Thoughts on Watchmen

Doctor Manhattan as he appears in Zack Snyder's Watchmen

I’m not going to write a full review, since at this point I feel that I can’t add much that hasn’t already been said in dozens of other reviews.  So instead I’ll just post a list of the things I liked, the things I disliked.  I have a laundry list of things I wish they had done better, but I’ll leave that for another time.  I’ll preface my thoughts with a statement about my exposure to Watchmen.

I love the comic book series/graphic novel, whatever you want to call it.  I didn’t read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons opus until a few years ago, and have read it multiple times since.  To me it is the pinnacle of the comic book medium, and stands on par with many other great 20th century works, in my opinion.  Like many others I was looking forward to the film with a mixture of excitement, trepidation and anticipation.  I figured that if any one could at least give it a fair shot, it would be Zack Snyder.  Snyder has a knack for adapting existing properties(Dawn of the Dead, 300) well, and adding his own panache to the original source material.  Sometimes Snyder’s touches are to the detriment of the original material, but for the most part I think his little touches work.  I knew Snyder’s Watchmen could never live up to my expectations, and it didn’t.  Simply put, Watchmen was better than I thought it would be, but not nearly as good as I wanted it to be.  Spoilers to follow.

Things I liked about Watchmen

The performances – For the most part, the performances in the film were spot on.  Jackie Earle Haley was absolutely brilliant as Rorschach.  Billy Crudup was perfect for the detached demi-god that is Doctor Manhattan.  Patrick Wilson played the boy scout role to a T in his portrayal of Nite Owl/Dan Dreiberg.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan captured everything you love to hate about The Comedian.  Everyone seems to be knocking Malin Ackerman and Matthew Goode‘s performances as Silk Spectre II and Ozymandias respectively, but I think you could easily chalk that up to their characters being underdeveloped.  Ackerman and Goode did what they could with what they were given, which sadly wasn’t that much.

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Faithfulness to the comic books Zack Snyder’s almost overzealous faithfulness to Moore and Gibbons work, both helped and hindered the film.  Snyder hit so many of the keystone moments in the book; shot-for-shot, word-for-word, and for the most part this really helps the movie since the source material is so damn strong.  To see moments I’d only read and seen as still frames, played out in action was quite honestly thrilling in many cases.  The fact that Snyder was able to boil down a 12 issue comic book series into a 2 hour and 41 minute film, while retaining enough of the original to a) make the story straight forward enough for most people to understand, and b) preserving most of what made the comic books so groundbreaking, is commendable.

The ending – There was much debate amongst fanboys that without “the Squid” the ending of the film would be ruined.   Although some great back and forth between Manhattan and Ozymandias is lost in the process, the films ending conceit is far more plausible than the original comic book ending.  The squid comes out of left field in the book, even the most rabid Moore purist will admit that.  To  foreshadow and explain the existence of the squid in the film would have just distracted from the central plot, and probably confused the hell out of the vast majority of people.  Doctor Manhattan wouldn’t have actually attacked Earth or killed so many people, but his motivations are a mystery to everyone in the Watchmen universe, even the implication that he may have been responsible for all the death and destruction would be all the Cold War powers needed to take a moment and think about what they were actually doing.  The unifying threat is much better as a naked blue demi-god than an inter-dimensional super squid.

Things I disliked about Watchmen

Musical Cues – The  music clearance budget on this film must have been immense.  There is some great music in the movie, and some of it is really well used.  Wagner‘s Ride of the Valkyries comes to mind as one such interesting choice, as an ironic homage to Coppala‘s Apocalypse Now.  Valkyries; arguably made most famous by Coppala’s film, plays during the Vietnam War section of Watchmen and is and is an interesting choice because of this.  In the world where the Vietnam War ended in victory for the Americans, a film like Apocalypse Now would probably not have ever been made.  From Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and even Leonard Cohen, the music is great; but so awkwardly placed and overbearing for most of the scenes they play it in.  Something tells me Snyder used many of these songs as temp tracks during production, fell in love with them, and just left them in.  Fairly self-indulgent, and I think it hurts the film.

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Silk Spectre I and II – The mother-daughter relationship wasn’t portrayed very effectively.  Carla Gugino is great(and so smoking hot) as the vintage Silk Spectre, but in all the contemporary(1985) scenes where she’s supposed to be in her 60’s, the over-acting and bad age make-up make her scenes laughable.  Malin Ackerman is a beautiful woman, and wears Silk Spectre II’s latex outfit well, and I think she does what she can with what she’s given.  Laurie’s character was underdeveloped in the comics, and the same can be said of her film counterpart.  The Spectres are supporting characters at best, but the story demands more of them and the film suffers as a result.

CGI – Doctor Manhattan looks amazing in all his naked blue glory.  Clearly, that’s where the entire effects budget went.  I don’t know if the rest of the CGI was meant to look stylized or overly colourful, but it did.  Too much of the effects popped out and looked fake.  Bubastis, Adrian Veidt’s genetically engineered super-lynx looks about as real as a Pixar character.  As well, the final sequence of destruction looks cartoony.  The destruction of New York wasn’t shocking at all, because it simply looked fake.

Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias – He’s supposed to be the bad guy, depending on your point of view.  Matthew Goode plays him well: Veidt is meant to be an arrogant, effeminate douchebag.  However, Veidt is also supposed to be hyper-athletic and super-strong… he does throw The Comedian through a plate glass window after all.  I never bought that Veidt could do any of this, since it was never demonstrated or explained.  Goode was good, but perhaps miscast.

Alan Moore‘s statement that Watchmen was inherently “unfilmable” is patently false, Snyder has proven otherwise.  Moore has been burned by Hollywood many times, I don’t blame him for being jaded.  Snyder has adapted Watchmen to suit the silver screen, and that’s what he set out to do.  Of course you will lose things in translation, of course it won’t be as good as the original source material.  The existence of Snyder’s film, whatever your feelings about it are, should not and does not diminish the original work.   Snyder has made a challenging and visually arresting film from an even more challenging and visually arresting original work.  If anything it should make you appreciate Moore and Gibbons brilliance even more.

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As a side note, if you see the film in IMAX make sure you’re not sitting in the first or second row. Neck pain will result.

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