Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the much-loved graphic novel of the same name, was released theatrically on Friday. Having not read the graphic novel, all I knew about the film going in was what I saw in the previews.

The opening credits sequence in Watchmen sucked me into the film, and I was hooked for the first thirty minutes. Through the historical montage, complete with living photographs and revisionist events, I felt like I had a decent grasp of the universe that Watchmen took place in. It’s a rare feat to accomplish this with such a sweeping story. That said, there were times when the multiple narratives felt disjointed and episodic. And while the film is largely about The Watchmen themselves, I would have liked to see more in regards to the societal look on things.

There was also a lot of pop music that was included in the film, ranging from Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’ to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. The integration of the music with the visuals worked well for a while, but soon became more of a distraction than a complementation of the film.

Watchmen is an ensemble piece at heart, housing a horde of different characters, but the two that interested me the most were Rorschach, played perfectly by Jackie Earle Haley, and Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), who comes across as Clark Kent with Batman’s toys. In some ways I would consider him to be the main character of the film, although there wasn’t much of a resolution for him at the end of the film.

Billy Crudup also made an appearance in the film as Dr. Manhattan, the God-like character in the film. His personal dilemmas and choices were a much-needed intellectual boost in the film, resulting in a cool ending. And while the character of Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) wasn’t in the film nearly enough, what glimpses we saw of him were intriguing to say the least. I would love to read Watchmen if only to learn more about him.

Sadly, however, director Zack Snyder tends to put more emphasis on “graphic” than “novel”. Starting out as a serious, gritty epic, I was surprised at the change in tone partway through the film and Snyder’s self-referential winks and personal fetishes. (At least there weren’t any drugs in the film)

I’m certainly not opposed to violence in film if the story calls for it and is used well. But to quote Alfred Hitchcock, “There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it.” And on a similar note, Roger Ebert wrote in his review of The Winslow Boy that, “Sixty seconds of wondering if someone is about to kiss you is more entertaining than 60 minutes of kissing.” Whatever happened to suspense, subtlety, and the imagination? There are better ways to show violence in a film. And in the case of Rorschach’s back-story, some well-placed shadows would have been far more effective, stylistically and emotionally, and would have fit with his film noir presence.

As an extra tidbit, I noticed a similarity between 300 (Also directed by Snyder) and Watchmen. The former ends with Dilios telling the story of the 300 Spartans in the oral tradition of story telling, while Watchmen ends in a similar way, but with the written tradition. Perhaps Snyder’s next film will end with a typewriter…or maybe I’ve just been a communications major too long.

In any case, Watchmen, while having some interesting characters, cool visuals, and a promising story, fails to tell that story well. Instead of getting a developed character-driven epic about humanity, we’re left with an adolescent storyteller infatuated with gratuitous sex and violence. And we’re left wanting more.


5 Responses

  1. Good write up Joseph and I tend to agree with the majority of your review; when I get around to writing this one up I doubt I’ll be as forgiving.

    I watched this last night and it proved to me once and for all that the Watchmen is pretty much unfimable, especially by a guy who relies on cheap gimmicks and the flash, bang, wallop approach.

    We deserve more and Synder couldn’t deliver, the source material is way beyond anything he can comprehend so whilst we get a delightful looking film the real tone and depth of the ‘novel’ is totally lost.

    As you say – he puts the emphasis on the graphic rather than the novel. Well put and sums it up perfectly.

  2. Great review!

    I just have to disagree a little bit. Outside of the lengthy sex scene between Nite Owl and Silk Spectre II, all of the sexuality in the film was inside of the graphic novel, and while some things are lost, I think that they are for the betterment of the film.

    If Snyder keeps the story and it’s message the same, it would have sort of fallen flat a little bit. Take out some things, and add in cooperation between Adrian and Manhattan to find new energy sources, and I think you have a fair trade.

    Finally, while I personally think this film is a masterpiece, and I hate throwing that word around, I do have a ton of problems with the source music for the film. Every music number, not from the score, and minus the Dylan tune during the stunning opening credits, just took me out of the film.

    Awesome review!

  3. Couldn’t agree with you more – especially with the “Less-is-more violent” point. This movie was good where it could have been great.

    I’m still gobsmacked by the fact that it runs almost three hours, and it still feels as though the screenwriter hasn’t given any of the parallel narratives much depth.

    Said it before, I’ll say it again – I really think this would have worked much better as a TV Mini-Series.

  4. I disagree with those who are running after this with a hatchet. It’s a better film than many are giving it credit for and time will vindicate it. Your review is very well-written and fair (My own position is with Josh) Here is a copy of the comment I am making at all the WATCHMEN reviews:

    I went into WATCHMEN with dread.

    I knew I was going to hate WATCHMEN.

    I hate all films like WATCHMEN.

    I am as cynical as the most adverse to movies that are violent and noisy like WATCHMEN.

    I don’t like Super Heroes or Graphic Novels.

    I abhor the kind of violence on display in WATCHMEN.

    WATCHMEN is very long and noisy.

    The final verdict???

    WATCHMEN, which get 4/5 from me is an operatic, stark, beautiful, kinetic and visceral film that is pure cinema. It’s suggestive, philosophical, nihilist, existential, expressionistic.

    I challenge the nay-sayers to a battle-to-the-death!

  5. I agree completely with the review.
    i have read the graphic novel and it proves to me its completely unfilmable.
    I do think the director has done the best he could, a real love of labour by the looks of it.BUT, that doesn’t detract from the fact that the move is disjointed and feels a bit too homage to Tim Burton for me.Especially Night Owl II ridiculous batman esq getup
    Dr Manhattan and the way he perceives his life all simultaneously works in the graphic novel as we flick from cell to cell and from memory to memory.
    There are many things for me that just “DON’T WORK” with it in Film format

    Too much time is spent on the night owl/silk spectre thing.
    And then when we get the sex scene, it not left to the imagination like the graphic novel.

    Rorschach mask is explained properly in the graphic novel, even down to the materials its made of and how he gets it.
    his first “vicitm” is also very different from the novel.

    I could go on all night about differences.

    I suggest anyone thats hasn’t read the graphic novel to actually go out and buy it.Pick it up and spend a night reading it.
    Dont listen to people who says ” its exactly the same as the graphic novel”
    Sure the director trys to capture as much of the graphic novel, that’s the problem!!!!!! Apart from the Rorschach scenes and build up.
    I dont think the director could have done any more to make “it work”.
    So props to him

    But it should have been left alone

    There is a reason so many directors abandoned “Watchmen”

    Go and read the Graphic novel and find out for yourself.

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