Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: David Hayter & Alex Zse (screenplay), Alan Moore (graphic novel)
Starring: Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Malin Ackerman, and Billy Crudup
You must give credit where credit is due: Zack Snyder knows which graphic novels to adapt to the screen. 300 was his claim to highly stylized fame, and now with Watchmen, he tackles perhaps the most important graphic novel of all time. Of course it won’t live up to the source material, even when/especially because he sticks to it almost frame for frame.
Why storyboard when it’s already been done for you? This appears to be the only original question Snyder poses. His source material must do all the talking, because he is concerned with stylistic bloodshed by the gallons. As he did in 300, he lets his characters run rampant within the frame, leaving nothing- violent or sexual -to the imagination.
When the movie begins, you get the feeling that it may be great. A fantastically pulled off fight sequence in a high-rise apartment building makes you feel every blow. The slain one, who we will later learn is The Comedian (Jeffery Dean Morgan), is a former member of the Watchmen super hero group. Following this sequence is one of the best opening credit sequences in recent memory. It shows the subsequent rise and fall of the Watchmen group interspersed with historical tidbits and set to the tune of Bob Dylan’s “Times They Are A’Changing.” Mr. Snyder gets almost everything right about this movie out of the way in the first third of it.
It is after these two excellent scenes that we are introduced to the film’s, and debatably the graphic novel’s, best character: Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley). Even behind the ink-blotted mask, Haley growls like a demonic force of nature. He insists on finding the Comedian’s killer, suspecting a plot to eliminate all of the former Watchmen.
Among these other retired heroes is Night Owl (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre (Malin Ackerman), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), and Dr. Manhatten (Billy Crudup). Manhatten is the only one with real super powers, but the movie disappointingly fails to realize the brilliance with which they are depicted in the novel. Instead, he is only blue, and can manipulate matter, clone himself, and teleport; all impressive, but not as breathtakingly realized in his character’s full context. Crudup does an alright job portraying what character is there, but it’s disappointing considering what Rorschach has to work with.
The rest of the acting, besides Jeffery Dean Morgan’s Comedian, is pretty horrendous. Wilson and Ackerman are completely unbelievable as super heroes and lovers. Their love scene was beautifully wrought out with visions of the apocalypse in the source material. Here it is unbearably corny, thanks in no part to another unneeded usage of the song “Hallelujah.”
The story as it was originally written shows a future dystopia in which Richard Nixon has been reelected four times and the crime rate is out of control. Dr. Manhatten, stepping in for the nuclear bomb, helps us win the Vietnam war. There are also resonant themes of how the new Watchmen, aided by Manhatten, compare to the old Watchmen, who were no more than Average Joes and Janes trying to make a difference. Most of that’s out the window here.
Snyder approaches this movie with style, not storytelling, as a priority. The script is lazy in that it expects the graphic novel to translate completely to the film, even as entire sections are omitted to make it fit into the still-punishing two and a half hours. Alan Moore, the writer of the graphic novel, refuses to let his movies bear his name for reasons just like this. While the Wachowski’s had some success in bringing V for Vendetta to the screen, none have succeeded in actually realizing Moore’s intent with his material.
The result in Watchmen’s translation are many half-realized characters who kill, maim and destroy simply for the purpose of killing, maiming and destroying. In fact, any semblance of the original story that does leak through seems to be an afterthought to the bone crushing, which is even more disturbing.
Watchman is a mixed bag. It packs a few nifty parlor tricks, but they’re almost all done in the beginning and the rest of the movie is simply washed up. It’s a dreary mess, shifting in and out of coherence much like the ink-blots on Rorshach’s face. I wouldn’t want to give Snyder one of those tests; mushroom clouds and broken bones would surely abound, probably for no apparent reason.