(RETRO) MOVIE REVIEW: Watchmen (2009)

Welcome to (RETRO) MOVIE REVIEW, a series of movie reviews I wrote a long time ago. (Some of these were written even before my stint on FlipGeeks.) These were originally published on my old blog (the URL of which I have conveniently and completely forgotten) and on Facebook notes (which have been deleted already). I think I did a lot more geeking out than actual reviewing when I wrote these, but whatever. I hope you enjoy reading!

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fnwebslinger’s journal, March 12, 2009, 7:40 PM

Had Psych 101 yesterday at 7 in the morning. Professor talked for an hour and a half about personality. Rorschach ink blot shown on one of the slides. Was asked by professor to interpret the blot. Said I saw dog’s head split in half. Only seatmate and I laughed at little joke. Was silently disappointed with entire class for not getting Watchmen reference. Led me to wonder if these people will ever realize that there’s more to Watchmen than just the film, that the film was not half as ‘profound’ and ‘intelligent’ as the source material, grounded in a medium that they criticize for being childish. This society wades in the murky waters of shallow television programs and skimpy clothing, content to be waist-deep in its apathy while remaining blissfully ignorant of such a magnificent work of literary fiction. Must investigate further, and continue to live life without compromise.

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Watchmen

I finally saw Watchmen today.

I wasn’t impressed.

The film opens with what is, in my opinion, the most unnecessary and drawn-out action sequence in the entire movie – the murder of Edward Blake. There are so many reasons why this doesn’t work. First, a lot of the significant events in the book were cut, and for me, it’s a pain that elements such as Hollis Mason (the first Nite Owl)’s murder, the story of the two Bernards, the knot-tops, and the New Frontiersman segments were not included just to show Edward Blake punching through a wall. Second, the murderer’s face was hardly obscured (spoiler, it’s Adrian Veidt), so bye bye mystery. Seriously, even if, say for the sake of argument, you didn’t see even just part of his face, who’s the only guy in the cast with that body frame? Third, right after the opening montage (which I will get to in the next paragraph), two police detectives can be seen postulating on what happened – how Blake died, etc. We immediately know they’re wrong, because, you know, we saw the damn fight, which wasn’t fully shown in the graphic novel, thus rendering that sequence pointless and killing the air of whodunnit pretty quickly. While I admit it was a visual treat – and that I enjoyed how Unforgettable was played in the background – I think it was too long and gave away too much.

What immediately follows this is what I consider to be the best part of the movie – the opening montage. A beautiful piece of work by the special effects firm yu+Co, it showcases the history of the costumed hero, from the dawn of the Minutemen to the passing of the Keane Act, outlawing all masked vigilantes. It was the only time in the entire movie when I felt the longing for a time long gone, and the depression that comes with the realization that indeed, the times are a-changing. Dollar Bill’s death, Mothman’s confinement, Silhouette’s murder, Rorschach’s first crime bust – all magnificently spun together to supposedly set the tone for the rest of the movie. Little things such as copies of the cover to Batman #1 visible behind Nite Owl I (I still think they should have gone with Action Comics #1, but that’s just me) also helped to make the deal sweeter. [NOTE: Someone who read my review later pointed out that they went with Batman #1 to emphasize that Nite Owl was in fact saving Bruce Wayne’s parents in the scene.]

Even more impressive was how faithfully Snyder and co. managed to capture the first few chapters of the graphic novel. There were departures, sure (the most glaring ones being who warns Adrian Veidt about the “mask-killer”, and how it is Dr. Manhattan who suggests that Laurie should go out with Dan), but they were easily forgivable (everything except Malin Akerman’s acting, that is – we prolly could’ve gotten more emotion from a cardboard cut-out). Hell, even the shots seemed to look exactly like the paneling taken straight out of the comic book.

