" ...If adapted, rather than transposed, could have had the impact without the confusion and tedium. "
Title: Watchmen by Warner Brothers
Format: Major Motion Picture Superhero flick
Reviewing Monkey: Our Ape Masters
The Hype: The most successful, and popular, graphic novel of all time finally (FINALLY!) comes to the big screen. But often touted as the "book that can never be filmed", can this movie deliver in a genre where so many have failed? And, even if it does, will the fanboys ever be happy? Let's find out together, shall we?
What This Monkey Thought...
So, let's get one thing out of the way right from the beginning: If you haven't read the book, you probably have no business seeing the movie. I took five people with me to see it who had no idea what they were getting into and, of those five, three hated it, one thought it was alright, and one found it passable strictly for the eye-candy. It is simply too long, too convoluted, and too dated for someone who hasn't already cut their teeth on the book (which frequently requires re-reading to fully understand) to really get anything out of.
From the dated, and now borderline irrelevant, Cold War plot to the myriad of subtle character concepts that are referenced but not explained, the movie just doesn't work for the uninitiated. In this way it follows in the footsteps of movies like the Lord of the Rings and, to a lesser degree, Harry Potter, where director Zack Snyder was so intent on reproducing the material faithfully that he never stopped to ask himself if he was telling a story that was entertaining or made sense.
Which is too bad, because the material is still engaging enough that if adapted, rather than transposed, could have had the impact without the confusion and tedium. Especially when combined with the stunning visuals.
So, with all that said, what about the rest of us that were reared on this epic story? Sadly, I have to say that my feelings on it are mixed. On the one hand, Snyder has indeed brought Watchmen to life. Going the path, as he did with 300, of lifting some scenes line-for-line and panel-for-panel from the books, he has tried to stay as true as possible to writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons' vision. Despite a shift in the ending, which has already met with enough discussion prior to the movie's release that I won't bother to get into it here, it is as faithful as any conversion-to-screen I've ever seen.
Unfortunately, even with a run time of almost 3 hours, that still meant he had to cut more than half the book out. Most of the subtle nuances to the characters that make them complex and believable are gone, as are all of the generational components that give the story context. Instead the movie plays more like a Cliff's Notes version, which spends more time trying to remind the viewer of what they've read than actually giving us what we want to see.
As for the acting, with very few exceptions it is all spot on. Jeffrey Dean Morgan makes for an appropriately enigmatic Comedian, Patrick Wilson sells Nite Owl's self-doubts and trepidations well, and Billy Crudup has Dr. Manhattan's detachedness down pat. Of course Jackie Earle Haley, universally a fan favorite to play Rorschach long before this version of the movie was even being considered, steals the show. He is absolutely spot-on in his mania, and could have stood to have twice as much screen time as he got.
Sadly, it's Malin Åkerman and Carla Gugino, the two ladies in the mix, who let the cast down. Akerman, as Silk Specter II, is undeniably atrocious, and has a level of woodenness that is normally reserved for superhero cardboard cutouts. Gugino, on the other-hand, overacts enough that it makes me wonder if she chose to be so over-the-top on her own or was directed to do so. Certainly, the normally fantastic actress has never looked like this in any of the other movies I've seen her in.
Which, in a way, combines to offer a "just over fifty-fifty" balance that actually works as a pretty good analogy for the movie as a whole. It's beautiful, but unapproachable. It's smart and witty, but dated. It's graphic, but lacks context. It's faithful, but a little too blindly so.
It's a flick that I suspect will be much more fun to watch on DVD with a room full of other geeks who can all cheer, moan, and discuss it as it's happening.