An “unfilmable” literary masterpiece finally made its way to
the silver screen over the past weekend after years of false starts and
questionable approaches. I am by no
means a diehard Watchmen fan. I only
read the comic three years ago, but was nonetheless moved by its narrative
poise, crude yet beautiful artwork and memorably somber tale of superheroes in
a world not quite like our own,
facing physical and emotional adversaries at every turn. Therefore, I wasn’t a purist; I wasn’t
disgusted with the fact that the Hollywood machine was taking one of the
greatest, if not the greatest, comic books ever made and trying to market it
for mass consumption.
Zack Snyder was an interesting choice to direct this
picture. With all due respect to him as
a filmmaker, I was much more intrigued with the proposed adaptations that were
at one time being overseen by Terry Gilliam, Darryn Aronofsky and Paul
Greengrass. At the very least, we knew that
they would give us a visually appealing film.
But that doesn’t necessarily result in a great film. So I had a feeling that the studio bigwigs at
Warner Bros. knew what they were doing when they gave Snyder what must have
been his dream project. On paper, he
seemed like an odd choice. But then
again, so did the announcement of Michael Keaton being cast as Batman.
Well… after having seen it on opening day I can safely say
that Watchmen is one of the most impressive genre films to come out of a
mainstream studio in a long time. It’s
funny, awe-inspiring, thoughtful, moving and, in some scenes, just plain
entertaining. While watching it, I truly
felt as if I was witnessing a true event movie; akin to what it must have felt
like watching Blade Runner for the first time back in June of ’82. It’s not an easy film to stomach. It is just shy of three hours, most of the
characters are despicable in one way or another, some of the actors (most
notably Malin ‘Silk Specter II’ Akerman) lack the punch that other actors
convey so well, the middle crawls to a deliberately slow pace and some of the
make-up effects (especially Richard Nixon’s) are so jarring that they really
pull you out of the experience. So why
did I like the movie so much? Simply
put, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
It’s a unique genre film, the likes of which we may never see for quite
some time; that, in itself, is quite refreshing.
The success of The Dark Knight is both a blessing and a
curse for a film like Watchmen. Christopher Nolan’s
film pulled Batman out of the comic book world and into ‘legitimate’ cinema (a
notion I find preposterous), while addressing adult issues without batting an
eye or talking down to the audience. Watchmen, on the otherhand, is a story that revels in comic book archetypes;
it’s a satire after all, so half of the fun was watching Alan Moore and Dave
Gibbons turn said archetypes upside down.
Surprisingly, most of the Dark Knight fans are the ones that are
lambasting Watchmen for being too far-fetched. Now, I’m not going to turn this article into
a battle of The Dark Knight versus Watchmen, but I will say that each film
did what they were made to do incredibly well.
It’s a great time to be a moviegoing comic book fan.
First and foremost, Zach Snyder knocked this one out of the
park. He occasionally adheres to his
slow-motion trademark (a virtual staple in 300), only using it when
absolutely necessary to great effect. He
shows great restraint as a filmmaker and it should be interesting to see if he
ever ventures out of genre filmmaking to further flex his storytelling
The script by David Hayter and Alex Tse keeps the heart and
soul of Watchmen, while dropping some (admittedly great) subplots and the
executions of the villain’s master plan in favor of the story at hand, while
keeping in mind that this is a movie and not a comic book. It takes great restraint on the part of the
screenwriters to not include the little moments that truly made the Watchmen comic
the revered classic it is. Given their
source material, Hayter and Tse could not have written a better script.
The set design and art direction were truly masterful. There were moments when I forgot that the
actors were on a studio lot in Montreal as opposed to an alternate New York
City in 1985.
As for the actors, the cast was shockingly great, with
Jackie Earle Hayley as Rorschach almost stealing the show. No one could have done The Comedian justice
more than Jeffrey Dean Morgan, while Patrick Wilson and Billy Crudup impressed
greatly as Nite Owl II and Dr. Manhattan respectively. The aforementioned Malin Akerman did an
adequate job, with her acting limitations coming to light when acting opposite
a stronger actor or actress. Matthew
Goode’s incarnation of Adrian ‘Ozymandias’ Veidt, however, impressed me the
most. In many ways, he was deemed the
wild card of the cast; the actor who didn’t quite fit the role they were
given. But while watching Adrian’s
journey unfold on the screen, I couldn’t have thought of a better actor to
portray him. Goode has a genuine
smarminess to him that makes Veidt the most believable character. Plus, he pulls off the motives of his
character with frightening confidence, to the point that he may have improved
on what Moore and Gibbons gave us in the comic.
Another aspect of Watchmen that I feel should be mentioned
is the stellar track selection for the soundtrack. I don’t think I’ll ever think of Nat King
Cole’s Unforgettable, Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence or Tears
for Fears’ Everybody Wants To Rule The World the same way ever again.
While there are countless other aspects of Watchmen that
I’d like to address, I think the best thing for me to do is let it simmer for a
while. I will most definitely see it
again, as it truly is one of the most incredible studio released films I’ve
seen in a long while. Whether it will
hold up in subsequent viewings is the true test. But at this point who cares? Watchmen is finally on screen and whether
you like what you see or not, this is a film that should not be missed.
By the way, embrace the inevitable discussion it will
instigate post-screening… that’s what makes going to the movies fun.