment thus far, it’s time to get into some of the flick’s flaws. There certainly are some, but the biggest one I had came down to the many fight scenes. In the book, these characters are regular people who take on superhero lifestyles, but they weren’t born superhuman. So why in Snyder’s film must every fight scene feel like some shit out of The Matrix? His over-dependency on slo-mo isn’t a surprise, but even as it was expected it still takes you out some otherwise-cool shots of fist-on-face, namely a brawl in a back alley that results in protruding elbow bones. Another issue with the film is something that I also found problematic in the source material, and that’s the climactic subplot involving Ozymandias and his seemingly boundless capabilities. I’ll avoid spoilers here, but see if you’re able to follow just how Ozy is able to pull off everything he does near the end.
There’s also the curious cases of scenes that work better in the film than in the book, and vice versa. In what’s most likely a further complaint about Morgan’s acting chops, two of The Comedian’s key scenes (a near rape of another costumed hero, and his shooting a preggers Vietnamese gal) transpire without as much as a wince, yet both moments sent chills down my spine while reading. On the opposite hand, two of Rorschach’s key expositions play out in grander, stronger fashion in Snyder’s hands—“the birth of Rorschach” gore-fest involving canine corpses and a meat clever, and his game-changing confrontation with Dr. Manhattan.
By carrying over damn-near all of the book’s themes and allegories, Snyder’s film delivers a wallop close to that of Moore, and that alone should earn Snyder kudos upon props. Considering how fucked up our world is in reality, the “mankind in search of salvation from those they don’t fully trust” central thread of Watchmen is unavoidably pertinent. Some of the narrative connectors may be a bit loose or disjointed at times, but ultimately the film earns its emotional impact.
I fear that I’ve already lost whatever readers I’ve had here by now, so I’ll conclude. Not many thought he’s succeed, but Snyder has almost proven everybody wrong. Watchmen isn’t perfect, or even as life-changing as some fanboys may have hoped. Years from now, though, we’ll look back at what Snyder has done and hail this flick alongside The Dark Knight for their mutual deconstruction of superhero cinema.
Now that I’ve seen the thing and discussed with a few of my fellow Watchmen loyalists, I’d love to pick the brains of viewers who’ve never read the comic, or even heard of it prior this film’s first teaser trailer. Those are the opinions that truly matter to yours truly.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 4th, 2009 at 2:53 pm and is filed under Columnists, Theater of Mine. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.