Thursday, 26 March 2009

Watchmen Review - some spoilers

Watchmen is ‘superhero’ film that’s like no other in the genre. Directed by Zack Snyder and based on the 1986 comic, Watchmen takes place in an alternative 1985 – one in which the US wins the Vietnam war, Nixon is re-elected and the US and the Soviet are on the brink of nuclear war. Pretty catastrophic. Do not be under any illusions - Watchmen is a dark, violent film. The superheroes are as far away removed from the 'Superman' type hero as you can get. These are not the 'goody two shoes, lets help the needy' type characters you might expect. These are very flawed superheroes indeed (actually, they’re ‘human’). Ones, quite frankly, you'd be better off staying away from. And that's what makes the story so fascinating.

Alan Moore, the author of the graphic novel, has taken the superhero concept and turned it on its head. What if superheroes were as flawed as normal people? What if they could be mean, murderous and psychotic? The story itself, at least in the graphic novel, is what makes Watchmen such a classic. It deals with issues of politics, religion, good and evil and all the shades in between. It deals with science, metaphysics, speaks of conspiracies, paranoia and revenge. For its time and even now, it is both smart and intelligent. Does it work on the big screen? Hmmmm almost, but not quite. It was always a tall order to make the film contain as much depth as the novel and in many ways I wish they'd made the film in two parts rather than one long bum numbingly one as I think it could have worked much better.

The film opens with a spectacular sequence that immediately grips you by the balls and doesn’t let go. One of the Watchmen - the Comedian - is brutally murdered. This unlikely murder sets off a chain of events where the now outlawed masked superhero Rorschach (played brilliantly by Jackie Earle Haley) sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. Unfortunately he's a paranoid psychotic and even his former crime-fighting buddies don't believe him. The story of each of the Watchmen is revealed in flashbacks that work very well and they don't interrupt the film's flow. We find out that the Comedian (played suitably menacingly by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is anything but funny. For example, he tries to brutally rape a fellow watchman (Silk Spectre) and kills a woman pregnant with his child. And I love this about both the comic and the film (not his actions I hasten to add). It dares to be different. It sticks up two fingers to convention and grounds the characters in a bleak reality. Not that I'm a cynic or a pessimist (I prefer the term realist myself) but hey, the world is hardly a happy place right?

The story has such a strong resonance with the world we live in today and there is no denying that Zack Snyder has made a visual masterpiece but the script and some (in my opinion) odd choices of music let the film down badly. You can't help leave the cinema with a feeling that it’s a real missed opportunity. The first half is so good and then the film loses some of its momentum, creaks under the strain of what it’s trying to achieve, then it buckles and by the time the final gut wrenching plot is revealed - I felt a little bored and couldn't care less. Other than Rorschach and the Comedian, the other superheroes are just plain dull. We get to see Dr Manhattan's blue penis a few too many times and he really does talk loads of nonsense as he evolves into a supreme being, Nite Owl II is just impotent as a character (how the heck is this dweeb a superhero?) and Silk Spectre II is a beautiful woman is a skimpy outfit. Sure she can kick ass but that's about it. Along with Watchman Ozymandias, the characters don't seem plausible (yes, I know they're comic book characters). The biggest (unintentional?) comedy moment is Silk Spectre II having sex with Nite Owl II to Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah'. Oh dear. In fact for all his brilliance, the way Snyder introduces us to the plot central to the story makes it feel implausible and, well, pants. His attention to the story telling is not as acute as his attention to detail for the visuals - with the exception of Carla Gugino's make up when she's made to look older which is truly awful and actually looks like make up.

Overall, the positives just about outweigh the negatives - but not by much. And that's what I find so irritating about this whole experience is that Watchmen could have been so utterly, devastatingly brilliant. It could literally have been THE defining motion picture event of the year but it isn’t. Instead, it’s an overlong, overblown visual feast that leaves you wishing you could leave way before the end of the film. If nothing else, it might make you go to the comic shop and buy the graphic novel - which is no bad thing. As a film, it doesn't work. Masterful visuals and some wonderful performances have been let down by poor story telling and some poor performances. In a word, it’s inconsistent. But, Jackie Earle Haley is a great find for me. I’ll be watching him very closely.

1 comment:

E_M_Y said...

I love that picture! it made me crack up!