Friday, March 6, 2009

REVIEW: Watchmen...

So, it's finally here. It's been about 6 months since we not only got the last great superhero film, The Dark Knight, but a certain trailer attached to it. Watchmen has been over 20 years in the making. In the hands of Darren Aronofsky, to the hands of Terry Gilliam, it finally landed in the lap of 300 director Zack Snyder about 2 years ago, and along with a controversial court case, has had one hell of a time getting to the big screen. I'm a closet; well, maybe not so closet after starting this blog, comic book nerd. Watchmen is the epitome of a comic book version of the bible for us geeks. And honestly, it was almost a religious experience for yours truly. It may very well be the greatest graphic novel ever made, written by one of the best graphic novel writers ever. Those are some mighty large, and bearded, shoes to fill. Does Zack Snyder step up to the task?

Watchmen is an adaptation of Alan Moore's landmark comic book series, set in an alternative 1985, where the world is ticking closer to the brink of nuclear war. When one of his former colleagues is murdered, the washed up but no less determined masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. As he reconnects with his former crime-fighting buddies - a group of superheroes forced into retirement, only one of whom has true powers - Rorschach glimpses a wide-ranging and alarming conspiracy with links to their shared past and ruinous consequences for the future.

(I’m going to go into character back stories, but very briefly. I could write 40,000 words on these people, but instead, you all can go ahead and read the freaking novel, or check out the IMDB links for each character by clicking their links…)

The film features one hell of a stand out cast. Most importantly, you have Jackie Earl Haley as the masked vigilante, Rorschach. Rorschach at his core is sick of how society is run. He is disgusted by the way the world is, to him, going straight down the drain with pimps and whores leading the way down. He’s a violent person, and it all seems to come easy to the man. And Haley embodies this character to a disturbing perfection. The voice is gravely, the mentality is bleak, and the performance may be the best of the film.

Rorschach is on the hunt of whoever took the life of Edward Blake, also known as The Comedian. He is played by Jeffery Dean Morgan, and he really steals the show. The epitome of “American” beliefs, Blake is all about the id. He says what he thinks, and he does what he wants, and a WWII veteran, Blake’s murder is the event that set this story in motion. It was the Ferdinand assassination of this story, and the mystery surrounding his untimely death is what the core of this story is about, on a superficial level. While I think Haley may be the best performance in the film, this one from Morgan may be the most surprising. All we really see of him is flashbacks, but he, like Haley, embodies the shovenistic, womanizing son of a bitch that the Comedian truly was. Most people know him as Denny from Grey’s Anatomy, but hopefully this film will change that, because he is no sex having ghost in Watchmen.

Then you have Dan Dreiberg, or better known as Nite Owl II, the one true “hero” of the story. He is a quasi-second generation hero, who has taken up the mantel of Nite Owl from Hollis Mason. He is happy in his new life after the Keene Act banished his costume to the closet, but he still deeply longs for the days when he was a masked hero. He is played by an underappreciated actor named Patrick Wilson, who is probably most famous for being the villain in Hard Candy, or playing across from Samuel L. Jackson in Lakeview Terrace, but here, he’s shockingly good. He is just the right touch of sweetness and charm, and yet he has this longing to get back in the suit, that makes this character the most relatable. He’s the human center of the film, and the one that almost every single viewer will be able to relate to.

His love interest is Malin Ackerman, who portrays Laurie Jupiter, a.k.a. Silk Spectre II, a second generation heroine. Forced into the life by her mother, Sally Jupiter, played by the gorgeous Carla Gugino, she takes up the moniker and is almost the opposite of Dan. She misses the days of being a vigilante, but she is glad that she has been able to move on. It also helps that her husband is a God.

Married to Laurie is Jon Osterman, or better known as Dr. Manhattan. Played by Billy Crudup, Jon, the son of a watch maker, was a brilliant atomic physicist, with a Ph.D. in the subject. Then, one day, while retrieving his lover’s broken watch, he gets caught in a science test, and 'intrinsic field' removed. Bathed in the radiant light, he is torn to pieces from the force of the generator, instantly vaporized and officially declared dead. However, that’s not true, and he returns, glowing blue, and able to create and destroy matter on command. He is able to realize and comprehend the present, past and future, all at the same time, and this makes him a god amongst men.

Now this is where the performances get interesting. First off, as a couple, Ackerman and Crudup completely fulfill what was called of them. There is a palpable disconnect between the two, that make their inevitable breakup completely real. It may just be that Ackerman had to act next to a guy in a blue light adorned suit, but their chemistry is almost nonexistent, and that is what moves this relationship forward.

Separate however, the two really give polar opposite performances. Crudup as Manhattan is stellar. He takes his own voice, and puts it behind this stunningly realistic character, and gives what could have been this cold character much more life. There is still this sense of disconnect, but you would be a little out of it too if you were basically god, just blue. Then there is Malin Ackerman. While I don’t necessarily think she was bad, she just didn’t hold up when compared to the rest of the cast. She was solid, but when taken in context with an ensemble at the top of each member’s game, she felt like the weak one of the bunch.

Finally, you have the smartest man in the world, Adrian Veidt, Ozymandias. Matthew Goode takes up the role of Veidt, who is considered as the worlds smartest man, who along with his faithful dog Bubastis, has taken his hero moniker, and made it a label. Everything from action figures, to perfume, he’s the epitome of capitalism and capitalistic beliefs. This may be my personal favorite performance. I can’t get too much into it because I don’t want to give anything away, but Goode completely takes this character and makes it his own. It, like Manhattan, could have been a cold and monotone role, but he gives it life.

