A Second Opinion
[editor's note: due to the huge anticipation of the film adaptation of Watchmen, we have had 2 reviewers do separate reviews for the movie, part one can be found here]
Watchmen, the un-filmable comic, a movie literally decades in the making, is actually here. Watchmen the comic was an unprecedented and to this date, unreplicated, act of sheer genius; elevating the graphic novel as a format to a literary status that would have seemed ridiculous in years prior. That’s quite a name to live up to and it’s no wonder that countless screenwriters and a series of acclaimed directors could not for the life of them get the project off the ground. With this in mind, you can understand both my apprehension and unbridled excitement as I sat in that theater Thursday night, literally moments away from seeing the adaptation that could never be made. Now the real question at this point would be, does the film hold up?
First though, the essentials: Watchmen, as you should already know, is based on the massively acclaimed graphic novel by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. The setting is one of an alternate 1985 in which groups of costumed vigilantes existed and altered the world as we know it in dramatic ways. This is a 1985 in which the US has won the Vietnam War, Nixon is currently serving a fifth term as President and the world is on the brink of nuclear war.
The film follows a group of these superheroes formerly known as the Watchmen; most of whom are no longer fighting crime after the government cracked down hard on masked vigilantism. Some of them retired, a few work as agents of the government and one, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), believes in no compromise in his one man war on crime. Through Rorschach’s investigation of the death of one of his former cohorts, The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), we are brought into Watchmen’s complex and fantastic world. Into a story that’s bigger than any of the characters could have ever imagined. Where the line between enemy and ally is thin and the consequences of failure could mean, quite literally, the end of mankind.
Obviously, the world of Watchmen is one of complex ideas in an equally ambitious and complex narrative. One would be foolish to think that Snyder and company would be able to fit the entirety of the story into a two and a half hour film. Regardless, that didn’t stop them from trying. Through an especially well crafted intro sequence, Snyder lays out the foundations of the plot, making his way through the superheroes that came before the Watchmen as well as the roots of some of the main protagonists.
This will find itself to be a trend throughout the film, with Snyder trying to pack in as much of the source material as possible into each and every scene and often finding himself, surprisingly enough, very successful. What results is a film whose every frame is literally overflowing with images and ideas. Snyder succeeds with gusto at bringing to life some of the most memorable panels from the comic with amazing accuracy and splendor. A single viewing of this movie would not do its visuals nearly enough justice.
However, one of the main fears of the Watchmen fanbase was that Snyder would give their beloved work the 300 treatment; crafting a visual spectacle at the cost of narrative and substance. This, thankfully enough, is not quite the case. Watchmen the film is one that is so incredibly dense and full of ideas that it seems at the risk of being severely inaccessible to those who haven’t had a read-through of the comic. The complex nature of both the characters and their motivations as well as the narrative itself will make it difficult, but certainly not impossible, for a typical viewer to keep up.
But alas, as much as Watchmen succeeds, it certainly has it shortcomings. Zack Snyder has proven his mastery of grand visuals and striking imagery in this film, but seems to lack a finer hand with subtlety. While he has no trouble delivering to us emotional and gripping scenes, the little moments often seem to be missed. Small things, like a character’s unnecessarily obvious reaction to a woman in tight spandex, while not detracting from the film, are opportunities for character exposition that Snyder seems all to happy to let pass by.
My second major complaint would be in the area of performances. While most of the cast did an impeccable job at bringing their characters, in all their complexity, to the screen; I found the performance of the female leads to be particularly weak. Carla Gugino and Malin Akerman, as the first and second Silk Spectre respectively, really did not do their characters justice. I found both performances inappropriately corny and hammed up much too often and the scenes where they were alone together were especially painful to sit through.
On a similar note, the soundtrack often felt very much out of place. While I have no problem with the musical choices, they often felt like they were competing with the scene, rather than supplementing them. More often than not, they were more or less a distraction, rather than an enhancement.
Lastly, while somewhat entertaining, the fight scenes were a bit to over-the-top and coupled with several unnecessarily long sex scenes, took up valuable screen time in an already packed film. I would have much preferred to see a slightly more toned down choreography style, but all in all, it wasn’t so much a problem with the visual aesthetics as it was one with the time constraints. In a film so rich and brimming, every second is precious and Snyder squandered valuable screen time with unnecessary sex and gore.
However, on this topic, we find one of this adaptation’s strongest points. Admirably so, Snyder and crew have refused to compromise on this strictly dark tale of violence and humanity. Watchmen pulls no punches and should be considered a very hard R (leave the kids at home). It’s a film that transcends the notions good and evil, erasing predisposed lines of heroism and villainy. It’s a film that unflinchingly and unfalteringly provides us a glimpse into the darkness within mankind and the lengths to which we must go to preserve our humanity. The story is something dark, something unabashedly adult in nature and Snyder does not shy away from this one inch. From scenes of shocking violence to, very frequently, the naked human body; Watchmen stays the course and through that, delivers to us the raw emotion and intensity that is necessary to truly bring this incredible tale to life.
Watchmen is a film that transcends its own genre; a stylized, visual masterpiece, and one so dense with ideas and emotions that one could not possibly hope to digest it all in one viewing. It is a film of ambition, one that unafraid to reach for originality and unflinchingly delivers to us a narrative not of action, but of emotional resonance and thoughtful contemplation. It’s bold, it’s striking; and it’s quintessentially, completely and unashamedly Watchmen.
Ratings for Watchmen
Rating (out of 10 )