I have literally just walked in the door after seeing “Watchmen” at the local theatrical establishment and I have a report for you, the loyal viewing public. Both of you. And the report is:
It’s good. Very good. The short version is, this was a good psychological super-hero movie, like “Dark Knight” without all the uplifting stuff.
The Good: Excellent production values, solid if unspectacular acting, and an entertaining way to spend almost three hours.
The Bad: Adrian Veidt is way too skinny and weak-chinned, and the script is pretty superficial, not leaving a lot of room for deep thinking afterwards.
The Ugly: The septuagenarian audience surrounding me, all hacking up a lung at the same time. The oxygen tank to iPhone ratio was way too high for comfort, but on the plus side there weren’t any children in the theater. Diapers, yes, children no.
More after the jump.
My doubts about this project have been well documented here, but all along I said I’d wait for the actual movie to debut before passing judgment. I’m glad I did, because I was very pleasantly surprised by how good it is. I think Snyder deserves credit for producing a movie that’s true to some of the key threads of the source material, while still keeping it relevant to the big screen.
Visuals: Excellent. The production design really came through, creating a consistent and believable world. This clearly was neither Metropolis nor Gotham, nor was it a typical four-color type of city. The costumes were solid, although some of the masks were too thick and looked a bit silly, and I hated Laurie’s outfit (Quentin Tarrantino’s yellow “Kill Bill” biker suit meets S&M Club). But they nailed “The Comedian” and I even liked Nite Owl’s getup.
Acting: Varied from a little weak (Veidt) to excellent (Dreiberg and The Comedian). Rorschach will be the crowd favorite as he gets the most bad-ass moments, but it’s Dreiberg’s understated humanity and vulnerability that are the heart of the film.
Slow Motion Count: Too high, but not overly so. One more Matrix-like hair flip from Laurie would have sent me over the edge, but luckily that disaster was narrowly averted.
Adherence to the Comic: A misleading category. This is not the book. And the book is not the movie. You always run a risk, when adapting previously written material for the screen, of losing what made it special while simultaneously failing to make a good movie. I think Snyder’s walked that difficult line well here, turning in a film that retains enough of the threads from the comics while managing to give us something appropriate for the big screen.
Having said that, allow me to diverge into a bit of introspection here.
I’ve seen other reviews that argue “Watchmen” was relevant because it brought gritty realism to comics, or because it leveraged the cliches of the super-hero genre to dismantle them, or that its only relevance was as a reflection of the nuclear angst of its time.
I say, hogwash.
“Watchmen” the graphic novel is about powerlessness. Its brilliance is in tying that to costumed adventurers, who in American pop culture are the very symbol of raw power. And yet Moore bookended his story with Dr. Manhattan on the one hand — a being of literally God-like powers — and Dan Dreiberg on the other — a man who is literally impotent. And yet both are, in their own ways, powerless. Throughout the story we run into the theme again and again, looking at these people who have gone to such extremes to impact the world and yet who, ultimately, are powerless against it despite their every effort.
Impotence in the face of Fate is the very hallmark of humanity, and yet these people have surrendered that very humanity in their quest to prove that they matter.
What matters is that the costumes and the powers serve to highlight that dichotomy. Getting hung up on the grit and the grime and the anti-hero aspects is to miss the cake for the frosting. I’ve read several reviews that airily proclaim that since all of the innovations Moore tried to introduce with “Watchmen” have become the de facto language of the entire genre, the work is no longer relevant except as a relic of its time.
But while the recent “Batman” movies also have realistic costumes and conflicted heroes, they’re still not “Watchmen”. Because “Watchmen” was a work of art, a deeply-layered, nuanced piece of fiction that is no more “about” a super-hero murder and villainous plot than Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is “about” ghosts.
Zack Snyder’s movie misses that mark; it’s “about” being a psychological study of people who dress up as super-heroes, wrapped up in a tights-and-cape shell. And that’s ok, because on its own that made for a fine, entertaining film. I hope those who haven’t read the comics yet will go back and do so, because I think they’ll enjoy them. But don’t mistake the one for the other — each stands on its own, and that’s exactly how it ought to be.
So long story short, whether you’ve read the original book or not, I think you’ll probably enjoy the movie. Hats off to Snyder, he did a good job with a project I frankly thought was unfilmable.