It is finally here. After over 20 years of false starts and production problems, Alan Moore’s Watchmen has come to the local megaplex. Has the acclaimed graphic novel (often quoted as “unfilmable” ) been fully realized in this movie adaption? The answer is as complex as Watchmen itself.
Watchmen is basically an unconventional superhero story set in an alternate 1980’s where Richard Nixon is still president and masked crime fighting has been outlawed. The story begins with the death of The Comedian, a Captain America type superhero. Rorschach, (an outlaw crime fighter) investigates, learning that there is a murderer bumping off costumed heroes. He sets out to warn his fellow “Watchmen” and together, they piece together the clues to a terrifying puzzle that reveals the “rabbit hole” is deeper and darker than any of them could have imagined.
The Good: The greatest moments of the film are stolen by Rorschach and The Comedian. Jackie Earle Haley is mesmerizing as Rorschach. His ( better than Bale’s ) voice grovel and unflinching characterization leave you wanting more. Jeffrey Dean Morgan chews scenery as The Comedian, approaching the sick and depraved character with a slickness and likability that creates conflict within the viewer.
Director Zack Snyder steers the Watchmen ship in the right direction (for the first two thirds anyway), competently telling the tale - even occasionally improving upon the original's narrative. The action is intense, with the gore and violence turned up to 10. Many scenes are strikingly more visceral than their graphic novel counterparts.
The overall art direction is breathtaking, and should be nominated for awards. The film's interpretation of the Watchmen characters and sets really bring the book to life, adding an extra layer of detail to the story.
THE BAD: The final quarter of the film is a mess. Snyder has turned up the violence in every aspect of the film except where its most important.... the ending. By effectively removing the teeth from the finale, we watch the film eat steak with razor sharp incisors for two and a half hours to ultimately have it “gum to death” the ending. The film NEEDS an ending so viscerally horrid and strong that everything seen before it pales in comparison. The book accomplished this in an unimaginable way, leaving the reader in shock (supposedly “not appropriate, in a post 9/11 world” WTF) - Snyder's film does not. Because of this flaw, the film misses the mark of a true classic. (He came so freaking close.... what a shame).
THE UGLY: The characters in the film age decades - a monumental task to accomplish with a convincing flair. Unfortunately, after the masterful work on “Benjamin Button”, Greg Cannom and Drac studios' Watchmen age makeups seem to be missing something. There is just an implacable lack of realism that often distracts from the story.
Malin Akerman as Laurie Jupiter is definitely the weakest “casting” link. She has the right look for the character (filling out the latex suit rather nicely), but when the drama heats up, she continues to deliver lines like a “school girl” Drew Barrymore. It's not enough to distract from the overall film, but noticeable when placed in juxtaposition to such a strong cast.
Watchmen is an enjoyable film - more so if you have waited since the inception of the book. Warner Brothers is to be applauded for allowing such a commercially troublesome project to be made, and for hiring a director that insisted on using the source material (except for the ending... WTF) as “biblical text.” It is a journey darker and denser than most superhero fare. In the shadow of “The Dark Night,” it lacks a psychological and emotional connectivity that would have left the viewer contemplating much deeper issues (besides where they parked their car). This small “David” slays the Watchmen “Goliath,” keeping a good film from becoming GREAT.