Watchmen the film adaptation of the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons that takes a realistic approach to super-heroes and follows the state of the world if such characters were to come to pass as well as studying the motivations behind the minds that actually put on the masks. When the novel starts, though it’s not indicated in the movie, it’s 1985. Unless they’re working for the government, super-heroes have been outlawed by a bill called the Keene Act. Richard Nixon is in his fifth term as the president of the United States, and the world stands at the brink of nuclear war. Edward Blake, known also as The Comedian has discovered something, and is brutally murdered over that discovery. The masked vigilante, Rorschach is starting to put the pieces of this puzzle together and in the process, warning other masked avengers about a “mask killer” out there…
… and there’s just so much more here in what could be the richest textured “comic book” movie made thus far. Watchmen to me anyway, is an unqualified success at what it has set out to do, and so far leads the way as one of the best movies for 2009.
Now I’m no stranger to the graphic novel, and I’ve re-read it for the first time in over 20 years this past week as prep for the film and I’ve got to say, it still holds up tremendously well, and is just as relevant in 2009 as it was when it was originally on sale in the late 80s. Having just seen the movie last night, I can certainly tell you that there have been some changes made in it’s adaptation to the big screen, but the heart and soul and spirit of the graphic novel are all still there and in the process, this takes another step to advancing movies about comic book characters in different directions, much like what The Dark Knight did last year. I mean it’s a great comic book movie, no doubt about that, but at the same time, I’d also hold this in the same regard as I do movies like Boogie Nights, magnolia, The Player, Short Cuts or Grand Canyon.
This is director Zack Snyder’s third movie after the re-make of Dawn of the Dead and the adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 and he’s certainly proved that he’s no flash in the pan, making highly commercial films that have their own passion about them… though the question could be asked about just how commercial Watchmen could be beyond it’s pre-sold audience, and I just think that all depends on what the audience wants to see out of something like this, because really, everything you need to understand Watchmen is there on screen, no doubt about that, but does the audience really want to have to put the pieces together or follow something as richly textured as this for the sake of seeing a “comic book” movie?
Well, I certainly hope so.
Snyder’s done his best to remain true to the book and at the same time make something that can run in theatres wanting to show it multiple times per day. There’s moments of great weight here, in particular Doctor Manhattan’s reflection of his life after and interview gone sour, and there’s just as many visceral moments that show cool action and adventure. There’s a story that shows the results of both conservative and liberal actions that these powers could take, and it’s all backed up with a rich back story, much of which is well presented in one of the better opening credits scenes that I’ve seen in a long time.
Snyder’s got a great cast here, and you can tell that they’ve all thrown themselves into the parts. The core characters are played by Patrick Wilson (Nite-Owl), Malin Ackerman (Silk Spectre), Billy Cruddup (Dr. Manhattan), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian), Matthew Goode (Ozymandias) and Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach). All are excellent, though in my mind’s eye, Goode isn’t quite who I would’ve chosen as Ozymandias, but still he does a terrific job here. Real standouts for me are Wilson, being the heart and soul of the film, and Cruddup and Haley, who are both saddled with having their true faces covered up most of the film, but are still able to really elicit some good mesmerizing performances. I’m even just as impressed with some of the side casting, like Carla Gugino as the original Silk Spectre, Stephen McHattie as Hollis Mason, the original Nite-Owl and Matt Frewer as Moloch one of the arch-enemies of the heroes. There’s no big stars here, just some solid talents who’ve really devoted themselves to giving their best on-screen.
I hated seeing this come to an end, I really did and when that ending came, it left me hungry for just what Zack Snyder’s director’s cut will be when he finally gets the chance to release that on DVD (already reported that it will have the animated Tales of The Black Freighter incorporated into it, I would also expect that there would be plenty of live action scenes as well, in particular those centered around the newsstand where the Black Freighter story gets told). I don’t think it’s necessary to read the book in order to appreciate this film as long as you’re prepared to take in something that’s as full as this is. But if you do enjoy the movie, by all means, read the book afterwards and be able to appreciate just how much of this that Zack Snyder and company gets right. Watchmen is one terrific movie, already leading the way for me as one of the best that I think I’ll see in 2009 and of course, it’s highly, highly recommended. Don’t miss it.