Review: A Fan's Reaction to 'Watchmen'
Watchmen starts out with the brutal murder of a man named Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who was once the costumed superhero The Comedian. Years ago there were heroes that patrolled the streets and kept the world safe, but in time the people began to resent them and 'masks' were outlawed. Many of them quit, such as the soft, sweet tempered Dan/Nite-Owl (Patrick Wilson), and some of them continued like Dan's former partner and full out sociopath Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley). It is Rorschach who decides to look closely into the murder of Edward Blake, and he decides that someone is killing former 'masks.' He warns Dan and his other former companions, Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), and Laurie (Malin Akerman). Veidt has become the economic King of the United States of America, using his former companions as merchandise and then taking the money to try and promote world peace. This dark, gritty, angry alternate version of the world in the 80's is not a happy place to be. Nixon is in his fifth term and the USSR is planning to nuke us and bring about the Armageddon. The only one holding them back it Dr. Manhattan, the only real superhero in a story about normal people who put on silly costumes. Years ago an accident caused him to have complete control over time and matter, but it has caused him to slowly separate from humanity, to become the God they all claim him to be. It also pushes his girlfriend Laurie away from him and into the hesitant hands of Dan.
This is just a brief look into an otherwise very complicated plot, and if that confuses you, try out the graphic novel sometime. It is so full of dense plot twists that people spend years just trying to pick it all apart. There are classes in college dedicated to studying the graphic novel, and Snyder and his team try to come in and pull out two hours and forty-five minutes of screen time. That is a tall order, and in some ways it completely succeeds. The acting in 'Watchmen' is superb and easily its best trait, even over the stylized special effects and endless fighting that will probably be the real draw. None of these actors are A-listers, but they should be, especially Jackie Earle Haley who is drawn to characters that are as despicable as they are sympathetic. Unfortunately some of his raspy lines as Rorschach come across as trying too hard, and while it reads very well in the text, they are a little too Sin City for the movie's attempted realism. Still, for a violent sociopath, Rorschach remains the main character of the movie, the one who pushes the plot and drags us kicking and screaming along with it. He is cynical and hateful and uncompromising in his creepily honorable way of looking at the world. The equally dark comedian is both horrifying and compelling thanks to Jeffrey Dean Morgan's giant grin and snappish sense of humor. It's all a joke to Blake, even his death … especially his death. The only weak elements in the cast would be Akerman as Laurie, who as the only real female character should be more interesting but serves more as a love object than a three dimensional person. The other problem is Goode, who simply does not have the physical presence of someone as powerful as Veidt, plus he has a horrendously put upon German accent which only serves to make him sound occasionally like a bad Bond villain. All that being said, the weaker characters still manage to come across strongly enough to feel for them, and that's all the actors can do. Make us care. Because trust me, these characters are very hard to like because of how very human they are, even the superhuman Dr. Manhattan. He actually is the most human of them all, despite the blue skin and summer home on Mars.
Snyder is known for his style of slow motion fighting and sledgehammer special effects, and they are in full power during this film. The violence in Watchmen is extreme and difficult to watch at times, because it never quite makes it to the laughable stage that Kill Bill and Sin City managed to get to. When bone slashes through flesh and Rorschach stabs someone in the head with a meat cleaver, you cringe, but for fans of the action this will probably make them cheer. Snyder loves those slow-motion-to-suddenly-fast moments, and it can be jarring, but anyone who enjoyed 300 will like it here too. The only real complaint to be found is that whoever made the song choices should be fired immediately. In some integral and emotional scenes, they play extremely popular music from the time over it. This did little more than drag me out of those scenes and make them seem completely ridiculous. When you're having a slow motion porno-like love scene, it makes it that much sillier with "Hallelujah" playing over it. Those moments only served to remind the viewer that this is a pretty silly story at times, and you lose the realism. The only time it worked was in the opening credits.
With all that said, the question really is: does this movie do the graphic novel justice? As a fan, I'd have to say no. There are too many glaring problems in it and too many times that the plot is lost in favor of overly dramatized fighting sequences. The fact that they altered the end is something that many fans fought against, and while it does smoothly integrate itself in the movie, it simply does not work. The ending is rushed, confusing, and lacks the emotional appeal of the rest of the film. Perhaps by then we are just too tired to really care, but at the end you are supposed to question the morally ambiguous moment. Instead, you kind of just want it to end.
Now, did Snyder and his team do the best they could with turning a very dense and elaborate mini-series into a movie? Yes. The loving reverence and respect for the text is clearly seen here, and they recreate scenes straight out of the novel. Fans will love that, although it'll be lost on the newcomers, but they will enjoy the visuals anyway. This isn't the first or last time a graphic novel will become a bastardization of itself for the sake of a movie, but it was well done and worth seeing at least once. Those who do not know the book will be intrigued by this dystopian world of too-human vigilantes, and fans will find it hard not to smile at the panel-for-panel recreations. Watchmen is a success for its intentions, and while I'd still recommend you read the graphic novel to really understand the point, it will be a different and entertaining movie to try out. This is an extremely violent film and has nudity and sexual content, so parents, do not bring your children in thinking this will just be a slightly more brutal The Dark Knight. It is rated R for a reason.
Who watches the Watchmen? I'm guessing everyone will … for the opening weekend at least.
Story by Chelsea 'Dee' Doyle
Starpulse contributing writer
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