Ben Walker at WNYC hooked me up with tickets to the media screening of Watchmen, and I am SO grateful. Ben and I are going to be collaborating on something, so watch this space for more on that.
What follows is a spoilers free review of the movie and so is very general. I will be revisiting this topic at least twice more, though, since I have lots to say about how the film was adapted. But we’ll save that for other posts.
If interest in a free screening has some bearing on box office receipts then Watchmen is going to be a blockbuster. Media companies get passes to events like this all the time, but rarely, I suspect, does the line for admission stretch a city block.
The film mostly lives up to the exceedingly high expectations of its audience. Watchmen is a spectacular film that falls short of greatness. Director Zack Snyder is mostly faithful to his source material, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ seminal graphic novel. This movie won’t please everyone, and I think that those who have not read the comic may well enjoy it more than those raised on the text.
The cast performs admirably for the most part (the most part being Malin Akerman who is somehow both alluring and wooden at the same time). Jackie Earl Haley conveys a sense of mystery and menace that compels you to study him every second that he is on the screen, even though for most of that time his face–an actor’s greatest resource–is obscured by Rorschach’s iconic mask.
I was most afraid of Jeffery Dean Morgan as the Comedian. His pedigree (Grey’s Anatomy, uhgh) suggested he couldn’t pull of the verve and insanity needed to embody Edward Blake. I needn’t have worried. I have seen some reviews that have criticized Matthew Goode’s Adrian, but I think Goode’s trouble in the role this has more to do with the tremendous compression of time that occurs in this film.
It’s well known by now that Alan Moore designed Watchmen to be impossible to film. Moore wanted to demonstrate that there were some kinds of stories that only comics could tell. Advances in technology allow ambitious directors like Snyder successfully translate the feel of comic book stories like 300 and Watchmen to the screen. But it is comics unique usage of time that prevents Snyder from truly realizing his vision. If your interested, Scott McCloud has lots more to say about time in comics.
The set pieces–a funeral, a prison escape, a trip to Mars–look and feel exquisite. But the film is missing the sense of expansive time, the simultaneously backward and forward looking nature of the comic that ties together the narrative and gives the comic its true emotional punch. This becomes more and more apparent as we near the end of the film.
Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is an exercise in relentless, focused film-making, but this winds up being a blessing as well as a curse as his film is compelling without being truly moving.