Saturday, March 7, 2009
Writer Alan Moore has received unprecedented praise for his limited comic book series (later collected into graphic novel form) Watchmen since its initial publication in 1986/87. He and artist Dave Gibbons won many awards, including a prestigious Hugo Award, and being the only graphic novel listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 greatest novels since 1923. The book has been in development for a film adaptation pretty much since it was published, but was usually described by people as being "unfilmable". The book is set in an alternate 1985 (one where Nixon is still in office) and deals with a group of superheroes, only one of which actually has superpowers. Finally, after adapting the graphic novel 300 with his previous movie, director Zack Snyder gives us the movie of the legendary book. It's not great, but it is honestly probably the best version we were going to get.
The plot is set in motion when aging retired "masked hero" The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is suspiciously murdered in his apartment. Paranoid psychopathic "hero" Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) gets it into his head that someone is trying to do away with the old crew of "masks", and he starts looking into it. His investigation leads him to getting back in touch with his old partner Dan/Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), as well as Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), who is superpowered to the point of being something of a deity. Dr. Manhattan is doing work for the military and for Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), one of the few masked heroes to have identified himself to the public (and helping him become the richest man in the world in the process). The deeper Rorschach's digging goes, the more the plot seems to thicken and become about more than just picking off retired heroes for the hell of it.
Billy Crudup is brought to life terrifically from the comic as the glowing blue god that is Dr. Manhattan. I have to commend both Crudup and Zack Snyder as a director for not only wonderfully translating this character onto the big screen, but in making him an interesting character to watch and not ever feel like just a cool special effect. I also have to praise the work of Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jackie Earle Haley in their respective roles. Their interpretations of The Comedian and Rorschach are exactly the mannerisms and voices I heard in my head while reading the comic. Not fairing as well, I thought, are the women. Malin Akerman is certainly a gorgeous woman to look at, but I found her Silk Spectre II a bore. I also wasn't crazy about her mother, the original Silk Spectre, played by Carla Gugino (an actress I usually love). I thought Gugino was good in the flashbacks of her in her heyday, but was a weak link playing under her age makeup in the movies present day scenes.
Snyder is hit and miss with his direction. Sometimes he's on top of his game, he can definitely film the hell out of some fight scenes. But there are multiple attempts at humor which either don't work at all (which I blame on the writer), or are poorly staged (such as the climax, pun intended, of the sex scene). These kinds of things are not necessarily terrible on their own, but contribute to what I feel is an inconsistent atmosphere. Snyder also slavishly follows the panels of the comic, on more than a couple of occasions making the movie feel uninspired in its visuals, like it's confined to only show particular shots in this scene. It never develops a style of its own, something which is needed in the translation between mediums. On the bright side, I don't think anything he does screws up the movie. There are plenty of times that everything could've gone very wrong, but I don't think it does.
In the future, Watchmen will still be remembered first as a classic graphic novel and second as a movie, but I think Zack Snyder has given us a damn fine adaptation and one which was actually a lot better than I had prepared myself for it to be.