So I’ve seen Watchmen. Finally. And I’m nearly a loss for words. After catching the 12:01am showing of the film, I’m so tired, yet my body won’t let me go to sleep until I’ve said something about this movie. Did I like it? Is this a good kind of “lost for words” that I’m talking about? It absolutely is. Zack Snyder’s film, to put it the best way I can, is a total blast.
Now, that’s not exactly what I expected from the film, nor will it be for anyone else who has read Alan Moore’s original graphic novel. One might expect a dark, brutal, and contemplative film, and Snyder’s picture is indeed all of these things. But it also has a terrific humor to it that keeps it alive and ticking. It’s less a socio-political satire like its source material and more of a genre satire. The violence of the film is more harsh and… well, splattery, but in a very stylized and “comic booky” kind of way. In effect, it works to reinvent the genre from the inside out and create a film with a tone and feel quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
It was a peculiar thing at first, I must say. Although I loved the intro with The Comedian’s murder, set to Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable,” and the opening credits sequence chronicling the history of superheroes with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing” playing overtop, from that point on out, the film is exactly like the book for about the first hour. This, of course, means that by the time we’re an hour into the film, we’re only at the end of the second chapter. I sat in fear, hoping the film wouldn’t hit an awkward overdrive button at one point. But that point never came. The film stays monstrously faithful to its source material while also creating a life-force all its own.
Many have complained that the film, being as faithful as it is, crams too much in, leaving little breathing room for its characters. I couldn’t disagree more. Each character is given the proper amount of screen-time and backstory that they require, and some of them even are drawn more interestingly than they were in the novel.
Rorschach, the sociopathic justice-seeker in the inkblot mask, is played terrifically by Jackie Earl Haley (who was nominated for an Oscar two years ago for Little Children). Haley nails Rorschach, creating a morally complex stone-cold badass out of him. He’s perhaps at his most fascinating during the prison scenes when he’s without his signature mask. His entire character arc is fitfully unwavering and Haley manages to mine some excellent dark humor out of it.
Dan Dreiberg aka Nite Owl II, the poor, impotent schmuck whose only dreams and aspirations sit collecting dust in his basement, is a shining example of a character who gets a better treatment in the film than he did in the book. The triumphant sex scene aboard the Owl Ship (set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”) after he’s re-donned his costume and saved some lives (thus regaining his stamina and general sense of self-worth) is nothing short of priceless.
Billy Crudup performs quite competently as Dr. Manhattan, the bright blue walking A-bomb, considering he’s acting underneath a few layers of CGI. His scenes on Mars with Laurie (Malin Akerman) turn out to be some of the best of the movie. Also noteworthy is Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian, whose disillusionment with the scum of humanity is played more low-key than expected, often channeling despair rather than belligerence.
The film takes care of business in 163 minutes and, truth be told, it really does feel like it. This is a looong movie, as thematically dense as the book and just as exhausting, too, and I mean that in the most loving and admiring way. The film has a tendency to wrap you up so much in what’s going on that you might forget that you haven’t seen a certain character in forever. When they return, it’s a pleasant and welcome surprise.
I think, in directing Watchmen not necessarily as something more commercial but as more of a genre film, Snyder emerges with the same sentiments but uses them to illustrate a different idea. It’s a more fun film and certainly a more easily watchable film than it might have been had it been too self-serious and preachy. It’s just as jam-packed with layers, themes, and ideas, but they never have the pretense to bog you down with them. This is probably the only way that Watchmen, the oft-labeled “unfilmable” graphic novel, could have successfully been filmed—not as a straight adaptation, but more of a transposition. It’s an extremely rousing, original, and classically cinematic endeavor–a transposition to a medium where spectacle means a great deal and can certainly be considered art when placed in the right hands. It’s nice to know, after a long time of speculation, that Zack Snyder has those hands.