Watchmen: A Review

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC Watchmen: A Review

Review by Martyn Conterio.

Zack Snyder is an interesting director. I don’t mean interesting in the same way that, say, Michael Winterbottom is an interesting director…or even David Fincher (perhaps Snyder’s older, cleverer, spiritual brother)…I mean interesting in a way that doesn’t quite add up.

Zack Snyder first appeared on the film-scene a few years ago with a re-tooled Dawn Of The Dead, a film that was not a complete disaster…it was actually quite fun. He followed this with a mega-blockbuster called 300 a graphic-novel adaptation that was incredibly homo-erotic, daft and had critics frothing at the mouth, with what they saw as overtly political undertones.

Snyder’s visuals are as slick as oil. Yet, unlike most graduates from Music Video-Land, he doesn’t seem obsessed with Eisensteinian montage theory (minus the theory). I’m not quite sure to this day why most modern film directors with commercial ambitions seem to think that flashing images amounts to kinetic cinema…it doesn’t. It just amounts to the audience wondering what the fuck they are seeing.

I was greatly relieved when instead of making a pig’s ear of a personally beloved film (Dawn Of The Dead), Snyder, for all his blasphemy in taking on the endeavour in the first place, crafted an enjoyable popcorn movie that wisely chose to not even attempt to recreate Romero’s doomed world and social commentary.

300 was a massive $500 million dollar success that catapulted Snyder to the top of mainstream Hollywood. When it was announced that Snyder was taking on a seminal graphic novel of the 1980s, that many deemed ‘unfilmable’, I admired his determination to deliver it…and not to compromise on the material with Warner Bros. (the money behind the film)

Although I am not personally familiar with Watchmen, I have read Alan Moore’s other graphic novels such as From Hell (a poor film) and The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen (an even poorer film). Judging from Hollywood’s treatment of Moore’s highly inventive stories, I could understand his utter indifference towards Watchmen…perhaps even die-hard fans too.

What comic book geeks of the world need to realise is that cinema can do things that paintings and graphic novels cannot. Cinema can move its pictures. It can bring a dream-world to life. Cinema is as close to dreams as we have.

Watchmen is a 2 hour and 40 minute psycho-drama masquerading as a super-hero movie. It also highlights superbly the po-faced nature of The Dark Knight and other ‘dark envisionings’ of cultural material. The Dark Knight is not ‘pyschologically real’ any more than 300 is.

Watchmen offers an hilariously dysfunctional band of superheroes…who don’t even have any special powers (all except one!). Rorschach is basically a sociopath (and I would argue the real villian of the film); Nite Owl is a Batman spoof who is impotent and needs to beat up ‘bad guys’ before he can achieve an erection; The Comedian is a government assassin with incredibly loose morals (most unfitting for superhero status) and Ozymandias is a megalomaniacal pacifist.

Dr. Manhattan is the film’s only superhero…and as a superhero he falls well short.

The film opens with the murder of The Comedian then follows a wonderful opening credits sequence which shows the alternate history of America (the use of Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ is a lovely touch). The main narrative concerns a conspiracy theory developed by Rorschach that involves the removal of the Watchmen for rather complicated reasons. In between all this there are all kinds of subplots, where one would not even know where to begin in describing.

My favourite part of the movie is without a doubt the segment exploring the origin of Dr. Manhattan. The sharp, well-paced editing, the music and astonishing visuals along with Billy Crudup’s haunting intonations remind the viewer that Zack Snyder is actually quite a talented filmmaker. The audience sees Dr. Manhattan’s terrible plight develop into a cold inhumanity. It is the standout moment of the entire film and leaves one dwelling upon the alienating aspects of superhero status…as if it would indeed make a character, a cold insouciant God-like figure.

The film does have its action scenes – and they are rather standard. The ending is also rather anti-climatic despite the fighting and big bangs. There is a lot going on in this film, and the themes and ideas behind it could well fill a PhD thesis. It really is based on some excitingly clever material…and that credit goes to Alan Moore.

As I write this, I notice the film has gone to number one in both the US and the UK. I am very happy it has made money because Zack Snyder crafted a really brilliant film that is exceedingly and rather amusingly violent, isn’t perfect, is occasionally genius and always entertaining.

I’m sure the DVD director’s cut will offer more delights and perhaps a better pace.Watchmen is not the disaster that Alan Moore probably wished it would be…and the naysayers too. Snyder is a perfectly reasonable director clearly showing much passion for his film.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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