It is not a perfect film.
That said, I have only this to say to Zack Snyder: You done good.
Snyder took on an unfilmable work of comic book genius and produced an extraordinary adaptation that profoundly affects its audience on every level of the spectrum: visually, emotionally, intellectually. Nonetheless, while the film is an accomplishment, it is not nearly the accomplishment that is the graphic novel; the differences in medium and scope make it impossible for Snyder’s “Watchmen” to reach the pinnacle of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “Watchmen.”
But more on that later. Anyone who has seen “300” knows that Snyder has the ability to translate the aesthetic of a graphic novel into film, and “Watchmen” is no exception. In fact, the loving attention paid to every seemingly-minute detail is one of the reasons that this film stands up to multiple viewings. Snyder recreates some of the comic’s most iconic panels in ways that not only turn the film into a visual masterpiece, but make the fans, well, pretty damn happy.
One of the visual centerpieces of the film is of course Dr. Manhattan. To the casual viewer, the glowing blue man (and the many full-frontal shots of azure genitalia) might seem to be an odd choice among the sea of gritty, noir characters, but sans Dr. Manhattan, the hard-boiled detection and bloody fight scenes do not a “Watchmen” make. One of this reviewer’s fears was that Warner Brothers’ attempts to pare down the running time would cripple Dr. Manhattan’s character arc. Not to worry; the most important elements are preserved and in fact they form a breathtaking sequence that is one of the emotional linchpins of the entire film.
Billy Crudup’s mostly monotone performance was a daring (and ultimately compelling) narrative choice. Through Crudup’s understated performance, Snyder was able to address some of the philosophical questions that made the graphic novel so great.
Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl II (aka Dan Dreiberg) did an excellent job, but some of his story didn’t quite make it to the film and what did make the cut was slightly disjointed and unclear. A fault of either the studio’s running time fears or Snyder’s squeamishness with Nite Owl II’s hard–err, difficult personal problems (hard to believe given the amount of blue penis), Dan Dreiberg’s arc was one of the weaker ones in the film.
But the true weak link of the film was Malin Akerman’s Silk Spectre II. While the rest of the cast brought their game (notice I’m saving the genius Jackie Earle Haley for last), Akerman was good only in the sense that if she kept her mouth shut, she looked like Silk Spectre II. The problem was that she simply couldn’t deliver her lines anywhere close to the standard achieved by the rest of the cast. While the no-dialogue action scenes were fantastic, her performance was ultimately undercut by the fact that she looked like she was playing in “Watchmen: The Community Theater Presents.”
And there’s a scene on a ship in the sky that ends with fire, with a lot of awkward cuts and a terrible song choice, and I have to say that it was really one of the low points in the movie for me.
But back to the good stuff.
In a stroke of genius, Zack Snyder fought to get Jackie Earle Haley the part and the effort paid off brilliantly. Haley was extraordinary as the masked noir vigilante, no mean feat considering the fact he spends a great deal of the film with his face entirely covered. Haley handles that setback deftly, his superb physical acting breathing life into the beloved character. Rorschach has almost all of the best moments of the film and he acts the hell out of them: equal parts finesse and presence. Simply put, if there is one reason for you to see “Watchmen” it is for Rorschach and Jackie Earle Haley’s performance.
So what’s the damage?
There are okay parts to this film, there are good parts, and there are some great parts which overshadow the mediocre to the extent that 95 percent of the film is stunning.
The other five percent has been rife with controversy for months: namely, to squid or not to squid. For readers of the comic book, it’s easy to understand why a giant alien squid would have a difficult transition to the silver screen. I for one don’t have a problem with it being cut, but rather with what they chose to replace it.
On the surface, the Not-Squid isn’t a terrible deus ex machina, but once you peel back that first layer it sort of falls to pieces at the first indication of logic. By the time that the Not-Squid hits the screen in the film, I was so amped up and excited that I’d have accepted any explanation without question. But the moment the credits started to roll, I was left a little deflated and disappointed with the direction Snyder and company went.
If that were the only problem with the end of the film, I’d probably be able overlook it in light of the sheer awesome of Rorschach or Dr. Manhattan. Unfortunately, Snyder spoiled us with his TLC in the rest of the film and the last 10 minutes felt disjointed and rushed. At the same time, it’s understandable; he was forced to blend key moments from the graphic novel (which were as outstanding as the other 95 percent) with the haphazard denouement of the Not-Squid conflict.
So my conclusions? Like the characters it depicts, Snyder’s film is great and yet ultimately flawed. But I choose to focus on the great half of that equation; Zack Snyder deserves accolades for not just the masterwork of vision but for the audacity to tackle “Watchmen” on the big screen.
So “Watchmen” is not a perfect film. But it is, without a doubt, a damn good one.