Go Watch Watchmen
It’s hard to know where to start when one is this impressed with a film. Do I begin with how Watchmen the graphic novel’s epic storyline is beautifully and fantastically condensed into a film, or do I note how perfect and wonderful the casting of almost every character is. Maybe I start by applauding Zack Snyder for making a truly adult “comic book” movie or simply bring up the fact that Watchmen the movie is just plain fun to watch.
For the uninitiated (and you should be ashamed of yourself) Watchmen is the greatest graphic novel ever. That isn’t hyperbole I’m using, it’s a fact. The graphic novel, written by the legendary Alan Moore, has been heralded as the birthplace of the modern comic book and was the only graphic novel to make it onto Time’s 100 greatest English-language novels. Needless to say adapting Watchmen to the big screen was not something easily done, and is sure to bring heavy scrutiny from the most ardent of fans.
It’s not just the heavy fan scrutiny that makes adapting Watchmen difficult. The book itself is far more about what and who superheroes are than action and fights. Taking place in an alternate 1980’s where Nixon is now a five time president and nuclear war is only being stopped by the fact that the US has a god-like superhero on their side in Doctor Manhattan, the comic and film dive into American culture, war, love, morality and violence far more often than they do traditional comic book themes of good vs. evil. Following the murder of a retired hero (all of the heroes in Watchmen are just normal men and women except for Doctor Manhattan) a few now outlawed heroes kick back into action to find out who is behind his death. At it’s heart the story is a pretty simple murder case, but the characters and themes are so much more that the comic and film move far beyond that.
What is so impressive about the film is that it captures those same themes and ideals and translates them perfectly too the screen. Of course it helps that Snyder has the uncanny ability to make iconic images from the comic come to life and that much of the screenplay is simply the comic word for word, but it also must be said that in lesser hands this approach would have easily fallen flat on his face. You know it hasn’t though the second The Comedian (Jeffery Dean Morgan) gets thrown out of his window by an unknown assailant. At that moment, as the glass shatters around him just like in the graphic novel, you will know that you’re in for one exceptional comic book movie.
It also helps that the filmmakers chose actors that could actually pull off their characters instead of big names. Jack Earle Haley is especially good as the slightly psychotic anti-hero Rorschach who spews philosophy on life as much as he does catchy one liners. The only character who seemed out of place was Malin Akerman who took on the role of Silk Spectre. It’s refreshing to see a cast of actors that fit perfectly into character and can handle their roles, especially in a film where every detail is going to be picked over. The great thing is every detail is there. Even the Outer Limits, an episode of which is said to have influenced the Watchmen story, gets a little nod. It’s clear Snyder knows his subject and knows its fans.
For those of you who aren’t fans, or have maybe only read the graphic novel once (a challenging feat) the film might not be as memorable. It is made far better by the fact that you know the story behind it. The multiple story lines and emotions that can’t fit into the film are there if you know the graphic novel, but might be missed otherwise. Snyder’s religious devotion to the comic book’s pages will make those that are not familiar with it a bit standoffish. It’s much more of an addendum to the source material than a replacement of any sort.
The film stands up as entertaining too, though. Of course the story is fantastic to begin with, but Snyder has also infused it with enough action that you never really get bored despite the film being over two hours. It’s all classic slow-mo/speed-up Snyder action too, and it still looks damn cool. However, returning to those fanboys of the comic, the action never feels forced or out of place in the grand scheme of the story. Snyder clearly knew what he was doing.
There’s about a hundred years of hype behind this film, and at some point someone is going to come out of it disappointed by something. That’s fine and dandy, but it isn’t me. Snyder has captured the beauty, intelligence and grace of one of the greatest graphic novels of all time and some how managed to put it on the screen. So yes, it was hard to know where to start this review, but I know exactly how to finish it.
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