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Watchmen

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

This is a review from someone who has not read the graphic novel, although I did buy it a month or so back. I was never into comics like some of my friends growing up, and had never heard of this until a few years ago. I thought it best to wait because I have been disappointed by too many film adaptations of good books. I'm not sure how my perceptions of this movie will change once I do read it, but for now I am very impressed, not only with the story and characters, but also with the skill with which Zack Snyder and his team have realized it for this new medium.

[UPDATE: I read the book shortly after writing this review, and while I did like it quite a bit, I think I like the movie more, at least at this time. We'll see how it holds up to repeat viewings. In my opinion, the book's ending with the giant squid sequence would have the potential to be quite laughable on screen.]

I've already read comments that faulted the movie for either trying to be too close to its source material or else it changed, condensed or left out too many elements. That is the hazard with any adaptation, and I am sure this film will be appreciated more by those like me who are not familiar with the story. Let's face it, the majority of movie-goers will also not have read it beforehand. It is sure to have a strong opening weekend since it is the only major film beginning its wide release, but only time will tell if it will live up to the hype it has received. The only reason I can see that it wouldn't be successful is that it is not a well-known story like Batman, Iron Man, Superman or The X-Men.

For those in the dark about this story I don't want to go into too much detail, but suffice it to say it is set in an alternate history 1985, one in which Richard Nixon is still President (in his fifth term) and the Cold War with the Soviet Union is heating up as much as it ever did in our pre-Reagan era. At the beginning of the film the "Doomsday Clock" has reached five minutes 'til Midnight, and the major impression of the citizenry and news analysts alike is that nuclear war is almost inevitable.

We get quite a bit of backstory of a previous generation of costumed adventurers (I'm pretty sure the word superhero is never used in the film), along with a second generation who are also reluctantly retired due to a lot of negative press they have received. Some of it is warranted I am sure, since several of them were hardly altruistic heroes, but rather selfish, and in some cases even sadistic, bastards.

The SFX are of course superb, as we have become to expect these days, but the strong point of the film is the characters. There are several recognizable faces in the cast, at least for me, but no major stars, and I think that is a benefit. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is one of the highlights, although his character is one of those less than stellar examples of herodom I mentioned in the previous paragraph. I'm also familiar with other work done by Carla Gugino and Billy Crudup, and there are also nice turns by seasoned character actors like Stephen McHattie and Matt Frewer. Even though his part was very small, I was also pleased to see Rob LaBelle. He has appeared in almost every genre tv show over the past decade and a half and it was nice to see him on the big screen.

Relative newcomer Malin Akerman is certainly easy on the eyes, so that might have influenced my opinion of her work, but I thought her character of Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre 2 was one of the more sympathetic, and her scenes with her mother (Gugino, the original Silk Spectre) were very touching. The old-age makeup for Gugino was a bit over done, but necessary I suppose since she is only seven years older than Akerman.

But my highest accolade for acting is reserved for Jackie Earle Haley. His Walter Kovacs/Rorshach permeates the film with an eerie sense of doom, paranoia and schizophrenia. In the majority of his screen time he wears his mask of perpetually moving blots, but his vocal talent is enough to give his character as much of a memorable personality as any of the other actors are able to accomplish.

I am sure there will be those who criticize the film for not portraying a distinct moral center, but as in real life there are many shades of gray. The fact that most of the characters' ambitions get in the way of their accomplishments is much more realistic than anything one would expect in a "mere comic" story. And regardless of how faithful the film is to its source, I think it will have as much influence on how future movies of this kind will be perceived, just as the graphic novel transformed how people thought of the comics medium.

Please be warned that this is not a movie for children. It is rated R for a reason. Very graphic violence (and in one instance for me, too graphic), nudity and sexual situations, along with quite a bit of profanity. Nothing too outrageous compared to other R-rated films, but certainly beyond what we've seen in most any other comic adaptation to date. An adult tale with adult sensibilities, but with plenty of thought behind the action.

At this time I'd rate it at least 4 out of 5 stars, and I am interested in seeing it again, especially the inevitable expanded version likely to be released on DVD.

 

For a different take on this film, please see the review by Ogre3000.

 

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Director
Zack Snyder

Screenplay
David Hayter
Alex Tse

Released
March 6, 2009

Cast
Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Carla Gugino
Jackie Earle Haley
Matthew Goode
Malin Akerman
Billy Crudup
Patrick Wilson

Full Credits at IMDb

Available on DVD (theatrical version),
2 Disc Director's Cut
and Blu-Ray