Friday, December 4, 2015

Watchmen Film Review



Watchmen Lite

Watchmen is a faithful if thin adaptation of the comic that is so critically acclaimed, that its been called a work of art. Jackie Earl Haley and Billy Crudup are perfect as Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan, respectively, and the rest of the cast give well rounded performances, save Matthew Goode as Adrian Viedt who is utterly unremarkable. David Hayter and Alex Tse have written a good script that distills the most important plot points into the film, but because there’s so much missing from the story, it feels empty. Zack Snyder’s typical over dose of slow motion and style rears it’s ugly head more than once, and feels wholly out of place in such a somber story. A good film, but nothing game changing.

Alan Moore often said that his magnum opus comic book, Watchmen, was “unfilmable”. He had a strong point, as the comic was so layered and created such an interesting world that a mere two hour film would not do it justice at all. Predictably, Hollywood ignored Moore and tried to make an adaptation of the film that could conceivably do the comic justice. Writers David Hayter and Alex Tse crafted a script that would equal over three hours of screen time in an attempt to cram all the most important bits into the film. With the financial success of Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s stylized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, 300, he was quickly attached to the project and soon the “unfilmable” was filmed.

In an alternate reality 1985, Soviet and American tensions are at an all time high. The only thing keeping all out nuclear holocaust at bay is the United States walking deterrent in the form of the superhuman Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup). The world once full of costumed superheroes, has now been emptied thanks to a government mandate called the Keene Act. Now only goverment sponsored heroes like the good doctor, and the not so good Comedian (Jefferey Dean Morgan), are allowed to prowl the streets.

Most heroes comply with the Keene Act and hang up their latex, but one uncompromising hero, a violent vigilante named Rorschach (Jackie Earl Haley), refuses to give up his life of crime fighting. One night he investigates the murder of a man named Edward Blake, and discovers that Blake was actually the Comedian. Fearing a conspiracy against his masked bretheren, Rorschach begins a quest to warn his fellow heroes and investigate any leads.

As more heroes are silenced or exiled, it becomes clear to Rorschach’s former allies Nite Owl, a.k.a. Daniel Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson), and Silk Spectre II, a.k.a. Laurel Jane Juspeczyk (Malin Akerman), that Rorschach may be on to something. Soon, the old gang is back together and fighting their way to the truth.

What this film benefits most from is not so much Alan Moore’s literary prowess (which is still liberally applied) but more so Dave Gibbons’ art. Much like 300, Zack Snyder fills his frames with almost exact replicas of the drawn versions.

In spite of this attention to detail, the visual depth of the comic gets lost somewhere in translation, and things that evoked strong feelings and memories in the comic now are just moments to remind fans that this is indeed a film adaptation of their beloved novel. Snyder also overloads the film with slow motion in an attempt to capture the grand beauty of the comic’s most well known moments. Within the first seconds of the film’s opening this already becomes annoying (especially when Snyder brazenly advertises his involvement in 300), and later after the film spends a lot of it’s running time with exposition, the sudden return of slow motion is unsettling. If you can get past Snyder’s overbearing Snyderiness, than you should be able to appreciate this film.

It is truly fortunate that Jackie Earl Haley and Billy Crudup were attached to this project to play the two most beloved characters from the book. After viewing this movie, it’s impossible to imagine anyone but Haley behind Rorschach’s face. His performance is so subtle and captures the essence of the character so perfectly, that sometimes you’d swear you’re reading the book again. Crudup is equally as brilliant as Manhattan, and his soothing voice lends an air of calm superiority to the character that is once again also hard to imagine him without after viewing the movie.

Patrick Wilson and Malin Akerman also give fine performances as Nite Owl and Silk Spectre II. Although a little less layered than Haley and Crudup, they both hold their own and certainly don’t disappoint. Sadly, Patrick Wilson, who is certainly a fine actor in his own right (see Stoker), is given a woefully underwritten and under directed turn as Adrian Viedt a.k.a. Ozymandias. His monolouge towards the end of the film lacks the grace that made the same scene in the comic so brilliant and heartbreaking.

In terms of differences from the comic, there are quite a few to be sure. The ending stands out prominently, and it all feels somewhat rushed together in an attempt to make it more “logical”. Many have argued with me that they like the film ending better for that very reason, but in my opinion (and without spoiling anything) it just doesn’t have the same impact. Snyder also injects the film with fights that were nowhere to be found within the comic. I think that he might have felt that the movie wasn’t superhero-y enough, and that the audience deserved more excitement. The problem is, this story isn’t about superheroes kicking ass, it’s about saving the world from ourselves, regardless of the cost. Many of the fights just feel so reminiscent of 300 (again with that movie), that you might find yourself rolling your eyes.

Still, in spite of its flaws, this is still Watchmen. The story is still fantastic, and this film only readily proves that this tale will live on forever as a timeless work of art. Bolstered by fantastic performances, and a strict attention to detail, Watchmen is probably as close as we’ll ever get to a worthy adaptation of Alan Moore’s masterpiece. Just don’t expect this to change your life like the comic will.

Score: 7.5

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