However, I hated how Chapter VI, The Abyss Gazes Also, was shortened – and did not include Kitty Genovese’s story (thus weakening the entire “men are evil” theme that was so prevalent in the book). The entire conversation between Kovacs and Dr. Long also seemed, I dunno, inadequate. (Trivia: Rorschach burned Blair Roche’s kidnapper to death, he didn’t split his head in half like he did with the German Shepherds.) The sequence on Mars was easily the weakest part of the film. And yes, the ending WAS changed – however, I’m with the people who believe that the change was acceptable and actually made more sense than the original ending, although with less emotional impact. Nice touches were added to the events from the book as well (the swinging CR door in the prison when Rorschach deals with the Big Figure, Dan bearing witness to Rorschach’s death).

The hairs on my arm literally stood when I heard that deep growl of a voice – Jackie Earle Haley really nails it as Rorschach, no question about it. God damn, he IS Rorschach. Which is my biggest problem with him, actually. In the graphic novel, Rorschach’s speech bubbles changed when he was wearing the mask (wavy, implying the aforementioned growl) and when he wasn’t (normal speech balloons). As my girlfriend told me when she read the book, this clearly shows the changes that occur in Kovacs’s state of mind whenever he puts on that mask. JEH played Rorschach as Rorschach ALL THE TIME, whether wearing the mask or not. I guess that did work to a certain extent (because Chapter VI was shortened and included only the part about him not liking Dr. Long for calling him “Walter” all the time), but that’s just proof of the many things the comic book medium can do that film can’t perfectly capture.

Patrick Wilson did a great job as Nite Owl, and I think he managed to capture the essence of the character (I got a very Ted Kord Blue Beetle vibe from him, and I think that’s a very good thing). Not flabby enough, though. I don’t really like his movie costume, although I understand why changes were made. SO IMPOTENT! Heh.

Matthew Goode was…hm. He was too skinny to convincingly play Ozymandias, but I think he did an okay job. (I can’t stand his accent though. ‘E was practcly eh Nazi.’ WTF.) Fun fact: Ozymandias is my favorite character, and I hate how little depth he was given in this movie. It was like he was just there for people to hate. We get none of the suave, charming, almost saintly Ozymandias that made the pill so much harder to swallow (ohohoho, see what I did there?) in the graphic novel’s conclusion. Instead we get a pompous jackass who looks like he needs to put on about a hundred more pounds. Seriously. Does anybody here actually buy that this pipsqueak can toss the Comedian through unbreakable windows and turn him into street pizza? No? I thought so.

Malin Akerman was easily the worst of the cast. I was literally cringing everytime she said something. I did not enjoy her performance. Wait, scratch that, I HATED her in the movie. God. Silk Spectre my ass – listening to her delivering lines felt like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard. Her mother, the first Silk Spectre, wasn’t that good either – read the graphic novel and you’ll see what I mean.

Billy Crudup – well, once you get past expecting him to say “for everything else, there’s MasterCard” in every scene he’s in, you’ll find that his voice was well-suited for the all-powerful Dr. Manhattan.

Moloch didn’t seem very Moloch-y, the first Nite Owl (Mason) needed more screen time (and his death scene, good God), and Dr. Long and the two Bernards (in their very short part near the end) looked exactly like their comic book counterparts.

One of my main problems with this movie is how everything seemed to be spoonfed to the audience. I’d like to politely differ from what appears to be the opinion of the majority of people I know: Watchmen the film is so NOT profound. For fuck’s sake, the movie had just about as much subtlety as a rhinoceros rampaging through a glass house. The movie failed so badly at presenting the subplots in a manner that didn’t scream CAPTAIN OBVIOUS. One of the best examples of this was how Dr. Manhattan had to flat-out say “The Comedian is [Laurie’s] father.” Well, thank you, Doc, for telling us that, because there was absolutely no way we could have made that connection in the film on our own (which is kinda true, actually – the way the whole Comedian-Spectre[s] subplot was presented was just a ginormous clusterfuck of fail). Oh hey, Adrian’s the bad guy! Wonderful, we suuuuuure didn’t see that coming, because he was so likeable and charming because you gave him ample screen time, AND we didn’t see his face while he was knocking the bajeezus out of the Comedian (Smell it? Sarcasm)!

