It took me some time, but I finally decided. The fact that it got this reaction out of me is possibly a reason, in and of itself, to go and see the movie. At the very least, it won't be like anything else that you see, and you'll really need to make up your own mind on it.
Watchmen has long been seen as one of the most difficult novels to film. It's a dense, multi-layered piece of work, which rewards multiple readings. You may not see something new every time you read it, but chances are that you'll miss something new each time at least. I tend to re-read the novel once a year (not out of habit, but rather because I'm just in the mood to read it somewhat regularly. That puts it in high company, as the only films that I tend to do that with are Some Like it Hot and Casablanca. Much like these two masterpieces, Watchmen is something that I am never not in the mood to read.) and I see something new every time. Hell, Alan Moore wrote the thing, and he was still spotting new things on his eighth time reading it. On top of this, it's a comic book which has the nerve to take itself seriously.
Now, while comic book fans may go for this, and while the pacing of reading a novel rewards it, can a movie do this and be taken seriously by an audience in response?
The answer is yes. Just, but yes.
As a technical adaptation, it is possibly unsurpassed. 300 and Sin City were possibly slightly more accurate but they had easier jobs. Sin City was a very stylised piece of work, and 300 had the advantage of being so removed from the modern day as to make the suspension of disbelief easier. Watchmen actually has the more difficult job, since it has to balance both the real-life aspect of its world with the four-colour heroes. The fact that the atmosphere of the film works so well is high praise for Director Zack Snyder.
The adaptation of the story (including the big plot spoiler that everyone has been talking about) is mostly as strong as it could possibly be. The changed ending works well, and certainly works better on the screen than the ending of the book would have done. Moore's ending would have pushed audiences too far, and turned them against the film. It works in a medium where the pacing can be taken more slowly, and digested better, but it wouldn’t work in a stricter medium like film.
A lot of the acting is superb. Billy Crudup, especially, is fantastic, and Jackie Earl Haley runs him a close second. As well written as the characters are, this is no mean feat. What impressed me most about both performances were that they were very different to how I pictured the characters being, and yet I didn’t mind.
The problems, unfortunately, are many. While I like the big changes to the ending of the film, the fact that a lot of the smaller moments that take place at the end of the story have been changed entirely is something that I found robbed the movie of what could have been its strongest emotional moments. This particularly robs Patrick Wilson’s Dan Dreiberg of some of his best scenes.
The fight scenes are downright silly, which is a shame since - had they chosen to adapt the way the book portrays them, in minimal brutality - they could have been something unique in comic-book movies. Instead, they are rather typically back-and-forth martial art style fights, with overblown reactions and shows of strength. This isn’t just a matter of taste, as it is established that Doctor Manhattan is the only super-powered being, and yet in this movie, we watch brick walls being punched through and people being punched easily across rooms. Unforgivably, this attitude towards fight scenes is even carried through to the rape scene.
A number of the problems will likely be fixed in the director’s cut. I wholly expect a more complete story for Sally Jupiter, and more explanation for her actions. I expect that we will see more of background characters as well, and this is all good. It may go some way to restoring some of the emotional impact that the movie sadly misses.
A large part of the emotional impact of the movie misses because of Malin Ackerman, who is absolutely beautiful, but sadly utterly unconvincing. Since so much of the movie hinges upon her emotional responses to aspects of her life, the fact that these emotional responses don’t register as true causes very serious problems for the film.
Also, it must be said that, for all the vaunted talk and sniggering about the big blue penis, the most cringe-worthy part of the film is actually the sex scene, which was downright awful. It was cheesy in the book, but did at least feel like a celebration. In the movie, it is so clichéd as to be hysterical.
Despite the fact that I’m criticising it so much, I did enjoy the movie. It’s definitely good, and while the adaptation could have benefited from being braver, it mostly works. Not only that, but it mostly works on its own terms. The problems I have with the movie prevented it from being a great adaptation, rather than a good one. As it is, I’ll give it four out of five stars, but it scraped that. The positives do outweigh the negatives, and carries off what it does right so well that it raises an ‘okay’ adaptation to a ‘good’ one.
It’s not the greatest comic book movie ever, or even the best Moore adaptation (for my money, that’s V for Vendetta), but it’s no disaster, and is certainly thought-provoking. Everyone involved should give themselves a solid pat on the back, although they should refrain from thinking they made the best possible Watchmen movie. They didn’t. They just made a good one. Unfortunately, the source material is so good that a good adaptation is a disappointment.
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