Posted By: Coco Buchanan
I know this might be shocking, but I actually made it my business to read the Watchmen comic before watching the movie this past Saturday. It was no easy task, believe me. Had I not taken a trip to New Orleans recently, I’m not sure how long it would’ve taken me otherwise, as it was much of a more dense read than any other comic books I’ve ever seen. The movie, directed by Zach Snyder, has been getting very mixed reviews. My review here contains many, many spoilers, so be warned.
After I finished reading the comic, and before I saw the movie, I went from being very excited to see it, to preparing to be disappointed by it…especially since this was the same dude who had directed 300, a movie that I have had zero desire to see ever for any reason, and that I heard was even racist. So admittedly, I went into it not quite knowing what to expect, but in the back of my head knowing that I probably wouldn’t be satisfied. Well, after watching it and reflecting on it yesterday and today, I can wholeheartedly say that I was not wholly disappointed. Overall, I thought it was visually stunning- the opening sequences being my absolute favorite, to say nothing of the extraordinary Dr. Manhattan scenes– and in spite of the issues I definitely have with it, I actually enjoyed watching this film. However, my main three problems are the fight scenes, the casting of Ozymandias and Silk Spectre II, and the overarching weak political criticism and message. I’m not going to address which parts of the book were so clearly missing from the movie, because I heard they’re going to release/include a lot of story that was cut out once the DVD is released.
Ok, so the over-the top/ridiculous fight scenes. I mean, I knew I would most likely take issue with this even before I saw the movie, but it’s especially relevant precisely because this story was about taking super heroes down to earth, and deconstructing the myth of the superman. So, how much sense does it make to over-stylize the fight scenes to be ridiculously cliché and sometimes laughable? It was clear the makers of this film went to great painstaking lengths to remain as faithful to the book as possible, but some of the over-the top violence was just cheesy, pandering, clunky, and unnecessary.
The actors who played Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt and Silk Spectre II/Laurie Jupiter certainly didn’t help the over-the-top ridiculousness that most of the stupid fight scenes forcibly inserted. Much has been written about Malin Ackerman’s stiffness and inability to invoke any appropriate emotion in any scene. I guess she did look very much like Laurie Jupiter, though. As for Matthew Goode, I think I actually laughed when he uttered “I’m not a comic book villain” towards the end. And not because the character is, literally, a villain from a comic book, but because he could not possibly have been less like the Ozymandias in the book, who was ironically, way less typically villainous. This was precisely what makes the original story less predictable, way more interesting, nuanced, and, well, THE POINT. Namely, that real life isn’t black and white, people aren’t either all good or all evil, sometimes the ends don’t necessarily justify the means, etc. etc.
The overarching political message/failed attempt at significant political commentary is perhaps more of a problem originating in the book that spilled over to the movie. One of the most scathing criticisms to this effect, though, comes from the New York Times:
The infliction of pain is rendered in intimate and precise aural and visual detail, from the noise of cracking bones and the gushers of blood and saliva to the splattery deconstruction of entire bodies. But brutality is not merely part of Mr. Snyder’s repertory of effects; it is more like a cause, a principle, an ideology. And his commitment to violence brings into relief the shallow nihilism that has always lurked beneath the intellectual pretensions of Watchmen. The only action that makes sense in this world – the only sure basis for ethics or politics, the only expression of love or loyalty or conviction – is killing.
Eek. I can’t say I entirely disagree with this assertion. Here’s an even more acidic criticism from the New Yorker:
Watchmen, like V for Vendetta, harbors ambitions of political satire, and, to be fair, it should meet the needs of any leering nineteen-year-old who believes that America is ruled by the military-industrial complex, and whose deepest fear-deeper even than that of meeting a woman who requests intelligent conversation-is that the Warren Commission may have been right all along. The problem is that Snyder, following Moore, is so insanely aroused by the look of vengeance, and by the stylized application of physical power, that the film ends up twice as fascistic as the forces it wishes to lampoon. The result is perfectly calibrated for its target group: nobody over twenty-five could take any joy from the savagery that is fleshed out onscreen, just as nobody under eighteen should be allowed to witness it.
Yiiiikes. Clearly, this ties in with my issues with the violence.
So, having torn this movie to shreds, I have to admit- I can forgive the numerous problems of this film possibly and entirely because the characters are so damn engaging, and that Snyder and his crew did such a spectacular job at visual storytelling. This could also be why I forgive David Lynch for a lot and enjoy watching most of his movies, even though I feel like he’s mostly full of shit. But, anyway, there were a lot of other good things about the Watchmen movie that don’t warrant the extent of harsh criticism it’s received. Most of the points I’ve raised so far are highlighted extraordinarily better and in more detail than me, by The AV Club’s Tasha Robinson in this excellent analysis.
Aside from the amazing visual stuff and the way the characters were written in the book, homeboy who played Rorschach, Jackie Earle Haley, fucking NAILED that shit. I was pleasantly surprised at, what must have been a very difficult performance to deliver, the pretty good job that Billy Crudup did as Dr. Manhattan. Patrick Wilson was also a pleasant surprise. Though he was definitely not as out of shape as his character called for, he for sure has the ability to play vulnerable characters despite his good looks. [Sidenote: isn’t it weird that Haley and Wilson were in yet another movie together (i.e. Little Children) playing similar roles?] Oh, and the casting of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian could NOT have been better. Not to mention that he happens to bear a striking resemblance to our own friend of the blog, Mr. Kiss Army himself, The Werewolf of Sex.
All in all, I would recommend reading the book and the movie- and preferably the book before the movie. I’m sorry, but I enjoyed both, and I think that most of the negative reviews are a bit exaggerated. Even though many have valid points that I agree with, as I’ve said, those things still did not manage to deplete my enjoyment of the movie as a whole. I mean, that’s gotta count for something.