I have never read a comic book in my life, so I was absolutely bewildered by Watchmen. It’s visually stunning and fully able to hold your attention for its lengthy running time, but a lot of the mythology, especially its most interesting aspects, was left unexplored. Based on the series by Alan Moore, also author of ‘V for Vendetta’, Watchmen is a refreshingly violent superhero film. Refreshing because these ‘superheroes’ aren’t heroes, not by Marvel’s happy standards anyway. They’re heroes to themselves. The world this movie takes place in is a violent, gritty place, and Zack Snyder takes full advantage of it.
The narrative follows a group of disbanded group of vigilantes, known as the Watchmen. In an alternate history, the year is 1985 and Richard Nixon has been elected for a third time. The Cold War tensions between America and Russia are reaching critical mass, and these vigilantes begin to think they are being hunted down when they discover one of their own, The Comedian, dead on the sidewalk after being thrown from a window. They think a conspiracy is afoot, and they reconnect to save themselves; all the while returning to the world that discarded them in the first place.
Watchmen feels like a passionate adaptation of its source material, and from what I’ve heart, it’s a faithful one. As skilful and intelligent its script, direction, atmosphere and score is, it’s the acting that several costs the movie. With the exception of Jackie Earle Haley, who plays the haunted and unforgiving Rorschach, the acting is wooden beyond belief. Patrick Wilson does not belong in a fucking owl suit. Nor does Jeffrey Dean Morgan suit eyeliner and a rapist mask. Matthew Goode is able to portray his character with a certain amount of restraint, but only when he’s in a business suit; not when he’s in a silver armoured suit and a cape.
Of course, the most fascinating character is Haley’s Rorschach. He’s harsh, but has a moral compass. After the group has disbanded, he continues his nighttime activities and hunts down the animals of the street who’ve done wrong. He has a haunted past which is briefly, but not satisfactorily explored once his identity his uncovered. Mr. Manhattan is an interesting enough character, but Snyder too often goes for flashy superficiality rather than further delving into his psyche. Not to mention that knob!
Despite this, Watchmen is an endlessly entertaining crime thriller/actioner. It has the grimy atmosphere of other DC films, but is full of superhero/comic fonts and imagery that comic book lovers will appreciate. And also like other DC films, Snyder can handle the balance of dark, compelling narrative and superhero extravagance. The action is kinetic and visceral, featuring great hand to hand combat, especially when Snyder shows us what life is like on the streets of this alternate America, but he also knows how to handle spectacle. The special effects are fantastic, and I’m sure Watchmen as a cinematic experience would have been incredible.
Watchmen is a fun, entertaining superhero film which explores the psyche of its characters more effectively than most other comic book adaptations. It’s an expertly crafted thriller made by a talented director, and makes me very excited for further DC films.