Bad word-of-mouth is sweeping the noosphere, as Watchmen‘s fast-decreasing box office numbers prove. But does it suck?
In a word, no.
The key is expectation. If you go into the theatre expecting another Iron Man, or even another Dark Knight, you will inevitably be disappointed. Watchmen is not an action-packed adventure story, like its trailers would have you believe. Don’t let the superhero costumes fool you: it’s a genre-breaking meditation on morality and human nature.
Which is why fans of the graphic novel are more than happy with the film. It’s the most faithful adaptation I’ve ever seen, right down to recreating individual panels from the comic. Zach Snyder and Alex Tse could’ve easily sold out and made a blockbuster thriller like 300, but they chose to remain true to the original.
Visually, this is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen, and I don’t throw around praise like that. It’s mesmerizing from beginning to end. Snyder’s temporal fluctuations, for which he is often mocked, create a hyper-real atmosphere. The art direction’s attention to period detail (an alternate 1985) is perfect. Tyler Bates’ haunting score is even better than 300‘s. Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach is the new definition of cool, Patrick Wilson makes for a wonderfully dorky Nite-Owl, and Dr. Manhattan steals the show, visually. Lots of reviewers have complained about Malin Ackerman’s performance, but I believed her. The lack of depth is from Moore’s graphic novel, not a fault of the actress. All the script called for was physicality and vulnerability, and Ackerman brought them both.
And of course, the action was jaw-dropping. Snyder makes The Matrix look silly.
For starters, it’s too long. But so is every movie over two hours, in my opinion. Cutting a 12-issue comic down into a screenplay was certainly a daunting task, but the editors or the prodco’s should have talked Snyder into cutting at least another half-hour.
The use of popular music was also troublesome. It starts out fine, with Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” crooning beneath an awesome fight sequence, but then things get out of hand. Dylan’s “Times They Are A Changing” was too on-the-nose for an opening credits that tells an alternate history. And Leonard Cohen’s original recording of “Hallelujah” takes an already-explicit sex scene too far over the top. Speaking of over-the-top, Snyder shows us some things that Moore simply suggested, to a fault. Most notably, scenes of ultra-violence, gore, and sex; the kinds of incidents that are actually more powerful when they are implied, rather than exhibited. The Owlship coupling was particularly gratuitous.
Finally, remember those jaw-dropping action sequences? There just aren’t enough of them. I know, it’s a faithful adaptation of Alan Moore’s relatively action-less story. But I would’ve been fine with a few more punches and kicks. Especially from Rorschach. Can we get a Rorschach spin-off, please?
If you liked the cerebral source material, you’ll love the movie. It’s not about fighting crime, it’s about fighting our own destructive nature. There are no “heroes” in Watchmen, just human beings in costumes. Even the god-like Dr. Manhattan falls victim to existential apathy, while his colleagues suffer from sociopathy (Rorschach), cowardice (Nite-Owl), nihilism (Comedian), vanity (both Silk Spectres), and egoism (Ozymandias).
Nonetheless, Watchmen is a retina-burning, thought-provoking cinematic spectacle that shouldn’t be missed.