Another problem is the lack of cohesiveness. Looking at the film as a film and disregarding any knowledge of the source material (read: pretend you didn’t read the book), answer the following questions:

1. Why didn’t Rorschach retire?

2. Why were superheroes outlawed?

3. How were superheroes outlawed?

4. Why did Rorschach send his journal to the New Frontiersman, of all places?

5. What the hell is the New Frontiersman (in the film), anyway? Why was he even writing a journal (This had more bearing and significance in the comics than in the movie)?

6. How on EARTH could the Comedian have figured out ANYTHING????? There wasn’t a goddamn ISLAND for him to swim to and find a tentacled alien horror in (which wasn’t in the movie to begin with)! He found out because “Nixon’s been asking him to keep tabs” on the heroes? If so, then shouldn’t Veidt have been afraid of the ENTIRE U.S. GOVERNMENT who probably, you know, KNEW EVERYTHING THE COMEDIAN KNEW? They WERE the ones who asked him to keep tabs on the heroes, right? Shouldn’t he have targeted the government, then? And why DIDN’T the government know, anyway? What the hell is this?

7. What happened to Captain Metropolis and Hooded Justice – where did they go?

8. Why did Ozymandias have so many television sets (seriously, wouldn’t that strike the average moviegoer as odd)?

9. What the hell is Bubastis (and why is she even there? Ozymandias’s research was no longer about genetics as in the comic – it was about renewable energy in the movie)?

Yet another gripe I have with the film is something I already mentioned – Ozymandias’s lack of character depth. Seriously? This is supposed to be the world’s smartest man? I wouldn’t have known if he didn’t say it about three times in the movie! His characterization is weak, especially in the “Watchmen” (by the way, they were called “Crimebusters” and not “Watchmen” in the book, and it was actually Captain Metropolis who recruited them) sequence. Movie Ozymandias is just what Malin Akerman said (emotionlessly, by the way) – an asshole, period. Not a smart asshole, not a devious asshole, just an asshole.

Now, about the ending – Ozymandias replicates Dr. Manhattan’s energy signature, unleashes energy weapons across the world and kills 15 million people. Now THAT’S actually more convincing than a giant psychic squid that kills half of New York. However, it seemed so…forced. There is no emotional impact because the man-on-the-street aspect was underdeveloped. SEVERELY underdeveloped, if even developed at all. Watchmen the graphic novel wasn’t written to be just some run-of-the-mill superhero story, it SHOWED just how horrible people can be, and that we inflict all this bullshit on ourselves because of our greed, apathy and selfishness. Instead, what this movie focuses on is putting the “super” in “superheroes” – effectively killing the irony in the original book that Dr. Manhattan was, in fact, the only TRUE super-powered hero in that universe.

There were too many sex scenes! God. I KNOW that sex was prevalent in the book, but you’d think they could have cut the length of sex-scene-screen-time to make way for more significant elements from the book. Also, the Ozy vs OwlSchach fight in Antarctica was too long.

Profoundness? What profoundness? Can you honestly say that the movie made you think that maybe, just maybe, Adrian could be right? Because THAT would have been profound. If the movie made you think about Ozymandias as anything other than a villain, THAT would have been epic. Did it make you realize just how rotten and evil human beings can be? Did you have an epiphany about how people react with aggression and violence towards things they cannot understand?

I could go on all day, but I’ll stop here, and tell you this. To say that this is the best possible way Watchmen could have been adapted is, for me, a gross underestimation of the powers of the medium of film. However, that is not to say that the film medium can adapt Watchmen perfectly. In fact, I firmly believe that Watchmen is the shining proof that the comics medium opens up a realm of possibilities that film can never hope to achieve (see Chapter V, Fearful Symmetry, one of the best chapters in the book). Alan Moore was right – you can’t really film this thing as “Watchmen”. You just can’t. You can only film it as Watchmen-based, or pseudo-Watchmen.

All we can do is thank Snyder for trying. This is not so much an adaptation as a re-interpretation. Actually, disregarding the fact that this was an adaptation, this movie, as a MOVIE, was not excellent. This was not very good. This was not even good. It was satisfactory, at best. And that’s me being generous.

I waited so long for this movie, contradicting myself and my belief that Watchmen in its purest form is unfilmable. Guess I was right. There is no “halfway”.

There is no compromise. Hurm.

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