Saturday, March 07, 2009

Movie Review - Watchmen

It's no secret to anyone who reads my blogs or knows me that I am a big fan of comics and graphic novels (yes, they are different ). So it should surprise no one that I took the day off yesterday and sent to see the 10 AM showing of Watchmen, the first showing at the most convenient theater for me. The audience was probably a bit less than half full, but as hoped for, it was a serious audience ready to watch the filmic translation of the best graphic novel of all time.

The bar has been set high, because "comic book" movies or movies inspired by graphic novels and comics have become increasingly well done. In the last few years we've seen V for Vendetta, Sin City, Iron Man, The Hulk, the first 2 Spider-Man films, the first 2 X-Men films, Wanted, and some I've likely forgotten. The feathers in the cap for these films the last few years had to be 300 and The Dark Knight. 300 was a well done and entertainting film directed by Zach Synder, (director of Watchment) and it made a lot of movie for the studio. The Dark Knight was a great film, and amazingly pulled off the rarest of double plays; a great film that also makes huge money. i believe the success of The Dark Knight opened the door for a movie like Watchmen, both in it's ambitious scope, length, tone, rating , and budget. (Granted, we've also had The Spirit,Both Fantastic Four movies, Teenage mutant Ninja Turtles, the third installments of Spider-Man and X-Men, the newest punisher flick, DareDevil and Elektra) but it feels as if Hollywood is really picking up their batting average in their adaptations.

Watchmen the movie is a terrific experience, a great film. If you've read Watchmen you know the task facing the screenwriters was immense. The novel is 12 chapters, with supporting info in the back of each 28 pg chapter, along with things happening on multiple levels , and the book explores issues of political idealogy, vigilantism, what types of personalities would be attacted to the field of vigilantism, quantum physics, love, and so many other themes at the same time. it's an amazing piece3 of work, and no film would ever be able to adequately include everything without a 5-6 hr. film. So the trick was to adapt the 12 chapters into a 3 act structure, cutting material without losing the overall tone and themes of the book. I found the movie to be successful at this.

Just to be clear, this will include some spoilers.

The movie opens with the killing of the perfectly named Comedian. it's a powerful opening, and for those of us who read the book, a great depiction of the panels. The Comedian is one of my favorite characters in the book and film; not quite a nihilist, he reminded me somehow of the character Candide in Voltaire's book. The Comedian sees humanity for what they are, and he thinks the whole thing is one great big fucking joke. one of my favorite lines for him, is when confronted with an angry mob of violent masses in the street, he's asked by his colleague what happened to the American Dream, he replies "You're looking at it"! - Cynicism and gallows humor, the Comedian sees at the absurdity of it all.

The movie uses a brilliant montage to convey a ton of exposition to the viewer, to the tune of bob dylan's The Times They aRe a Changing . (The first of many excellent song choices, and the use of such songs to add a layer to the movie - nice.)

Soon we meet Rorschach, easily the favorite of the majority of watchmen fans I speak to. I recently read a piece from the great web site Aint it Cool News -
in which harry compares the characters of Owl Man and rorschach as the 2 sides of Batman. It makes a lot of sense, more so if you read/watch. Rorschach has zero compromise, for anyone. The rules of right and wrong are to never be compromised on. Ever. He is violent, asocial, and judgemental of all around him, even his "friends" He is Batman lost, without the spark of humanity that Bruce Wayne provides him with. Bruce Wayne has often had some element of family around him, via Robin and Alfred in the beginning to a full Bat family in recent years. (Lucius Fox, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Batgirl, oracle, huntress, the JLA, etc. Rorschach keeps a detailed journal, spies on his friends, and eats cold beans from a can. He stinks. Owl man is different. He is very smart, a detective, less physical, more cerebral. Oh, and while he enjoys being Dan Dreiber, regular citizen, he gets off on being Owl Man the hero. Literally, and we'll leave it there, but let's just say than slapping on spandex and exchanging blows with villians can be quite the kinky turn on for some.

The film moves in what could have been a dizzying or confusing manner yet keeps it all clear. Clear to me since i knew the beats and plot points, so I think it would be clear to others but can't say for sure. The film has flashbacks, and throughout the movie shifts among and between the following: Mars, present time, New mexico, the past . new york in various time periods, from the older heroes in the late 30s through WWII, through the Vietnam War (in Vietnam) to the late 70's, when heroes were outlawed, and only the Comedian (who went to the work for the govt, knocking off third world dictatorships and black ops (check out the sweet shot of Dallas, Texas and JFK!) Meanwhile, Dr. Manhattan, a man who died after exposure to a form of molecular disintegration only to find he was able to reconstitute himself - this effectively creates a God on earth, and is crucial to the piece. Don't want to spend much time on his character, but Billy Crudup plays Dr. Manhattan and it many ways it's one of the tougher roles, because he plays a man who has lost his humanity, and is now losing touch with humanity in general.

This theme of humanity, and human connections, is powerful, and many of the critic reviews I've read seemed to have missed the point entirely. Dan (Owlman) is sorty of lonely, disconnected. He visits an older gentleman who was the original Owlman, and Dan comes fully alive when he begins to spend time with Silk Spectre II, (leading to the first attempt at lovemaking, stymied by Dan's performance issues, issues that are resolved after some superheroing later, in full costume. (One could easily argue, and it's far too lengthy and complex to go into here, that many of these heroes suffer from identity issues. Rorschach screams at one point, "Where's my face" when his mask is pulled off, and he tells the prison psychiatrist that his name is Rorschac, not Walter Kovacs. - Silk Spectre I (played by the awesome Carla Gugino) is clearly bitter, like an old athlete who can no longer play, but misses the attention).

Back to the importance of human connection and humanity, one of the most powerful schenes in both book and novel is when Dr. Manhattan realilzes that human creation is indeed a miracle unto itself, just as amazing as quarks, quantum physics, and other scientific phenomena. This humanizing link is critical.

Even the Comedian has an interesting moment, one in which I will not spoil, but it's clear in the book, a bit less so in the movie.

I realize this a rambling review, but part of the problem is that there is so much cool stuff, so many things to talk about with a project like this, that it is overwhelming. I highly recommend seeing this movie. At the very worst, you will know what others are talking about, and my true suggestion would be to read and see Watchmen, then do it again! I plan to read it yearly because every read rewards you with some new nuance you didn't catch the first time through.


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