This is how we dance in prison!

Golden Mug

Editing (William Hoy)
Costume Design (Michael Wilkinson)

Theatrical Release Date: 03/06/2009
Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Jackie Earle Haley, Malin Akerman, Patrick Wilson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Matthew Goode, Billy Crudup, Carla Gugino

OK, I’m just gonna say it up front.

I’m not a (insert air quotes here) “Comic Book Aficionado”.

I have read the full series- in fact, I finished it the day before the screening, and it was good, but comics are not my preferred medium. I have the $20 compilation, but not all of the separate comics plus every imaginable coffee table tome. I don’t troll the Internet for Watchmen chat rooms, and I have never attended a ComicCon panel with a name like “The Mystique of Yellow Lingerie and Its Effect on the Collective Human Consciousness”.

With that in mind, I present my take on the new film, “Watchmen”.

In case you are a Watchmen newbie, dragged to the theater by a rabid friend or significant other, here is a synopsis:

It is 1985, and costumed superheroes, once in vogue, have long been outlawed. Most have returned to normal lives, but some have continued to operate, either under the radar or for the government. The Doomsday clock has been set to 5 minutes to midnight, indicating that a nuclear Armageddon is at hand. After the mysterious murder of a superhero/decorated veteran named The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), some of his former masked colleagues begin to investigate his death, led by a mentally unstable figure named Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley). As they begin to connect this death to other seemingly random events, they come to the unsettling conclusion that someone is gunning for retired superheroes. As the story flips back and forth between a variety of characters, events, and political agendas, we see how far some are willing to go to change the world.

I don’t know what you fan boys (and girls) will think, but what I saw on screen was a pretty faithful tribute to the graphic novel. A true labor of love, the script was basically lines lifted straight out of the comic. While I’m sure people will fuss about the casting, most of the actors were good physical approximations of their inked counterparts. The only ones that I really had any trouble with were Matthew Goode as Ozymandias and Malin Ackerman as Laurie. Goode seemed a bit too slight for the role, and Ackerman is missing the jaded edge in her portrayal.

The effects were really well done, and appropriate for the atmosphere of the film. Some sequences seemed like they were literally lifted right off the comic panels. The opening sequence was brilliant, and provided an enormous amount of back-story in a few minutes. Some entire plot lines were dropped out of necessity (the film still clocks in at an unwieldy 163 minutes) but the plot still flowed well, and newcomers won’t even realize what is missing. Some plot lines are shortened and some character’s parts are edited down, but that’s what happens when you adapt something to a new medium. Snyder worked hard to recreate this world honestly, and he did a great job.

You will notice that I gave “Watchmen” a 4 out of 5 (and I would have given it a 4.5, if I could have), but I couldn’t quite bring myself to give it a 5. That is because they changed the ending. If you have read any of my other reviews, you know that I am all about source material fidelity. However, I know that sometimes you have to tweak things to make a good movie. The comic’s ending would have been hard to recreate successfully, and the complexity and beauty of the climatic events would have probably seemed overly convoluted and even silly on film. So the big changes aren’t my problem. They are actually simple and elegant alternatives.

My problem is that they kind of fell off the wagon after that. It got a bit sloppy, not as true to the novel as it had been. They wrap it all up well, but after investing 2+ hours in a film, I want to be as satisfied at the end as I was at the start.

If you haven’t read the graphic novel, you might not have as positive of a response. It is an homage to a groundbreaking piece of fiction, not a Memorial Day blockbuster. There is an awful lot of exposition, but that is to be expected with such a dense plot line. I didn’t feel every minute of the runtime, but some might.

So there you go. Take it or leave it. I think most fans should be pleased. I talked to one person that loved the comic before the film. He was worried about how the treatment would work out. When I turned around at the end, he looked shocked, and said it was incredible.

Go find some similarly geek-minded friends and give this film a shot; you probably won’t be disappointed.