Piffman2 Watches the Watchmen

By JMinor

If it's good enough for the school newspaper it's good enough for you

Hailed as the Citizen Kane of comics, Alan Moore’s Watchmen published in 1987 forever changed the medium with its brilliant and harrowing deconstruction of the superhero concept. 20 years later, 300 director Zack Snyder has finally brought the “unfilmable novel” to the big screen after many failed attempts leaving fans skeptical yet optimistic. As a fan of the book I have no problem saying that Watchmen the movie is not as good and won’t be as influential as Watchmen the book. However, what separates the two makes the film an intriguing animal in its own right.

Set in 1980’s Watchmen presents a world where America won Vietnam, Nixon is in his third term, the threat of nuclear annihilation is constantly lurking, and most importantly, superheroes exist. The term “superhero” is a little misleading though. The majority of Watchmen’s characters are merely average people in costumes. This one of many questions the film raises, what motivates someone to fight crime while wearing a mask? The variety of psychological issues that lead to that conclusion are exemplified in the six main members of “The Watchmen” a sort of Justice League of the most prominent masked avengers. Dan Dreiberg played by Patrick Wilson uses his Nite Owl persona to carry out repressed desires which are be both childish and sexual in nature. Crazed and traumatized detective Rorschach played by Jackie Earle Haley believes that evil must be punished through the most brutal of methods. Malin Akerman plays Laurie aka Silk Spectre II who resents her mother, the first Silk Spectre played by Carla Gugino, for pushing her into this ridiculous profession. The Comedian, played by Jeffery Dean Morgan, is immoral and jaded, believing that life is a joke. Matthew Goode plays Adrian Veidt who has set up a massive business empire after capitalizing own his superhero identity Ozymandias. Finally, Billy Crudup plays Dr. Manhattan who is granted God like powers from a freak accident. However, his omniscience is pulling him and further and further away from the rest of humanity. Standouts among the performances are Haley who brings gruffness and ferocity to Rorschach that sounds more natural than Christian Bale in The Dark Knight. Crudup also does well as the all CGI Dr. Manhattan, whose soft-spoken voice and subtle range of emotion portray a man trying his hardest to remain human but just can’t seem to do it. Akerman and Goode make their characters more appealing to me than they ever were in the book but both are too young for their roles and give weaker performances overall.

From its sexuality and stylized yet graphics violence and Watchmen is deserves its R-rating. Fan expecting more of the dark and bleak tone of The Dark Knight will not be disappointed. What might disappoint them is the plot which is less about superheroes fighting some sort of villain than it is about superheroes trying to remain relevant and effective in world where “inside of 30 thirty years, the nukes will be flying like maybugs.” The premise is that after one of the Watchmen has been killed, the paranoid Rorschach begins investigating a conspiracy to bring about the end of the world, writing notes in his journal and meeting up with former allies along the way. Back in 1977 superheroes were outlawed after riots from citizens and numerous police strikes. These people have no right to be vigilantes and even after coming out of retirement, many seem to be doing it for their own egos more than anything else. It’s a good thing that the emphasis is on plot because the actual actions scenes in Watchmen leave a lot to be desired. Snyder still uses some of the slow-motion effect from 300 and every punch feels so fake that I expected a giant “BAM” to show up on screen. But fans of the book would agree that fighting is no the point of Watchmen and the movie doesn’t overuse it. It feels like they did it to respect the book and not to be like every other mass-market action movie.

Without spoiling anything, there can never be a sequel to Watchmen. That’s why the idea of a movie scares so many fans because whoever does it only has one chance to get it right. Snyder chose to make the movie as faithful as possible, often times lifting entire scenes and dialogue straight out of the pages. There are problems with this method though. In the beginning the movie is a straight translation and therefore feels like individual issues rather than a cohesive movie. The ending however smartly blends plotlines and makes satisfying alterations and cuts from the original story. Steps were necessary to streamline the 400-page book into a nearly 3-hour movie. It should serve as a reminder to comic fans that things that work in comics don’t always work as movie and filmmakers shouldn’t be afraid to take a few liberties. There are some problems to the changes though. In order to keep the plot moving, Snyder omits much of the background information about much of the characters. Therefore it’s hard to sympathize with them later on. The use of licensed music is hit in miss with hits like Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are a Changing” showing the history of superheroes and misses like “99 Red Balloons” being played for no reason. The Cold War theme made the book a period piece for the 80’s but the film feels much more modern despite taking place in the same time period. Luckily, many themes still make sense in our post-911 world.

As fan of the book I’m happy to see new unexpected scenes that flesh out the world with information from the book but disappointed by how abridged the Watchmen movie feels overall. However, I’m glad that it exists to serve as a companion to the comic. People like me should enjoy this movie. However, I fear that those who are unaware of its legacy will be dazzled by the visual but confused and unimpressed by the plot.

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