If one thing that comes of reading this review, other than watching Watchmen, is to read Watchmen; then I can confidently say that I have done you a great literary favour dear reader, for Alan Moore’s graphic novel is regarded as the finest of its kind. It’s the greatest I have ever read.
But when it comes to filming Moore’s work, it’s not so easy; not only is the media difficult to get on screen, but its themes are mind-blowing. Moore doesn’t like having his work messed with, even though previous adaptations have fared successful (V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and From Hell), Moore has never had his name attached to them. Difficulllllt…
To tackle Watchmen is not only brave, but ambitious, a masterpiece regarded as “unfilmable”. Getting the green light many times and with many false dawns, the duty has fallen to 300 Director Zach Snyder, and he has had his career moment so far in creating a faithful and brilliant adaptation, lifting straight from the source to create one of THE greatest superhero movies.
The greatest compliment you could pay to Snyder is not only his faithfulness to create such a work to rival the source, but his own visionary style resonates with the same frequency and genius of Moore himself.
Watchmen starts with the brutal, stylised murder of ‘The Comedian’ (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a semi-retired superhero, still handy long after his fierce rapist, sociopathic heyday, but forebodingly no match for his hooded assailant.
Fellow watchman Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) investigates, convinced all the other, now retired, flabby superheroes are next at the hands of a masked assassin, but he uncovers a far greater plot that could change the face of the world; a world set as an alternative 1985, where President Nixon won a fifth term, where the cold war never ended, Earth now on the cusp of nuclear obliteration, with the symbolic doomsday clock, a analogy of man’s proximity to Armageddon, set at five to midnight.
Watchmen does many things other superhero movies dream to, presenting fallible, humanistic and equally devilish protectors along a backwards and forth journey through modern times that recounts their heyday and present day sedation, it’s an unrewarding reclusive existence that shows what superheroes do when they get old. It’s a brave, ambitious, adult world version of The Incredibles.
The time spanning, shifting back story expertly tells the past, present, and perhaps future of The Watchmen; and in no better way than in a most memorable title sequence, surely amongst the best ever put to celluloid that sets a unique atmosphere along with the equally inimitable tones of Dylan’s The Times They Are a Changin, perfectly scored to tell the story of indeed changing times, the outlawing of costumed vigilantes and the original Watchmen’s story – The Minutemen, presenting a history of crime fighting before the strange days of 1985. A title sequence has never been better utilised to tell backstory and a decline from glory.
And Dylan’s is not the only brilliant song, with a supreme soundtrack overplaying throughout, the highlight, Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower, his legendary lyrics synchronised perfectly with later onscreen events across a bleak Antarctic landscape.
Rorschach remains the only active Watchman, driven by a youthful mistake that teaches him the true cost of lenient vigilante justice and his sociopathic tendencies, exacting justice on a rotting world of lowlifes, his omnipresent and brilliant narration taken from his journal provides a dark commentary on the plight of man in an alternative world.
Morgan’s ‘Comedian’ is the epitome of he who laughs last, where “it’s all a joke”, a product of an embattled, FUBARed world, where his self-titled, tolerated existence “is the only thing that makes sense”.
Matthew Goode’s Adrien Veight is the brains of the crime fighting bunch, super quick, “the smartest man on the planet”, Goode seems to be the only miscast, but he assuredly grows throughout into a truly captivating role.
Great emotion is delivered from behind the blue hue by Billy Crudup as the ultimate ‘weapon’ (you will know what I mean when you see IT) Dr Manhatten, the indestructible man, America’s own nuclear deterrent, caught up and increasingly disillusioned by the bothering of man’s inability to evolve from war to peace, when misfortune has granted god like powers. With great power comes great responsibility, but also the increasing burden of being the world’s saviour.
Patrick Wilson’s, Night Owl is the idea of pitiful resignation, acceptant of having little place in the world, living out an inherited, privileged existence until Silk Spectre’s (Malin Akerman) timely appearance ‘re-stimulates’ his latent powers and revival to buy into Rorschach’s masked assassin theory, which leads to an unwelcome truth. And the final revelation of the most ambitious master plan is earth-shattering and unacceptable, and for The Watchmen, perhaps too high a price to pay for world peace. Snyder delivers a fitting, overwhelming and emotional finale that once pondered some more, brings realisation again of the genius of Moore’s masterpiece.
But Haley steals it as Rorschach, a truly remarkable creation, delivering a performance of true duality, of contempt and concealed compassion, behind an ink blotted mask; The greatest moralist of all, even in the face of a distasteful final choice.
The action is violent and fierce. Skulls crack, arms snap, and blood splatters, it’s pure comic book action on screen, levelled up from Sin City all handled in the now synonymous, Snyder hyper-style.
Landscapes pan and shape, zoom in and out, slow down and speed up, but there’s more than the normal with vast city, Antarctic and ‘Martian’ landscapes giving Snyder his biggest scope yet. And he doesn’t disappoint, creating something epic. It’s grand in both scale and premise.
Where Watchmen is most impressive is in the fathoms deep characterisation and completely uncompromising interpretation of a classic work; and it wouldn’t have worked any other way. Violent, bleak and extremely dark, compelling and equally ridiculous in its ambition, Snyder et al respectfully and cleverly understand that, what was put on the page, must now be put on screen. That’s why it feels like a superhero movie, just not like you have seen before.
In a narcissistic world, it’s as relevant now as it was in 1985, in this reality or any other.
Watchmen feels as equally important as it does surreal and is the brashest unfurling of Snyder’s unquestionably, intoxicating vision yet and it’s hard to see him ever topping it. Iconic.
A quite brilliant, unreal alternate world trip, that is only second to The Dark Knight as the greatest hero movie made, or have I taken to sniffing what Snyder clearly has?