Monday, March 9, 2009

Super Powered Movie(!): Watchmen

Welcome to my very first super-powered movie review! I“ve got a healthy number to cover although I often feel they are looked at by far more individuals than other forms of super-powered fiction. I may pull out some obscurities now and then though, and I will probably start reviewing newer films as I see them. If you really need a lot more super-powered movie reviews, I strongly suggest you check out fellow blogger Matthew Killorin’s Capes On Film for all your super-powered movie needs! On to the review!

I am not going to give a plot synopsis as I so often do for my television reviews, as I am going to assume just about everyone knows how Watchmen works. If you don’t you should check out the graphic novel. Instead, I am going to focus on what I find to be the strengths and weaknesses of the new film.

The Pluses:
Casting director Kristy Carlson did an absolutely stunning job putting together the main players in this film. Jackie Earle Haley and Patrick Wilson are spot on as Rorschach and Nite-Owl, while Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, and Jeffery Dean Morgan all fill their roles well. Someone stronger than Matthew Goode could have been found for Adrian Veidt, but he does all right with the character. I still wanted Dr. Manhattan to do a couple MasterCard ads, but I digress.

The plot sticks rather tightly to the original story with the obvious digression of the denouement. But even that makes sense in the framework of the revised story, so I can’t really complain. Though the giant squid would have been nice.

The effects also were beautifully done. Unlike so many superhero films, I never once looked at this film and went “Wow, what an obvious effect.” Every bit of Manhattan’s powers fit together perfectly with everything going on around him.

The Minuses:
The caricatures were both off-putting and over the top. The presence even in cameo of numerous luminaries of the past and present was utterly unnecessary. And Richard Nixon's prosthetic nose made him look like a damn cartoon character. I hate hate HATE Hollywood’s need to constantly belittle Nixon with this kind of stupid crap. It not only hurts the work they do it in, but also turns a genius manipulator in to something he was not. It would be like casting Lassie as Dr. Doom. Besides Nixon, Lee Iacocca’s random appearance to get gunned down was both unnecessary and horribly insulting to the man himself.

The violence. Yes, Watchmen was a violent comic book. I get that. But the point of the violence was to make sure we did not whitewash actual violence in the name of a good comic book. It needed to be on panel to make sure we could understand the brutality of vigilante behavior in the real world. The movie gives us over the top ultraviolence, the kind of thing A Clockwork Orange warned us about. The slow-down and speed-up that worked well in 300 just feels like a joke in this film, maybe even a kick in the nuts to that unnamed writer guy that did the graphic novel.

The f-bombs. Hey, writer guys, you know what? None of them in Watchmen. At all. Guess we needed to spice up the movie a bit more, eh?

The lack of the street. An important aspect of the original comic was the lives of a few citizens that meet irregularly on or around a newspaper stand in New York. They have been replaced with a pointless cameo about a third of the way in to the film and their obvious presence near the end. I know a lot of folks will throw out that those segments were only about the Black Freighter or something like that, but that wasn’t really their purpose. Their purpose was to put a human toll on the destruction that comes with the film. It is a massive fail on the part of all of the filmmakers for not realizing that upfront.

Veidt’s environmental message. Uh, what. Nuclear power is as bad as fossil fuels, that’s why I am replicating my nuclear-powered friend’s abilities to form a new energy source. Riiiight. Just once can Hollywood let something not be green, especially when it has no purpose in this film!

All in all, Watchmen isn’t a bad film. It is a decent R-rated action flick with themes that stretch its britches and the talent of the director involved. But it fails pretty much across the board to capture the raw, straight to the point narrative and edge of its source material. In doing so, much like V for Vendetta before it, it comes off as perfect form with a decided lack of substance. Coming in to the film, it was exactly what I feared but hoped Hollywood could move past. They failed me all the same.

I will give Watchmen a mild recommendation. It is by no means a bad adaptation (Hollywood has produced many, many, many worse.) But I think anyone who truly appreciates the graphic novel will feel it is a little empty inside. As a writer, I feel that unnamed author’s pain and understand his reasoning in pulling his name from the film. Now I will just pray for a DVD edition without all the idiot camera flourishes and less Nixon. It still wouldn’t make this film perfect, but at least I would know the filmmakers were trying.


Matthew K. said...

Just letting you know I will read your review. I have to write mine first. I have a feeling I'm gonna be posting thoughts on this one for weeks. (And thanks for the shout out!)

Matthew K. said...

I'm finally starting to read other reviews , including yours. I can tell you're much more of an authority on the novel than I am. You probably express a lot of ultra-fans' opinions on what was omitted. But- I think the film would've been over 3 hours had they included the street element. (BTW- am I the only person who thinks Watchmen would've made an ideal 12 part, 12 hour, HBO mini-series. Seriously.) I'm kinda surprised you didn't give more props for the screenplay having huge chunks of dialogue,verbatim, from the novel. You're a tough customer! See ya at the movies.