Wound Up Over Watchmen: Ticking Off The Best And Worst Of The Movie Adaptation

nite-owlTo me it’s a pop culture moment on the same level as The Lord of the Rings film series.  The big screen arrival of Watchmen this past weekend carried so much anticipation (yet somehow crossed with dread) … high hopes (but tinged with low expectations) … geek pride (crossed with fan boy delusions).  As much as I love the graphic novel, I’m also keenly aware of the unholy mess its narrative contains.  It absolutely defies all the quick and easy recipes for mainstream success, challenging the reader with difficult characters and a somewhat toxic world view.

It’s pretty much an all or nothing gambit … you’re either going to buy in and love it, or drop it like a hot potato.  Which is not generally the kind of material Hollywood seeks for its mega-budget projects.  Still, the sheer audacity of Alan Moore’s warped imagination, and Dave Gibbons’ retro art style made “Watchmen” a holy grail for ambitious filmmakers, and the final product that made it to the screen has plenty to fuel up on.  Here’s my take.

The Review Star System: I’ve seen everything from 1-and-a-half to 5-stars.  I’d give it 4-stars, but just by a whisker (3-and-three-quarters might be more accurate). Let me say this, though, about any review below three stars … go pound sand!  Seriously, this is a fine, but flawed adaptation of a groundbreaking piece … and it does follow the original story quite faithfully.  What I’m trying to get at here is how can a 5-star piece of fiction suddenly be given 1-and-a-half stars by some reviewers because it follows the story “too closely?”  That’s absurd.  It’s an adaptation not a complete re-imagining.

The Opening Credit Sequence: Nothing short of genius.  Using Bob Dylan‘s “The Times They Are A Changing” while bringing the audience up to speed on the alt-America populated with costumed crimefighters is profound and silly at the same time … just as it should be. Director  Zack Snyder puts his personal stamp on “Watchmen” with a master stroke of wit and intelligence.  You don’t know as you’re watching it that it’s the best thing in the whole movie.  You sure do when it’s done though.  What the hell, I’m glad Snyder set the bar that high, even if he couldn’t clear it again.

Rorschach: Why is this miserable wretch of human so damn compelling?  He’s a paranoid, filthy, violent misogynist who wears his self-loathing like his ever changing mask.  He’s every bit the sociopath, but he’s also loyal and stubbornly committed to the colleagues who can’t live up to his skewed standards.  Jackie Earle Haley delivers an Oscar worthy performance.  His Rorschach is every bit as unforgettable as Heath Ledger’s Joker.

Nite Owl: White boy pain finds its father figure in Patrick Wilson‘s down (but not out) caped crusader.  His dreams dashed, his libido flagging, his unexpected return to crimefighting re-awakens his passion for … well, just about everything.  Wilson is endearing even if his mad skills as a street fighter aren’t quite believable.  He seems much more at home geeking out with his Owl-mobile.

silk-spectreSilk Spectre II: Okay, here’s where things go hilariously wrong.  Malin Akerman‘s performance comes very close to the unintended camp of Showgirls.  She’s a pervy delight in her latex costume, but then a terrible thing happens … she starts speaking her lines.  Oh, man is she bad.  She’s the supermodel who talks like a gum-snapping, mall brat.

The Comedian: Jeffrey Dean Morgan has the other breakout performance in “Watchmen” … like Rorschach, The Comedian is the complete package as an anti-hero.  A remorseless killer, a rapist, and the linchpin for just about everything that happens in “Watchmen.”  It’s Morgan’s job to actually make us care about this creep … and he pulls it off.  The Comedian is Alan Moore’s scathing rebuttal to the mindless worship of superhero culture.  Morgan gives us the amoral vigilante that makes the point with a flamethrower.

dr-manhattanDoctor Manhattan: Big blue certainly makes an impression … a full frontal one at that.  Doctor Manhattan is the only superhero in this bunch who actually has superpowers, and Billy Crudup manages to bring a much needed does of humanity to this time traveling, nuclear enigma.

Ozymandias: Matthew Goode is just flat out miscast.  Too bland to play the self-promoting, smartest man on the planet, he just comes off as clueless.  The phony nipples on his costume have more personality.

Direction: Say what you want about Zack Snyder, but you know what? … he got it done.  He showed respect for the source material, and wasn’t afraid to take some chances.  He’s got a feel for spectacle … not so much for nuance.  I’m glad he delivered an R-rated film, because “Watchmen” takes place in an R-rated world.  Sex, violence, profanity?  Hell, yeah.  Like he did in 300, Snyder is playing to a mature audience, and hopefully parents will make sure young kids steer clear.

Hey, there wasn’t even time to get into Richard Nixon’s nose, or the return of Matt Frewer (Max Headroom I haven’t forgotten you) … that’s what’s so cool about “Watchmen,” you’ll talk about it endlessly.  That’s a story worth telling.

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