Watchmen: An Ambitious, Admirable Adult Adaptation

There’s a thin line between realizing you’re watching a great movie and admiring a movie for its aspirations of greatness. After my initial viewing of Watchmen, I believe I fall on the side of the latter. However, there’s enough to love in this film that I’m optimistic it will reveal its greatness with further viewings. At bare minimum, it’s compelling enough and presents challenging enough ideas that its images and occurrences will linger in your mind long after the film is over. It’s a brooding, haunting superhero film, which blows the lid off of the idea that The Dark Knight was anything close to a revolutionary treatment of the costumed crusader genre. Filled with unflinching violence and nudity, Zack Snyder was not afraid to give you the adult version of an adult treatment of heroes. While its reverence causes some drag in tempo, they economized the story to the best of their ability and made the best film of an “unfilmable” story that they could, which may frustrate casual viewers and diehard fans of the comics, but may bewitch those who are somewhere in the middle.

Nixon is in the White House, and the Cold War is in full effect. The thought of Doomsday is on everyone’s mind, including those of a disbanded group of superheroes, now in hiding since Nixon outlawed their style of vigilante justice. However, when someone kills The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a masked sociopath named Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) is convinced someone is tracking down former superheroes. He warns everyone else, a group which includes Nite Owl II(Patrick Wilson), a Batman-esque technology whiz, Silk Spectre II (Malin Ackerman),  a butt-kicking girl in skimpy clothes, Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), the smartest man alive who cashed in on his former herodom by selling action figures of himself, and the only true “super”hero of them all, Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a man genetically altered in one of those horrible science experiments gone wrong, who now is blue, naked, and has Godlike abilities.

To get the bad out of the way, the first hour and a half dragged. Perhaps it’s because the action had such impact that we want more, perhaps it’s the flashbacks which are necessary but divergent, perhaps it’s the acting which can’t earn our interest, or perhaps it’s our MTV-riddled ADD minds of this generation. It went just long enough that I began longing for the plot. Once it does get underway (there’s an assassination attempt), it plows forward swiftly from there. The tempo shifts can be somewhat jarring, but as The European Miracle explained to me on, with a comic book, you can control the tempo with which you’re moving the story along– the comic book drags at the beginning too, but at least you can read all of it as slowly or quickly as you want. Here, we’re forced to go along at Snyder’s tempo, which may explain the clunkiness– trying to transfer one medium’s tempo to another does not necessarily go smoothly.

However, there’s a lot to love. The performance of Jackie Earle Haley is really terrific– if Ledger gets notices for The Dark Knight, I hope it doesn’t take a tragic death for people to acknowledge Haley. The action is very well-staged, and you realize that regular humans who train themselves well can do some terrible damage to the average John Q. Criminal. The horror of the violence and the explicitness of the nudity will turn some off, but I thought it helped the gritty “realism” (if that phrase can even be used) of the film. I think the last 30 minutes has terrific build and pays off well. Also paying off well is a visit to a prison by Rorschach that ends with a swinging door shot that has burned itself into my skull. Some have pooh-poohed the music choices, preferring a traditional score, I suppose. I thought the music helped the anthemic oddity of the film carry. Also, there has been much ado about a sex scene set to the song “Hallelujah,” saying it’s unintentionally funny. I think Snyder wants us to laugh, and while I’m not certain it’s appropriate, it certainly helps relieve some of the constant tension.

So where will this rank at the end of the day? Not sure… unlike every other superhero film, there is so much going on, so much bubbling underneath the surface, so many ideas being tossed around that it’s hard to say just how good it is. As I said, even as I give the film strong praise, I’m not sure whether it all works as a whole, whether it’s as cohesive as I would have liked—but it’s as cohesive as a narrative not meant for cinema can be. If you judge a film’s greatness by its ability to captivate an audience without ceasing, then this film does not qualify. However, if you judge a film’s greatness by its ability to cause audience members to immediately want to give it a second look, then this has greatness in spades. Even if it doesn’t all quite work, it is absolutely as memorable as any film you’ll see in 2009.

~ by russellhainline on March 7, 2009.

6 Responses to “Watchmen: An Ambitious, Admirable Adult Adaptation”

  1. […] Read more here: Watchmen: An Ambitious, Admirable Adult Adaptation « The Password … […]

  2. i do not feel it was all that memorable or re-watchable, although I do feel it was a fine adaptation.

  3. I can’t even get a shout out?

  4. Shout out to Shelly. I’m gonna do another article on my second viewing thoughts, I believe. SEE IT IN IMAX IF YOU CAN.

  5. Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  6. […] Visual Effects: 10. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus 9. Watchmen 8. Terminator: Salvation 7. Where the Wild Things Are 6. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince 5. […]

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