Monday, March 9, 2009

Watchmen **

Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode
Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson

It is 1985, the United States have won he Vietnam war and Richard Nixon is elected to run his third presidential term.
The ongoing Cold War with Russia has led the U.S government to create something known as a "doomsday watch" leading to an impending nuclear holocaust.
Masked superheroes known as the Watchmen also exist in this alternate universe and it's mostly because of them that history has been so different.
There's Nite Owl (Wilson) who masters advanced technology, Rorschach (Haley) a mysterious man who finds patterns in unexpected things, Ozymandias (Goode) the world's smartest man who has turned into a business mogul, Silk Spectre (Akerman) who is preserving the legacy of the name after her mom (the effortlessly wonderful Gugino) retired and then there's Doctor Manhattan (Crudup) a man who suffered an accident that has turned him into a nuclear entity that can manipulate energy and see the future.
But the Watchmen have stopped working after the President (when in doubt blame Nixon...) passed a bill that deemed them unnecessary.
Things change when the Comedian (Morgan), a former superhero, is murdered, leading Rorschach to believe there's a conspiracy behind it and reuniting the other Watchmen to uncover the hero killer, deal with their own personal demons and save the world from nuclear war.
Zack Snyder's adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's graphic novel is a perfect example of how you can, almost, never have it all.
With a reverential tone meant to pay homage to the source material without offending the feared fanboys, the film loses the rest of the audience who had never heard about these heroes before.
And with a combination of forced comedy, satire, gruesome violence and gratuitous sex meant to entice a larger audience, it's easy to detect that the film is losing whatever profound meaning was in the original.
Because if there is something obvious is that "Watchmen" isn't as much about plot, as about ideas.
Part cautionary tale, part satirical fantasia, the ambiguity of the actions by who we consider heroes and villains is suggested by larger story connections, not by Snyder's directorial efforts.
His characters come off as singularly one dimensional and erratic. Wilson's Nite Owl is dull and uninteresting, while Akerman's Silk Spectre's mommy issues never justify her bizarre choices and her Cameron Diaz pout. Most of the performances lack the energy to feel as if they deserve to be off the novel's pages.
Crudup's Doctor Manhattan is fairly interesting, even if the actor's forced indie-ness tries too hard to turn him into the next quotable Buddha figure, a la Yoda.
Snyder takes away most of the seriousness from the character by playing around with his blue penis which dangles threateningly across the screen as if to defy what skin color you need to avoid triple X rating.
Jackie Earle Haley gives the film's best performance as the slightly sadistic Rorschach with whom the whole neo-noir spirit finds its best ally.
It doesn't matter that the lines he's forced to narrate with sound like Raymond Chandler parodies, Haley's enigmatic take on his character give the whole movie its only signs of relevance and humanity.
Curious, considering that the discourse behind the heroes' plight is for others to find humanity in them (Doctor Manhattan even leaves the planet in a very adolescent rant to find himself).
It's sad that while Snyder has the visual skills to keep the audience watching, he lacks the depth to engage them and involve them in what's going on up there.
The director prove to be a master at evoking the feeling of reading an actual graphic novel providing the film with long, slow scenes, filled with detail that remind us of the square by square process involved with the source material.
But his artsy attempt is made seriously dull, because he seems to have forgotten that film goes at twenty four squares per second.
Viewers can not invest the same energy into mediums as different as these, a novel can be closed at any time, a film playing in a theater can't.
And with a selfindulgent running time of almost three hours, the movie is an endurance test that never achieves the feel of movies like "Zodiac" instead dragging us back and forth in time because it doesn't know just when to stop.
Whatever postmodernist wonders could've been extracted from a political comic book movie "borrowing" elements from other pop culture elements (there's an "Apocalypse Now" reference that should be kitschy but actually works!) are just disposed of.
"Watchmen" is at its worst when it goes and tries to shake off what we've been watching for two and a half hours; when a character declares "I'm not a comic book villain" you can almost see the speech bubble.


Kelsy said...

I'm not surprised this was made, but it doesn't make it right. I read the novel a couple months ago and enjoyed it. It's because of its form that it works on so many levels. Making Watchmen a film limited its storytelling abilities, and at some point, just became hilariously bad (I believe it was the overly long sex scene with Nite Owl and Silk Spectre that really did me in).

Matt said...

i'm actually pumped about this. In some soul searching and seeing quality movies like Iron man, tdk, spider man 2... i've discovered I like 'comic book movies'. I haven't seen it, but ebert's endorsement makes me excited. but i am going to wait til it comes to the dollar theater so i'm obviously not THAT excited.

Luis Blasini said...

I have never read the graphic novel - much to the dismay of certain collegues. Coming out of the theater all I could recall was gay supervillian and big floppy blue glowing penis (tweenage girls a row behind me giggle and mutter 'Ew') Visually, I had to admit the film is great - story Halfway through the three hour running time, as the director continued setting up each character - I thought, great...this is another Hulk were the entire film is set up but no substance. Are we to wait till the sequal to get something wholly entertaining? As the ending plodded into view I was pretty much done with it and left the theater with no more enthusiasm for The Watchmen as when I entered.