Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Watchmen (2009) Review

The readers will look up and ask,
"Should I see this?"  and I will whisper, "yes."

I am in a very strange position right now as I'm presenting my view on Watchmen. I have not read the original graphic novel, yet I knew most of the story before seeing the film, which means I'm not a newcomer coming in cold to the story. Since the first trailer released set to "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning" by The Smashing Pumpkins, I have been hooked on the story, searching for every little snippet of information of behind the scenes footage and reading as many dissections of the novel as possible. So, yes, in a sense I have ruined the chance to be absolutely blown away by either the novel or this movie; but I must say that even almost two weeks after the opening weekend, I still am looking for new information regarding it. But enough of my babble, just read the rest of this review.

Plot Synopsis: We begin in 1985, where Richard Nixon is currently in his fifth term as president after winning in Vietnam. We then witness the brutal and sudden death of Edward Blake (The Comedian), a former member of a group of super-heroes called The Crimebusters. Walter Kovacs (Rorschach), another former member who still fights crime on his own, suspects that someone is picking off super-heroes in order for some scheme to occur without anyone to stop it. He then warns the other members of the group who have retired from crime fighting, including Dan Dreiberg (Nite Owl II), Jon Osterman (Dr. Manhattan), Jon's girlfriend Laurie Jupiter (Silk Spectre II), and Adrian Veidt (Ozymandias), about this. Meanwhile, tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union have hit an all time high as the "Doomsday Clock" is now five minutes to midnight, signaling the impending nuclear armageddon.


Watchmen, much like last years The Dark Knight, is a densely plotted comic book movie that gets most of its mileage from you going in knowing only the base story and then watching it unravel from there. But Watchmen makes Dark Knight look simplistic in comparison. In fact, there are so many various plot threads, back-stories, and characters to weave through simultaneously that newcomers will most likely feel overwhelmed with the plot. The structure of the film is also very unconventional, as it is told mostly through flashbacks that add more nuggets of information to the story. There are also various themes, satirical potshots, and symbolism connected with each story that will most definitely require repeat viewings to catch them all. I've seen the movie twice already, and each time I watch there is always some new, small detail that catches my eye the next time through. Many of the costumes worn by the Watchmen (and the group before them, The Minutemen) are meant to be parodies of the stereotypes in super-hero costumes (Silk Spectre is the over sexing of women, Ozymandias is the over muscling in men’s suits, etc.) and the makeup on Nixon is a representation of the newspaper cartoons of him. I could go on for pages describing every nuance and theme woven in, but maybe I'll leave that for an article.

As I noted before, these super-heroes do not have any of special powers that extend beyond excellent fighting skills, except for Jon (Dr. Manhattan) who has almost godlike abilities, but this comes at a cost, as Jon is losing touch with his human nature. As he does so, Laurie seeks comfort in Dan.Billy Crudup does a commendable job portraying Jon in a monotone voice (with occasional expression) that displays how emotionally hollow he is on the inside. Some viewers may not catch this and mistake it for simply bored acting. Patrick Wilson also does a good job as Dan, who is arguably the sanest member of the group. He portrays Nite Owl II, sort of like Batman with Superman’s morals, and coincidentally reminds one of Clark Kent when he is out of costume. Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian successfully creates a character that starts out sympathetic, but is revealed to be a pretty sick bastard later on.  He gets that role right for the most part. Things get uneven when Adrian and Laurie are onscreen, played by Matthew Goode and Malin Akerman respectively, who come off as both misguided and wooden. But it's Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach that is the film's ace in the hole. It's ironic that he is the most violent, yet the most empathetic of the current group. He is fascinating to watch and lights up the screen much like Heath Ledger did as the Joker.


After his Dawn of the Dead remake, 300, and now Watchmen, I have a feeling that Zach Snyder has a promising career ahead of him as a director. From what I've seen of the graphic novel, he appears to have recreated most of the original panels for the film's imagery. The visual work in the film is astounding, whether it's the image of Dr. Manhattan towering over the Vietcong, or Dan's dream in a desolate wasteland, there's guaranteed to be something in each frame that catches your eye. Snyder's brand of action, which boils down to lots of slow motion, is very well choreographed and has a lot of punch to it that is lacking from most of the lightweight action being put out these days. It's also refreshing to see that he doesn't resort to the usual quick editing technique, instead relying on pulling back the camera to let us view every punch, kick, and blood spatter in all their glory. And speaking of the blood, there is a lot of it. This is not a movie where people are punched and kicked without injury; bones are broken, arms are sawed off, and bodies are blown to pools of gore. This is not the kind of comic violence your kids read.

For all the glowing praise I've given so far, I reluctantly admit the film is not perfect. While most of the character's back stories are fleshed out and given depth, Adrian gets shoved over to the sidelines and only appears in a handful of scenes. Some plot points are introduced only to be given a quick explanation and forgotten, and some scenes feel cut short. Snyder's use of music is hit or miss also. For every excellent use of Bob Dylan's "These Times are A-Changin" in the opening credits and Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable", there's an awkward placing of Nena's "99 Luftballoons" or an unintentionally hilarious use of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" during a sex scene. Simon and Garfunkal's "Sound of Silence" is put to good use during the Comedian's funeral, but it is tragically cut short. Basically my biggest gripe is that the whole movie feels cut short. There's just too much story, characters, and themes to wade through, which is exactly why some fans of the graphic novel thought it could never be brought to the screen as one movie. Hopefully the promised DVD director's cut (said to be thirty minutes longer), will remedy this and give the film some breathing room.
Until then though, I'll have to settle for this version. It still gets its point across, and gives us a fresh and unique tale of super-heroes.


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