Friday, March 13, 2009

Watchmen Review

To say that Watchmen had some anticipation behind it would be a great understatement.

There is always a problem with that measure of anticipation. With a film such as this, with this much hype and loyal following, is that a film of even a spectacular magnitude and spectacle is something it can never live up to. Only one film in the last 15 years has been close to living up its oversized hype, and that was last year’s The Dark Knight. I very much enjoyed Watchmen, but it’s no The Dark Knight.

The film centers around a group of superheroes in hiding who try to find out who’s been knocking them off after an original crimefighter gets thrown out of a window.

The man who’s at the forefront of the investigation and the only active superhero is Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley). He’s not the most stable of men, but despite his strong-arm tactics and Batman-esqe voice, he’s the moral compass of the film and, strangely enough, it’s most likeable character. Rorschach is also the most fun to watch, as he gets himself into the most action as well as the most interesting unmasking. Ironically, he has the least amount of backstory. Haley had his comeback moment a few years ago with Little Children, but this certainly won’t hurt his public image as he had the juiciest role and did the most with it.

Meanwhile, the two people trying to stay out of the action more than any others are the second incarnations of their alter-egos with Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) and Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson). Besides being the best looking actors of the bunch, director Zach Snyder does us a favor and gives us plenty of skin to look at with both. The sex scenes between the two might seem a little forced, but it’s a nice change of pace after all the violence and carnage that has been seen. Despite their overall attractiveness, these characters have a tendency to be the least engaging. It’s not that you don’t like the characters, it’s just that they have no resonation. When Rorschach’s not on screen, you want him back, while that’s not the case with these two. The actors themselves do a fine job, but they don’t have the roles to expand on, which is a shame…especially for Wilson, who has been on the cusp of the A-List for years.

The happy (and sexy) couple

The big blue Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) does his most impressive CGI work; exploding Viet Cong, fixing machines and doing generally cool things throughout. While the character is too moody for being a god-like figure, Crudup does what he can. His acting consists of keeping a straight face and a four-minute flashback sequence. While we’re here, I’d like to think that if you are reading this, you are of a different cinematic mindset and go to films with different eyes than the average moviegoer. If you are like me, stand up and punch anyone in the theater who insists on snickering every time Dr. Manhattan’s blue weiner pops up on screen. If you can’t help but laugh when you see male nudity, then you need to leave the theater and stop skipping class, because 5th period biology is the most important class of the day and you mom will take away your car if you get a D.

Other bit players get to put in their two cents, with Silk Spectre I (Carla Gugino), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) and The Comedian (Jeffery Dean Morgan) getting their little shining moments. Extra kudos going to Morgan, who despite a limited role, gets his moments and is suited for the material better than anyone else. He reminds me of Hugo Weaving in the Matrix films. Everyone around him is taking things a bit too seriously, while he realizes the campiness of the source material and really runs with it.

Surprisingly likeable and not surprisingly badass.

The film as a whole gives off this vibe of is-it-good-enough loyalty to the comic book. At the same time, it will transform into this look-how-awesome-we-can-be adaptation. Some of the worst parts come from the former sides, while the over confident parts get annoying. If Snyder could have exuded this quiet confidence for the course of the film, it could have been something really great. At the same time, it seems like the decisions made are just to stay super-true to the comic and just gives the middle finger to the audience. It’s like the audience forgot that this film takes place in the 80’s and Snyder has to remind you with “99 Luft Balloons” just for the hell of it. But, I will say that some iffy music choices on paper seem to work well. These include Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” during a fight scene, “The Times They Are A’Changin” during a montage and “All Along the Watchtower” during a traveling sequence.

I’m in the process of reading the graphic novel for which the film is based on, and I’m not convinced it’s the best thing to read a book before seeing a movie. I think Catch Me If You Can is a great example. The film is a hip, entertaining, well-acted film that was one of my favorites from 2003. But, I knew the film was based on a book, so I bought it and read it…three times. The book was so great the last time I read it, that I wanted to watch the movie again. There was no comparison. The depth and specifics the book went into could never be made as a film and not be boring.

The bottom line was…that film was devalued in my mind because of how much I liked the book. This could be a problem here, but I’ll wait and see. The one thing I’m confident about: the book does not realize it has this pedigree to live up to.

Overall Grade: B

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