Monday, March 9, 2009

Watchmen movie review

This 2009 superhero film is directed Zack Snyder (he of the Dawn of the Dead remake and 300 fame) and is adapted from the legendary 1986 comic book series, Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. And by legendary I mean godly. Set in an alternate 1985, Watchmen tells the story of a group of former vigilantes who come together after one of their own, The Comedian, is killed at his home. Thinking someone is killing off former superheros, the group searches for the killer as tensions reach a boiling point between the United States and the Soviet Union. However, behind the glossy venire of the superheroes lies an even darker truth than what the public sees. Can they come together after years of retirement and stand shoulder to shoulder, united for one last time, or is the world fated to be destroyed as the hostilities between the US and Soviet Union become too much?

It has long been thought that the Watchmen comic book series was unfilmable, since Moore created it to convey a story that film and literature could not, a tale that could only be told in comic book form. Was he right, or did director Zach Snyder film the unfilmable?

I imagine childbirth would be similar to my experience with Watchmen: worried, nervous and the happiest I’ve ever been, as a whole new world I’ve always dreamed of opens anew before me. So going into the film, I had many reservations, not the least that production of a film adapted from the Watchmen has begun and ended literally 6 other times. So as Penny and I sat back, as a wide world opened up for me on the Imax screen, I was a bit nervous. So after years of waiting, what did I think of the film?

I’m not a religious man, I do not believe in God, I’ve never had to. Bad things have happened to me before, but to me, all that’s a part of life. So with that said, I’ve never had a deeply religious experience… until now. I was so moved by this film, a culmination of my fondest dream, that if there is a god I deeply thank him or her for this film. The joke between me and my friends is that if Watchmen wasn’t the best movie I had ever seen, I would give it a sneak out/I want my money back rating. My expectations were that high. Is it the greatest movie of all time? Sadly I don’t think so, but is it the greatest thing I have ever seen in my life? Yes.

When I heard the line from Rorschach at the beginning of the film, “The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout 'Save us!' And I'll look down, and whisper 'No”, I seriously thought I had died and gone to heaven.

The movie opens with a fantastic montage not in the comic, of how the Watchmen world took a slightly different turn then ours, Nixon has been President for 3 terms, no Watergate causing him to resign, Andy Warhol painted the Nite Owl instead of Marilyn Monroe. Che arm in arm with the Soviet Union. The Comedian assassinating John F. Kennedy. These scenes fly by played to the Bob Dylan song, The Times They Are a Changin’, and add a real air, a real authenticity to this parallel world that I absolutely loved.

And also, the one thing I was worried about, the non-linear nature of the story, was handled adeptly by Snyder, jumping from flashback to present to flashback with no real feeling of displacement. I just wish they were able to fully express Dr. Manhattan’s character living in both the past and the future at the same time, but I understand how this would be impossible to show on film. Also, I really liked how Snyder added some extra scenes, like scenes that happened between the panels of the comic that we originally weren’t able to see, so it was nice to see some of the scenes from the comic fleshed out a bit more.

However, the reason why I don’t say this is the best film ever made is because I don’t think Watchmen is entirely successful as a movie. Being a fan of the comic I can’t really say this for sure, but I believe if you have no knowledge of the existing series, you wouldn’t get much out of this movie. It’s more like a series of vignettes, chapters in a comic, because that’s how the comic was told, but for a narrative story, I don’t think it succeeds particularly well. It moves from drama, to comedy, to high violence at a drop of a hat, again fine for a comic but jarring for a movie. Also it glosses over a lot of relationships, so much so that certain scenes have little meaning unless you’ve read the comic. So yeah, viewing it from a movie perspective, I don’t think it was wholly successful, but you know what? I don’t care because the film is fantastic; the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen and is the closest adaptation of Watchmen that I think could have possibly been made.

The original comic book title refers to the idea of the government, police or superheroes who would assume the tenant of protecting people from themselves. That being said, the title Watchmen does not refer to any of the vigilantes themselves, in fact their group is never even named. However, in the movie the group of vigilantes is called the Watchmen. Does this bother me? A little, but I can see that it was necessary for those that have not seen the movie to have something they could understand, relate with rather than a faceless group with no name.

In his comic, Moore wanted to show a different perception of the general public image people have for superheroes, a grittier and more realistic view of things, how superheroes are all really just fascists by nature, and on the whole I think this movie succeeds at that. The comic is designed to only be fully understood after several readings, and I believe the same is true for this movie. A lot goes on during the 2 hour 40 minute run time, so much so that hidden symbolism and half-truths are hidden within the backdrop of the movie. Since I did catch a few, I believe there are more hidden in the movie, and it will take a few viewings to fully understand and experience the true depth and scope of the world that Zack Snyder created.

I think the ultimate message of Moore’s and in essence Snyder’s fatalism is with a line Rorschach uses, "Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise.” I think that gung-ho attitude is more apt now in this ever-changing, and not mostly for the better, world. When Rorschach said that line, I went crazy, because that is my favorite line in the series.

Now let’s talk a little about the acting. The Comedian played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan was f’n amazing. He embodies the character, lives the character, and it is amazing how he could make an unlikeable buff tough guy seem cool even with a smiley face button pinned to his chest. Great performance. Matthew Goode as Ozymandias was fine, his acting was great, although I think he was way too skinny to play the character. Ozymandias is supposed to be this really strong, jock looking guy, but Goode just looked geeky rather than both. Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan was remarkable. He looked incredible and was able to convey an emotionless god-like being with emotion. I know how absurd that sounds but he really did it and his blue shlong is the stuff of legend. Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl 2 was also really good and he looked pretty damn cool. He played the shy and na├»ve superhero so well. However my favorite was Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. This was the one I was most worried about since Rorschach is my favorite character, but my god, Haley is just, I can’t imagine anyone else as Rorschach. He looks perfect, you can feel his bottomless anger ready to explode at any moment and his voice is just, only maybe Clint Eastwood could do a better job at the gravelly voice. Seriously, this is what Batman should have sound like. However, I want to point out Malin Akerman who plays Silk Spectre 2. I pointed out to Penny that this actress gets naked in every one of her films, and she doesn’t disappoint here, looking great as usual, but my god, she cannot act. She torpedoes every scene she’s in and that’s saying a lot since she’s nearly in every scene. She just has no range and playing a young woman trying to find her place in the world, I mean damn, you don’t buy it for a second. I get that they wanted to cast someone who looks like Silk Spectre 2 from the comic, but yeah, I’d rather anyone than her. Damn she’s awful.

One of the major contentious points in the film, is that it changes the ending from the comic making it more, well, let’s just say, plausible. Fans of the comic may think I’m crazy, but I really liked the ending. I think it adds a whole new dimension to the story, and sounds and looks a lot better. Although the denouement, with scenes cut out, makes little sense for those unfamiliar with the comic.

Like I said before I simply and wholly love this film. If I could give this a score out a 100 it would be 100/100. While not the greatest movie ever made, it still mostly works and is the greatest single thing these geeky eyes have ever seen. I make no apologies concerning how much I love this movie. With movies being expensive, I never see a movie more than once in the theater, always waiting to watch it over and over on dvd, but for this movie, I’d watch it over and over until they kicked me out of the theater. So I give this a, “bring your lunch from home, rob, steal, do whatever you have to do, punch the person next to you in line for the ticket as long as it’s not Penny or I, but watch this movie” rating. The film cost 150 million to make and you see every penny of it on screen. In July they will release the director’s cut of Watchmen theatrically which will be 30 minutes longer. I already have it marked on my calendar and can’t wait to revisit Moore’s, Gibbons and now Snyder’s world of Watchmen.

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