WATCHMEN —–“I’m not a comic book villain” declares nuclear holocaust unleasher ‘Adrian Veidt’, aka ‘Ozymandias’, in one of the better lines of the screenplay from the 2009 attempt to put the renowned 1986-87 graphic comix series into feature film form. Not being a follower of the original, this reviewer has no dog in the fight as to how well the moviemakers adapted the complex storylines from panels on a page to photographs that move, and can only muse the 186-minute epic on its own cinematic merits and/or flaws.
Briefly: in an alternate history of 1985, America “won” the Vietnam War, Nixon is still President. A small group of retired superheroes decide to suit-up after the murder of a former colleague (a particularly nasty type) leads them onto the trail of something profoundly hideous that’s working a plot in/at/from/to the highest levels of government and business. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. are ready to push atomic buttons. The Why &Who of When & What to be revealed by our conflicted heroes. But not until a whole lot of blood has been spilled.
Leaving the merits of the source material from Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons for someone more enlightened or enraptured to praise to Heaven’s Gate or Hell’s Half-Acre, this partially nonplussed correspondent was moderately engaged by the storyline. My caveat: the whole Superhero Thing, swamping screens in recent times—impossible figures doing impossible deeds—doesn’t spike my synapses much, especially when moral and intellectual Heaviness is attached to people/beings decked out in cartoon costumes. That grouch issued, we’ll credit the blueprint of this opus with originality and flair (fanboys can faint now from my failure to properly worship). How much of the dialogue, which is quite good for this sort of fantasy, can be attributed to legendary originator Moore vs. the screenwriting duo of David Hayter and Alex Tse is for those who are versed in the source series to decipher.
“I’m 67 years old. Every day, the future looks a little bit darker. But the past… even the grimy parts of it… keep on getting brighter.”
The acting varies from excellent (Jackie Earle Haley as ‘Rorschach/Walter Kovacs’ and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as ‘The Comedian/Edward Blake’) to good (Carla Gugino as ‘Silk Spectre/Sally Jupiter’), to okay (Patrick Wilson as ‘Nite Owl II/Daniel Dreiberg’ and Matthew Goode as ‘Ozymandias/Adrien Veidt’) to hard-to-tell (Billy Crudup as ‘Dr.Manhattan/Jon Osterman’) to flat as Kansas (Malin Akerman as ‘Silk Spectre II/Laurie Jupiter’).
Zack Snyder directed; the violence is intense and uh, graphic (get it?), the special effects and production design very impressive. Cinematography is by Larry Fong. This viewer was initially so turned off by the scene of the brutal beating and attempted rape of one of the female characters that I opted out early and hit EJECT, but I’m glad (if that’s the word) that grudging curiosity had me plug the disc back in and stick with the flick. While the saga didn’t have the life-shaking effect upon me that it does for a legion of fans, I imagine an eventual (and deserved) re-watch will uptick my take. There! Happy? (Q: are Watchmen fans happy?) *
With Stephen McHattie, Matt Frewer, Laura Mennell, Rob LaBelle, Robert Wisden and Dr.Manhattan’s bright blue swinging schlong. Estimates of the production cost run upwards of $130,000,000, so with the additional layout for advertising, the gross of $185,259,000—30th worldwide for ’09— was much less than optimal, though at least another $47,000,000 came in when it went to disc.
* Vis a vis the director’s astute handling of action, I agree with my favorite reviewer, Glenn Erickson/Cine Savant, that Snyder (whose carnage count includes 300) must be commended for keeping the mayhem easy to follow, his stunt work and set-blasting not cheated by the awful frenetic editing & camera-on-crack nonsense too many directors employ. If Paul Greengrass (of the Bourne series) had been given the reins, this review would never have been there to goose you in the first place: I’d rather eat carpet tacks than put up with that sort of faked frenzy.