The Watchmen Lives Up to Expectations
Late one unremarkable Thursday eve, I met up with several compatriots on a mission. We first acquired food from a Local Establishment, where, having ordered a ginger ale, I was informed that I could have *only one* small ginger ale, and there would be *no refills.* The waitress was very clear on this. Cherry Coke, however, flowed like the Nile.
After food was safely in our bellies, we moved on to the Cinema, where the line was already forming. In a rare display of foresight, the IMAX theater here developed an assigned seating system, so there was no need for a stampede as long as you bought your ticket early enough. Our seats were good, close to the back and on the right.
One brief trailer. Tension builds. The DC Comics logo glows and fades. Fanboys shift uneasily in their seats. The scent of popcorn and cheetos wafts like an evil trans-fatty miasma.
Then.. the screen goes from black to yellow, pans outward, and the iconic Smiley creeps, blood-spattered, into our minds.
After the brutal opening scene featuring the demise of the Comedian, the credits play over a 3-D photo montage chronicling the rise and fall of the Minutemen, the band of masked vigilante superheroes that dominated the public consciousness in the 30’s and 40’s in this universe. Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'” reinforces the clear timeline recreated with each successive photo, starting with triumphant crimefighters posing proudly, right through to many of their “violent lives ending violently.”
The Watchmen is not a movie to be entered lightly– each character is as flawed as they are earnest– the Comedian being the most extreme example of this. His story is told through the flashbacks and memories of the other characters, as he is only alive in the story long enough to be murdered. Seen through the eyes of his peers, he is ruthless, cruel, and unapologetic. The audience is only ever privy to secondhand accounts of his actions, never to his thoughts. In fact, the only insight we ever have into his mind comes from a story told by a former nemesis. The Comedian has no superpower, but the image he projected to the world showed that his capacity to serve as the dark mirror for humanity was truly supernatural.
Of course, the story was changed from the original in the screenplay. However, it flows naturally and seemlessly. I know if you’re reading this and haven’t yet seen the movie, you know that the ending has been changed. I was nervous– and hopeful that the new ending would do justice to one of Time Magazine’s 100 books of the 20th Century– and I was joyfully relieved when I found that the ending flows perfectly from the screen. Some other minor plots were added and subtracted, but the essence of the Watchmen, with it’s character complexities and demanding narrative, was translated very well.
Each of the actors did an amazing job; I can’t imagine a better performance could have been given by anyone besides Jackie Earle Hayley. As the masked vigilante Rorschach, Hayley is able to emote through a completely concealing mask, and conveys the turmoil of a damaged, vicious, and sociopathic mind. The same can be said of course about Billy Crudup’s subtle handling of Dr. Manhattan’s understated emotions. Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II seemed to step right off the page in Patrick Wilson’s uncanny resemblance and execution of Dreiberg’s love/hate relationship with his alter ego, and with the other Watchmen.
Snyder’s adaptation of the comic to the screen is largely very good– I would say that occasionally the temptation to break out the red corn syrup could have been avoided, but these instances are rare. In the manner of all trailers, the advertising for The Watchmen would have the moviegoer believe it’s an action-packed blockbuster (it’s not), but the fight scenes that are featured are intense and appealing.
Overall, I believe the Watchmen will become a classic all over again in this adaptation, and I naturally hope that most people who see the film can be bothered to turn on their minds and let the questions raised by the decisions and actions of the Watchmen tumble around in their thoughts for awhile.
5 out of 5, or whathaveyou.
- Watchmen Movie Homepage
- Buy the book!
- Watching the Watchmen: The Definitive Companion to the Ultimate Graphic Novel (you can buy this too, or just read the Q&A with Dave Gibbons)
- Tales of the Black Freighter (one of those sublots left out of the movie, but envisioned and animated, and to be released March 24th!)
- Nite Owl Dark Roast