Reel Shorts | Watchmen

5 03 2009

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The Joker’s Wild!

For the second time in less than a year, a comic superhero film arrives in theaters with HUGE expectations. Despite a few minor flaws, director Zack Snyder’s shock-and-awe adaption of the celebrated graphic novel, “Watchmen” continues to raise the bar for superhero films.

For over two decades, filmmakers have tried and failed to bring the vision of graphic writer Alan Moore’s complex and multi-dimensional story to the big screen. The story of an ensemble of flawed superheroes was said to be unfilmable. Where others fell by the wayside, Snyder largely succeeds by capturing the nuances, utter angst and many small but important details that made the graphic novel such a rousing success.

The film opens with the savage beating and brutal murder of a former superhero over the strains of Nat King Cole’s haunting “Unforgettable.” While investigators chalk it up as a robbery gone bad, not every one is convinced. Through the eyes (and narration) of superhero, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), we are introduced to a group of second-generation crime fighters also known collectively as the “Watchmen.”

Living among the population in an alternate reality of 1985 Gotham, many of the former “heroes” have retired and assimilated into society. With “masks” outlawed by an act of Congress, the Watchmen have become passé and are in danger of becoming an urban myth. The only exception is Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), the one super hero with super powers. Only he stands between the Soviet Union and the U.S. destroying each other as the Doomsday clock sits at five minutes to nuclear disaster.

Over a brilliant opening credit montage, we discover the brief history of the rise and fall of Gotham’s original crime fighters, the Minutemen. Their “Forest Gump”-like involvement spans many important and significant events of the mid-20th century.  They have all retired except for the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who transitioned into the Watchmen.

After the painful demise of one of their own, Rorschach individually seeks out each of the remaining members to warn them of a plot against someone out to kill “masks.” Along the way, we learn the back-stories of a unique band of superheroes, including Dr. Manhattan who is slowly beginning to detach from a world that he feels he no longer has a stake in.

His ambivalence will ultimately drive him to leave Earth to take up residency on Mars where he contemplates the significance of mankind and the universe. While he grapples with his issues several other characters, Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) and Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) try to hold our attention until more interesting characters come back on the screen.

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The self-described “smartest man in the world,” Ozymandias has leveraged his image into a multi-billion cottage industry. In addition to his advanced intellect, he also possesses super-human speed, which he uses to great effect.

Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II are the two least interesting characters, which works well since both share screen time. Each finds support in one another and participates in a couple of the film’s strongest action sequences giving them something tangible to do while balancing the film’s other stronger characters.

For a generation that has become accustomed to flawed heroes, none of us have witnessed such fully developed characters such as twin titans Rorschach and The Comedian. Serving as the chief investigator and narrator, the relentless Rorschach refuses to stop until he sees justice served. Small in stature, under-educated and wearing a piece of cloth over his face, Rorschach is a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode.

Placed in jail for a crime he didn’t commit, he relishes with glee after beating and frying an unsuspecting prison tough guy.”You don’t seem to understand, I’m not in here with you – you’re in here with ME!

But for all of Rorschach’s shortcomings, he is a walk in the park compared to The Comedian. Fully developed in a way that even Heath Ledger’s “Joker” is not, his complex character is truly evil incarnate. Played with scene-stealing relish by Morgan, The Comedian is a depraved, misogynistic villain who masquerades as a hero. Whoever said that “you either die the hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain” must have been talking about him. Now 67 years old, he finally begins to see the error of his checkered past and soon must make a choice that could have dire consequence for the world.

True to Moore’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, the film has a plethora of elements that work splendidly. Using the soundtrack to amazing effect, the film’s music is almost a character unto itself. After the success of “300,” Snyder understands action and his film has plenty of it. Whether it is a pair of erotically-charged love scenes or  extreme violent content, Snyder elicits strong audience reaction in his execution. That also includes one truly heinous scene where a woman suffers a senseless and savage beat-down in the name of lust.  Not since Quentin Tarantino’s “True Romance” has a woman been beaten as badly in a mainstream film.

With a run-time of 163 minutes, Snyder succeeds in bringing the suffocatingly dark world of the “Watchmen” to life with a relatively consistent pace. The film slows down during several of the film’s least interesting character’s back-stories as well as a lukewarm, anti-climatic finale.

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If the night is always darkest before the dawn, I guess Snyder didn’t get the memo. “What happened to us, what happened to the American dream?” asks one character. “It came true; you’re looking at it!” While the film offers a discouraging idea of hope in an alternate world, it should not change your expectations of enjoying Snyder’s strongest piece of work. Have no fear about “Who watches the Watchmen” because for the year’s best film, to date, the answer should and will be YOU!

Grade: B+

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11 responses

5 03 2009
Vi

Reading your comment this movie sounds great. Looking forward to it.

5 03 2009
Pat

Thanks Tim – can’t wait to see it!

5 03 2009
Justin

You summed that up great Tim. I had a chance to preview “Watchmen” and I enjoyed it. Some characters were definitely stronger than others. Visually, it is one of the best films I’ve seen.

5 03 2009
Kromeklia Bryant

I was fortunate enough to see this at a screening. Thank goodness! The length of this movie, at the pace it flows is too long. The film is wonderful to look at visually, but leaves a lot to be desired. It should have been kept on paper. No wonder Alan Moore wanted nothing to do with it, or any of the other movies made from his graphic novels (V for Vendetta, and League of Extraordinary Men).

5 03 2009
Silky

excellent well-written review. i just need for these longer movies to be a little shorter though.

5 03 2009
joejoe

From your review, it seems you did not read the graphic novel so I’m encouraged that the movie stands on its own with NEEDING prior knowledge.

If you haven’t read it, you really should.

5 03 2009
G-Money

“plethora”? WTF??!

Tim, are you talking up to us?

Thank you for a great review! I can’t wait to see it.

8 03 2009
Lady Di

I just posted to a Blog that this reminded me of “The League…” and reading one of the comments here, now I know why. I’m not reading the review as it seems to give “spoilers” which I don’t like. I’ll read it after I see the film.

14 03 2009
coffee

i haven’t read the Watchmen comic series, but i can’t imagine them packing any more into one movie even if they wanted to, which is good for me, makes me feel like i got my money’s worth

10 04 2009
Douglas

I was there the night of the DC Screening when the snow fell. I was amazingly lucky to have scored a ticket and have the chance to go. I waited 2 and 1/2 hours to get in…and it was well worth the wait. I read the book last July so my expectations were high on the film and they were definitely matched. I loved the film and thought it did the book justice. It was never going to match it entirely but it captured many of the same themes and ideas explored in the book. Snyder should be awarded for finally filming (and filming fantastically) what Terry Gilliam dubbed “unfilmable” and what Paul Greengrass and Darren Aronofsky failed to film. (They previous 3 Directors were attached to film Watchmen over the course of 20 years before Zack Snyder finally stepped up)

10 04 2009
Douglas

I should add: Zack Snyder has already announced that he has a 3 Hour, 10 minute Director’s Cut of the filmwaiting to be released on DVD later this year. Then a 3 hour 25 minute “Ultimate” Cut which splices in the animated film “Tales of Black Freighter” in the live-action film in the same areas as they were in the book. I can’t wait to see both cuts.

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