Thursday, 8 October 2009

Watchmen (2009)



Plot Summary: In an alternate 1985 where former superheroes exist, the murder of a colleague sends active vigilante Rorschach into his own sprawling investigation, uncovering something that could completely change the course of history as we know it.

The great ‘un-filmable’ graphic novel has now finally been released in 2009, twenty three years after it was initially optioned to film studios. Writers, stars and directors have come and gone in that time and the film has ultimately been handed over to new kid on the block; Zack Snyder. Wait, what? Zack Snyder, the guy that directed the half-decent remake of Dawn of the Dead and the visually arresting but utterly shallow 300? Sure, he’s the man to adapt a four hundred plus page, multi-themed, adult comic book with a multitude of complex characters and plot-strands to the screen. Not that the film is an utter disaster, in fact it’s a minor miracle that it turned out as half-decent as it has done, but Snyder was a poor choice for director and is most-likely behind most of the films continuous pitfalls.

The first two scenes of the film stand out as the films finest as one showcases a taut action sequence so beautifully shot that you feel every blow and the other illuminating the alternative 1985 of the ‘Watchmen’ in a montage fittingly set to Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They are a-Changin’’. These two scenes really capture the atmosphere and tone of the comic and if this level of craftsmanship had been kept up the film could have even given The Dark Knight a run for its money. Nevertheless the film does stick very closely to the comic throughout with a high attention to detail with many frames matching their comic counterparts. The cinematography in Watchmen also matches the intensity of the source material’s visual style well, combining bright costumes and iconography with a dark and dank landscape which immerses the audience into the world of the comic further still. The special effects used throughout are a marvel to look at and really bring the screen to life while rarely distracting the viewer from the story or characters. Visual touches such as Rorschach’s shape-shifting mask or the incredible motion capture work utilised for Dr Manhattan’s otherworldly image are a testament to modern technique and remind the audience why a film adaptation was worth doing in the first place.

For a superhero film the acting is mostly top-notch; the actors take their roles as disillusioned crime fighters seriously and it shows. Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach stands out as the films most accomplished character, seemingly channelling Travis Bickle by way of Batman in a ruthless yet emotionally layered performance. Patrick Wilson does a surprisingly good Daniel Dreiberg, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Jeffrey Dean Morgan playing The Comedian and Billy Crudup also shines as the cold hearted Dr Manhattan. The cast is, however, let down by thoroughly unconvincing and cheesy turns by both Matthew Goode and Malin Ã…kerman (playing Adrian Veidt and Laurie Juspeczyk respectively).

The screenwriters have also, amazingly, managed to trim down the weighty graphic novel into a convincingly digestible two hours and a half with most of the main themes intact. The film is edited well enough via multiple flashbacks so that almost all of the main narrative from the source material is present with few notable exceptions (The Black Freighter and newsstand sections are regrettably neglected). Yes, the ending has been changed, but perhaps for the better. A sub-plot about a giant squid wouldn’t have fit the films tone, or been so readily accepted by audiences for that matter. The thematic concerns about 1980s Cold-war politics, the questionable stance of the vigilante in modern society and the deconstruction of the superhero are all well dealt with, and help elevate the film to something more than a bunch of middle aged costumed heroes punching each other to death.

However, the aforementioned faithful nature of Snyder’s adaptation is also one of the films biggest failings. The simple fact is that some things work in comics but don’t work in cinema. In attempting to stay loyal to the fans, Snyder ends up deconstructing the serious tone which he has worked so hard to maintain throughout the film. Several key scenes spring to mind such as Laurie walking in on Daniel standing naked, staring at his costume or the inclusion of Adrian’s frankly ridiculous looking mutated pet tiger. These and other moments such as the apartment block fire rescue simply do not ring true when placed in a film and if anything were simply laughable. Conversely some moments (Nite Owl II’s Revenge of the Sith Darth Vader impression) or interpretations of sequences (that sex scene) that were not present in the original comic were so cringe-worthy I felt embarrassed for even recommending the film to people.

Other, unrelated, problems are also present in the film. Snyder’s over-reliance on ‘racking’ is often distracting, repetitive and in some cases, downright inappropriate (the attempted rape scene). The film-makers also seem so keen to remind you that it’s the 1980s that several pieces of popular music from the era are implemented at often odd or jarring times throughout the film when it’s already abundantly clear to any cinemagoer which decade it’s set in. These faults and others previously mentioned severely hurt the film as a whole. In the end, watching Watchmen ultimately becomes a frustrating experience as these faults prevent it from obtaining the level of artistry it comes so close to achieving.

Final Verdict: 6/10

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