Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen, if you weren’t aware, has so far been receiving mixed reviews. Now, usually I’d make it a point to post several of these reviews but in all honesty I haven’t read them myself. You see, I only know that the film is getting mixed reviews because on my iGoogle homepage under my “Entertainment” tab, the last day or two there have been several reviews posted there that basically told me about the reviews’ mixiness. Me personally, I only trust one reviewer above all others: Mr. Roger Ebert. The guy knows his stuff — he knows good movies, he knows bad movies, and being the great writer that he is, he can articulate his opinions quite well. Believe me when I say that if you’re the kind of person that likes to read reviews before seeing films, Ebert is really the only voice you need pay attention to (and if you’re wondering, he gave Watchmen a four star review).
All that said, if you’re still with me, let’s move on to my review.
I, unlike Mr. Ebert, went into Watchmen having read Alan Moore’s classic Hugo Award Winning graphic novel. To be brief, I loved it — it’s the only comic I’ve ever read that honestly read more like an actual novel than its own medium. The only thing that I really didn’t care for in it was how quickly the ending came and went. Considering how much detail and care went into the story’s build-up up until the final issue, the climax and subsequent denouement seemed to fly right by — which wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad thing but considering all the strong characterization we’d been given up until that point, there could have just been more payoff for we, the readers. My opinion, of course.
Now, having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. As far as the adaptation goes, the film follows the graphic novel almost to a T. The ending, though, is slightly different — nothing too rash is changed however. Inherently it is the same, but with a few minor changes in… motivations? That’s all I will say; there’s nothing that will disappoint the fans is what I’m getting at. I do feel, though, that I must at least give a brief synopsis of the film’s story for those of you unfamiliar with the graphic novel and without giving too much away I’ll only say this: Ex-vigilante/crime fighter ‘The Comedian’ (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is found murdered outside his apartment building; ex-acquaintance ‘Rorschach’ (Jackie Earle Haley) suspects the murderer is targeting ex-masked heroes and begins his investigation. Shocking revelations ensue.
Snyder is able to weave the characters stories and backgrounds together almost seamlessly. The plot thus effortlessly revolves from character to character with a fine amount of flow. The special effects, of course, are wonderful to behold — that’s kind of a given with any Zack Snyder film. And while most of the characters have an interesting story about them it is that of Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) that pulls our attention most. You see, Dr. Manhattan is the world’s first real superhero. After a freak accident in a lab, Dr. Jon Osterman is completely disintegrated. Some time later he returns, though, now in a much different body. Now completely blue and god-like, Osterman is now referred to as Dr. Manhattan and is probably the sole being on the entire planet that actually understands quantum physics. And as such he becomes very detached from humanity — though as we find out, not as much as we think. Watching his scenes and interactions with people really pull the audience in and we realize that Manhattan, a man who can do just about anything he wants at any time, is struggling himself. He understands so much that we never will and when he speaks to people you can clearly see a yearning that he wishes he could convey his knowledge; his tragedy, of course, is that he can’t. All the characters, in fact, have their flaws — there couldn’t be much of a good story without them.
A friend of mine on Facebook, after seeing the film as well, did something I probably won’t forgive for some time. He gave the film a flat 0 — and even went on to say that giving the film a 0/10 is “slighting the tremendous importance the number 0 has played in our civilizations history.” Clever, to be sure, but oh so very wrong. The movie is about ideas, and it conveys them very well. The only thing it was really lacking, to be fair, is a strong human connection. Yes, we come to care about these characters but we’re never quite sure how much they care about each other. Sure, they say the words, but the emotions seem to fall short sometimes. But then, to be fair again, the characters have lots of things on their minds… the death of a fellow vigilante? An impending nuclear war? And considering how literal the adaptation is for the most part, I’d go out on a limb to say that very little was lost in translation.
The one thing, though, that my Facebook friend complained about that really ate at me the most was the film’s soundtrack — I honestly considered deleting him from my friends list after reading his rant (serious, right?). To me, Watchmen‘s soundtrack is what grounded the film (much like what David Fincher did with Zodiac), and gave it an interesting surreal tone as well. This is also an area Zack Snyder excels at, noting of course his usage of Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” and Richard Cheese’s version of “Down With The Sickness” in his remake of Dawn of the Dead. Notable great song choices in Watchmen include Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” Simon and Garfunkels “Sound of Silence,” and Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower.” Once more, all of the songs are, more or less, relevant to the decade they are placed in the film, which I found kind of nice as well. Sure, Snyder could have taken the more traditional route in comic book films and had an actual score composed for the entire film but, well, Watchmen isn’t really like other comic book films. So many people I know keep trying to compare this film with The Dark Knight and I just won’t have it. I loved The Dark Knight, yes, but Watchmen just is not in the same vein — it is, after all, more of a meditation on comic book heroes than anything else. Sure, both movies are dark, both movies are visceral, but that’s just about where the similarities end, so please do not go into this film expecting TDK… ‘kay?
And that more or less is it. Watchmen is a solid film with solid acting and solid themes. Hopefully one day Alan Moore will find it in himself to view a couple of his adapted works (quite frankly, Watchmen and V for Vendetta are films to be proud of, IMO) and hopefully when he comes across Watchmen he won’t be left with a sour feeling in the end… but I suppose that is a lot to ask for from the man — to be honest, though, from all the interviews I’ve ever read with him, he doesn’t seem to be the most pleasant person to be around anyway.
And so here the film is (finally!). It’s epic. It’s beautiful. It’s honest (especially in its adaptation). Best of all, it’s thought-provoking. The film sticks with the viewer long after the credits roll and the actions of the characters in the film are constantly up for debate. Were they right to do this? Were they wrong to do that? Can there be a clear answer? As the character Laurie (Malin Ackerman) states: “Nothing ends. Nothing ever ends.”