Sunday, March 08, 2009

Watchmen Review

Like any comic book junkie past or present, I had to see "Watchmen" on opening night. As a bonus, I was able to watch it in IMAX, thanks to my wife's forethought. There has been a lot of hype surrounding the movie, not least because of the huge marketing push, or the "visionary" label bestowed upon the film's director, Zack Snyder.

For this reason, "Watchmen" quickly became a target of many film critics. However, the film was probably a target long before the hype and the marketing campaign due to Snyder's second film,"300," which drew a great deal of controversy. Not only critics, but Iranian politicians halfway across the world condemned the movie on the basis that it negatively represented the Persian hordes as merciless invading monsters. I chronicled some of the controversy here.

As for "Watchmen," I have little doubt many critics were salivating at the prospect of tearing Snyder's third film to shreds. "300" offended their politically correct sensibilities, so "Watchmen" was condemned from the start. Critics have incessantly jabbed the film, arguing the movie was too faithful to the graphic novel.  Never mind the perennial refrain we hear from film aficionados that films are completely unfaithful to the book.

Now the offense is just the opposite.

We hear that there were too many "flashbacks," and there were no allusions to 9/11 and terrorism (?). Malin Akerman was either Jar Jar Binks, or gave a solid performance, depending upon whether you read Newsweek or the New York Times.

Most puzzling of all, NPR's Kenneth Turan boldly declared that "Watchmen" would not make much money at the box office. The film grossed $55 million dollars its opening weekend. Based on this prediction, I question the efficacy of an egregious proclamation in place of sober reflection.

Leaving the critics aside - and their agenda, there are plenty of things to love about "Watchmen," and there are things the film could have done without. Visually, few could argue the cinematic heights achieved by Snyder; the costumes were impeccably crafted, the landscape was grand but beautiful, and there were no awkward, convoluted camera angles. Furthermore, one could argue the film produced some of the finest acting performances of any superhero movie to date. Jackie Earle Haley effortlessly depicted Rorschach's brooding condemnation of humanity's vices, and his own fatalism. Patrick Wilson was utterly believable as the meek Nite Owl II; unsure of himself, but trying to break out of his shell. Billy Crudup's aloof monotone leaves the viewer piteous for Dr. Manhattan's inability to feel, but convinced of his seeming omniscience. Similarly, Matthew Goode's stoic, geeky idealism reflects Ozymandias' ethos - misguided as it may be.

I am no impartial observer, but a long time fan of the graphic novel. Then again, so are most of reviewers, self-proclaimed as they are. There is much more to like about this film than to dislike, but not everything worked. Dr. Manhattan's full-frontal nudity was just unnecessary, and in no way contributed to the plot. Neither did the sex scene between Nite Owl and Silk Spectre. Adding a bit of intimacy and romanticism to a film may add depth and complexity, but the sexual yearning and frustration was present without the gratuitous depiction aboard "Archie," 5,000 feet above the city.

The brutal and choreographed fight scenes were similarly representative of Snyder's excess. Despite the fast-paced brutality, each second of hand to hand combat seemed like an eternity drained from the more important goal of establishing a complicated story line.

Lastly, I cannot comprehend the need to change the denouement. The reason to replace alien corpses with Dr. Manhattan as the cause for the worldwide holocaust escapes me. As a movie goer, I'm un-phased, as a "Watchmen" fan, I'm annoyed. Knowing that the final act is essentially unchanged, what is the point of swearing such fealty for the entire film, only to change its ending? That, perhaps, might be Synder's biggest sin.

So who watches the Watchmen? Apparently, a lot more people than critics would have you believe.

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