The biggest concern for me when walking into my screening was the man at the helm. There are two ways that this film could have gone. There is the first way, the good way, the Dawn of the Dead remake way. It had a great amount of style, but wasn’t over stylized, as the other film under his belt, 300. 300 had a great sense of visual style, for the first fight scene. Then the fight scenes kept slowing down, and speeding up, and the visuals never got beyond the painted videogame backgrounds that the film lived in. However, all is perfect in the world of Watchmen.

The direction here is really great, but like in 300, a little repetitive. The fight scenes are in slow motion, and then sped up, and then back to slow motion, but for this film, unlike 300, it completely works. There is just something different about the world in which Snyder set his direction. It’s far more vibrant and alive than the pot smoke induced airbrush job that was 300. Also, I think Snyder has vastly improved upon his overall direction. Right from the gorgeous opening credits, you feel like you are in capable hands, and with a property as intellectually stimulating and deep as this one, that’s something I could have only dreamt of. The cinematography is gorgeous, and the score may be one of my favorites since the aforementioned Dark Knight. It actually more reminds me of the Friday Night Lights score, as this one is much more ambient and atmospheric, instead of the Dark Knight and its thematic soundtrack. Tyler Bates proves himself with this one.

Another star of this film was the script. Not only was this a huge concern for all of us who have read it, but with a second time screenwriter taking the reins, I had extra pause. This may be the single most faithful comic book film ever made. The script, while cutting many small parts such as the storyline featuring Walter Kovacs’ shrink, is basically a speech bubble for speech bubble replica of the graphic novel, and with the performances it garners, it didn’t feel lazy one bit. Even Rorschach’s’ diaries are narrated by him, and when you see the pivotal moment in regards to his journal happens, you see why. Some things were lost, but what they were replaced with, makes it all work out in the end.

Besides the film as a whole, there are many small little, what seem to be, set pieces that are superb, particularly the origin of Dr. Manhattan. Narrated by him, it takes us from his young days with his clock making father, to the present, with him on Mars. These Mars sequences, while being the most intellectually challenging, also show the true heart of the character. This is a man who can control matter, and knows the past, present, and the future. He is a person who literally has a God complex, and these sequences sort of get at what goes through a person’s head when they lose any and all passion for what “we humans deem life”. That’s some really heavy stuff, and is mined here as well as I think it could be. There is a lot of philosophy to discuss here, but it really all relates to the ending, so please, if you have seen it and would like to get into some of these things, either post a comment below (stating that you are giving spoilers) or you can reach me at the places I will state at the end of this post.

The one thing that still lingers in my mind is how this film will be accepted by the mass population, particularly Joe 40oz. Soda. More so than an un-filmable graphic novel, this is more an un-promotable graphic novel. To truly understand what this story is about, at least based on this marketing campaign, one must have previously read the novel. The first trailer in particular, made this film seem like much more of an action film, with the mention of 300, and it being before The Dark Knight, one could easily have thought this film was simply an action film, yet, it’s so much more. Not that the campaign was bad, as it was quite brilliant, ESPECIALLY that first trailer, it just doesn’t really play well to the uninitiated. Many of my friends are interested, but I begin to tell them what it is about, and it sort of either turns them on, or completely off. This films box office gross will be interesting to watch over a couple of weeks.

For those of you who have seen the film, but have not been able to check out the comic, or just decided that the comic may not be your thing, there are three things that you can rent to remedy the things you may have missed. First is the Watchmen Motion Comic. It’s the entire graphic novel, just with each frame voiced over instead of written out. Each frame is in motion, and there is a voice over that takes the place of the dialogue bubbles.

Second, there is a two disc collection that you can pick up in a couple of weeks, adding depth to your Watchmen knowledge. It is the animated adaptation of Tales of The Black Freighter, the comic within the comic of Watchmen, which plays an integral role in the overall feel of the book. The film also comes with an adaptation of Hollis Mason’s tell all book, Under The Hood, which was a side story within the graphic novel.

There are a couple of flaws however. First, the story feels a bit episodic, and yes, I know, it’s based on a series of comic books, but the films flow just felt a tad bit sloppy, mainly in the opening segments. It wasn’t anything huge, but you will know what I mean when you see it. Also, Malin Ackerman and her cinematic mother, played by Carla Gugino, really didn’t live up to the rest of the cast. Their singular performances weren’t too hot, and their relationship didn’t truly feel real. It may have been the fact that I don’t think Gugino was really old enough to take on this role, but it felt a bit awkward and rather subpar.

That all said, this is the film us Watchmen fans have been waiting a decade plus for, and the wait has been worth it. Sure, there are a few minor flaws, but to be what I consider the best graphic novel film ever made, or at least in the question, the obviously didn’t mean to much. Please, go see this damn film.
However, I do have a clarifier. Go back, watch the trailer, and read the plot synopsis, and if it works for you, see it. This film is impossible to sel to someone that is completely in the dark on the novel, so you really need to get into the story before you walk in the theatre to sort of be able to go with it. It’s not a tough film to see through going into blind, at least I don’t think it would be, but it’s just wise to know a little bit going in. You don’t have to read the book, although you SHOULD, but check out the Wikipedia or rent the motion comic DVD beforehand. It’s just for your benefit. But really, this is the first MUST SEE film of ’09, and you will be missing out on the trump card to last year’s Dark Knight if you don’t.

It’s 4:11, and I’m going on 3 energy drinks and 4 hours of sleep, so I hope this review lived up to the brilliance of Watchmen…


Come back later for more news and notes…

Go see something good!

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