Friday 6 March 2009

Review: Watchmen

Year: 2009
Director: Zack Sndyer
Screenplay: David Hayter
Starring: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson

Film Synopsis here

So my first "big" film of the year. I couldn't wait. I will try not to mention too much about the creators (Alan Moore) dislike for Hollywood and what he feels about making a flick out of his baby (if he was that bothered I sure he could have found a way of stopping the film). I am going do my best to keep away the comparisons to last years The Dark Knight as it's too easy. However, it's interesting to see that Batman's comic return to his dark roots happens in 1986 (Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns) around the same time that Alan Moore's dense work arrives. To add to this Moore's graphic novel is considered the moment when people REALLY looked at "comic books" as serious literature. So it's quite amusing to see that both The Dark Knight and Watchmen show up around the same time to make the comic book movie "serious".

Want to make it more ludicrous? The film studios decided to get the most pop art inclined working director this side of Micheal Bay ( Zack Snyder) to make the movie. Snyder came to prominence with the flashy Dawn of the Dead remake, a film I despised on first viewing (tried again and still hated), Before making a Box Office Smash with the comic book adaptation 300 (Frank Miller again, interesting). His heavily stylized (ALOT of slow motion), testosterone fueled movie gave him the chance to helm what appears to be his dream project.

Well well well Mr Snyder, despite a box office showing better than most R rated movies, a mostly positive critical praise and quick entry into the imdb's top 25o movies, everyone I spoke to (bar two) disliked your movie! Should we blame PR and Marketing for promoting this as "the next Dark Knight"? Should we blame an ignorant audience who haven't read the book it's based on? (most of the hate came from people who haven't a clue about the book) Or should we blame you Mr Snyder for making this movie "Watchmen-lite"?


I blame Alan Moore. Why? For raising the bar. Watchmen is an exceptional piece of literature which is unlike anything I've read. The way the book is put together makes an exact adaptation almost impossible. The quotes, the case files, it's odd episodic nature, the comic within a comic...Moore (and Artist Dave Gibbons) created something that goes beyond mainstream cinema. As Moore has stated many a time before this was not meant to be filmed.

But instead of praising what Snyder did right, many are quick to bemoan whats missing or "wrong". That unfortunate because Snyder give the audience a film which is likely to be most intelligent commercial film this year (it ain't gonna be G.I Joe is it?!). From it's brilliant opening credits to it's flawed but solid ending. Snyder delivers the closet adaptation to Moores opus anyone would be able to get. The fact that Terry Gilliam could put Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to screen and put could not get this near the big screen is a credit to the young director (and technological advances). While many complain about the omissions, the film still features some of the subtext that made the book such an intriguing read. The fact that Synder crammed as much as he did in 2 and a half hours deserves praise.

The biggest problem I found with the film however is the novels episodic structure and slow burn reveals makes the film oddly paced to say the least. Also Watchmen does not have one main character it has six and Snyder does his best to give them all the credit they deserve. To cut any of their well rounded development would be a cheat, so while many were probably sick of Dr Manhattan pondering the nature of life, to cut it out would make the end of the film convoluted.

Despite being hyped up as The Dark Knight 2, Watchmen is a methodically paced detective feature. Not to say that it hasn't got action. Snyder directs his set pieces with verve and flair and to add to this YOU CAN ACTUALLY SEE WHATS HAPPENING!!!! Unlike other so called action directors Snyder makes sure every punch could be seen and felt. Not one to shy away from violence (see 300 and Dawn of the Dead) Watchmen takes blood to another level. This film is an 18 and it fucking means it. Yeah I've seen worse but the Arm Snap is almost as cringe inducing as the "magic pencil".

Watchmen also cox out pitch perfect performances from most of the cast. With Jackie Earle Haley, Billy Crudup and Jeffery Dean Morgan nailing Rorschach, Dr Manhattan and The Comedian. Morgan's Comedian is a strong achievement being an presence throughout the film despite his death being the kick off point of the movie. The other performances in the film are good but are more functional than showy.

Watchmen is a solid adaptation of an extremely difficult task. Fans of the book should get rid of any pre-notions before going in, while non-readers should not get caught up in the hype and brace yourself for a dense "neo noir" (even that doesn't describe it well enough) which is miles away from your Superman's, Ironman's, etc.

So while I still found myself making the easy comparisons (Haley as Rorschach is as good as Ledger as The Joker and I have no qualms in saying that.), and found myself agreeing with Terry Gilliam in thinking that Watchmen is a mini series and not a film; Zack Snyder produces a fantastically ambitious love letter to a unique graphic novel, its fans and it's creator. Those who lambaste it should do themselves a favor and check out the League of extraordinary gentlemen and see the difference.