Who Watches The Watchmen…Early Signs Show Everyone Does

Not being the first to admit I’ve never actually read the much adored graphic novel from Alan Moore, I feel I have to read it to decide whether this was actually a worthy adaptation or whether it falls in the category of “good effort, massive letdown”. Seen as my knowledge of the source material is somewhat limited, my thoughts on this film are purely based on its film incarnation and not a comparative commentary on it’s translation from page to screen.

For a start, I am a huge fan of Zack Snyder. His Dawn Of The Dead remake was, in my opinion, far superior to the original in terms of horror, action and pretty much everything else. The celebrity sniper scene was brilliant, the montage to a Richard Cheese lounge version of “Down With The Sickness” equally so. In his remake, Snyder managed to forget about the political and social connotations of Romero’s original and transformed zombies from the lumbering and retarded to the pacy and hershy stain inducing. 1-0 to Snyder. 300 was an adrenaline fuelled blood bath of superlative entertainment with more half naked men than the WWE. Style may have taken precedent over substance but what’s not to like about Spartans kicking/stabbing/bludgeoning ten shades out of a Persian army. Racist? Hell no. Awesome? Hell yeh! Snyder scores a 2nd. And what about his 3rd? Is it 3 and 3 for Snyder or does Watchmen have too big a story or come with far too much baggage for an MTV generation director to handle, let alone carry?

Following the story of a collective of retired superheroes, Watchmen is set in an alternate 1985 where America have won in Vietnam and Nixon is still the most powerful man in a world on the brink of nuclear war. The merry band of misfits are formed of 6; The Comedian, who incidentally is spectacularly murdered in the opening of the film thus being the main catalyst for the narrative. Rorschach, the trench coat wearing sociopath out to find the person responsible for the death of his fallen comrade. Night Owl II, a man very much in the Batman/Bruce Wayne mould struggling with erectile dysfunction. Silk Spectre II, a strong, independent everywoman forced to operate in the shadow of her mother (the previous Silk Spectre). Ozymandias, a recognised genius with an equally inflated celebrity personality and Doctor Manhattan, the only one of the group with any superhero ability; a God like deity with incredible power and a sombre outlook on life and mankind.
Right from the outset, we are treated to the unique visual brilliance now a staple of Mr Snyder. A superb credit sequence giving a brief lesson in superhero history accompanied to perfection by Sir Bob Dylan is undoubted brilliance. Unfortunately for Snyder, his opening gambit is the most impressive piece of the entire film. Now I’m not suggesting the film falls off into obscurity after the intro, it doesn’t. It’s just that when an intro is so good, it’s hard to maintain a similar level of creative excellence throughout. Snyder does give it a bloody good go mind you. For a film clocking in at over 2 and a half hours, it doesn’t ever feel laborious. The pacing is top notch helped along with incredible set pieces, seamless flashbacks and such a consistent high standard of acting more suited to a Shakespearean stage play than a comic book popcorn action-movie. I loved everyone in this movie but the standout performances come from Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl II) and Jackie Earle Harley (Rorschach). Bringing a humility to the film, an everyman quality we should all relate to, Patrick Wilson is simply brilliant as the only sane character seemingly without fault. As the complete opposite, Jackie Earle Harley is simply frightening as the psychopathic Rorschach leaving the current fans outcry for Harley to be the new mangled face of Freddy Krueger completely justifiable. There’s no disputing that such brilliant turns from pretty much everyone in the film is great testament to Snyder’s ability to pull the strings but there just seems to be something missing with each of the character’s inner emotions, feelings and basic motives for being heroes. Apart from Rorschach, no one is really explained with great depth. There are a lot of questions to be asked about each of the Watchmen, and not too many get answered. This is where I feel the idea to have made this iconic tome into a high concept serial rather than feature might’ve been a more successful medium. For me, this didn’t take anything away from the overall viewing experience as I still felt satisfied with such a solid narrative but I can understand why fans of the novel, who are educated in the characters on screen, may feel a little short changed.
Visually, it’s superb. From start to finish it looks gorgeous. And I expect no less from a guy who made me want to watch a bunch of half naked men wrestle in ancient Greece. The use of slow motion to capture the stills from the novel work as good as they did in 300. I was constantly in awe of what I saw before my eyes, and as I have already mentioned, this contributed to the long looking running time feel like minutes. If I had one outstanding criticism however, it would be the soundtrack. Apart from the aforementioned Bob Dylan accompaniment, the rest of the soundtrack feels like a student film maker trying to show off his taste in music. And like in student films, it almost always doesn’t work. It’s such a shame that this is the major falling point of what is essentially a hugely entertaining piece of work. A working soundtrack should only amplify a films good looks, not hinder them with an oft feeling of awkwardness and unbalance.
I would like to reiterate, I have never read the graphic novel. I don’t know what was missing, I don’t know what has changed etc etc but it is fairly obvious to see that like Dawn Of The Dead, Snyder has chosen to leave social and political commentary on the back burner. The fact is, it’s not 1986, and it’s clear the film version of Watchmen is no where near as politically relevant as the novel was. Of course echoes of world war still ring true in today’s society but that’s a given, when has war not been on the agenda? But it just seems like the reason I enjoyed the story and was thoroughly entertained throughout is purely for visceral reasons, not for the multi-layered politics and complex characterisation, two of the main reasons why so many people loved the novel. Watchmen has been out around a week and it’s had film goers divided. Fans of the novel seem disappointed, Moore’s impeccable story fleshed out for the screen with all its underlying connotations of superhero mythology aligned with political activism discarded for action set pieces and visceral flair. Not being aware of the original, I have to admit I was entertained by a film maker who looks like he was trying to appease both fans and newcomers to Alan Moore’s 1985. It certainly is no Dark Knight. I went to the cinema 3 times to watch Nolan’s masterpiece but despite enjoying Snyder’s latest effort, I can wait until it’s blu-ray release to watch again. Like The Dark Knight, it brings the often candy coated world of the comic book firmly into adulthood. It is a film I feel both fans and newcomers should enjoy. If you like Snyder’s previous work, it’s a given you will like this. If you liked the novel, then hopefully Snyder’s effort will not be spat upon with distain as it is a really good movie which ticks most of the boxes.
…plus Snyder maintains his habit of homo-erotic nuances courtesy of an ever present glowing blue penis.
**** Stars
© BRWC 2010.

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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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