Comic book adaptations are all the rage these days and they are a dime-a-dozen. To prepare for the film and to write this review, I re-read the graphic novel so I can give a more detailed viewpoint. "Watchmen" is adapted from the award-winning 12-issue mini-series in the 80's which in turn became a popular graphic novel. The graphic novel was written by Alan Moore (From Hell, V for Vendetta) and illustrated by Dave Gibbons (Green Lantern) and adapted to the big screen by Zack Snyder (300). This is Snyder's third full-length feature film, and he is in familiar ground in taking well-received formulas in pop culture, make it a strong visual affair and he calls the film a "tribute" or a homage. Most of the time, Alan Moore is displeased with the final result when his story is adapted; as far as I can recall, only twice has he requested his name removed from a film's credits because of his strong displeasure--it was with the Wachowski's "V for Vendetta" and you guessed it…in "Watchmen". This is why you only see "based on the graphic novel illustrated by Dave Gibbons" in the credits, Moore's name remained in the credits of "From Hell" and "League of the Extraordinary Gentlemen". (whether this was due to the studio's insistence or Moore gave his blessing I do not know)
The government has banned "super-hero" operations with a law passed in the senate and most heroes have retired. When a former super-hero called "The Comedian" (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is murdered, a still operating vigilante called Rorshach/Walter Kovacs (Jackie Earle Harley) takes it upon himself to investigate and comes to the conclusion that someone is killing "masked" vigilantes. He takes it upon himself to warn his fellow super heroes such as the Nite Owl/Dan Drieberg (Stephen McHattie), Silk Spectre/Laurie Juspeczyk (Malin Akerman), Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup) and a genius industrialist Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) of the supposed conspiracy. Aided by his former partner, the Nite Owl and Silk Spectre 2, what they find is just something so unbelievably insane that it will shake the very world.
I wasn't kidding when I said that Snyder makes these "tribute" films. "Watchmen" is so full of iconic sequences that is lifted from the graphic novel; the scene in the prison mess hall, Dr.Manhattan‘s citadel, all would give fans a reason to rejoice. The dialogue is almost derived word for word, Snyder succeeds where he has excelled in "300", the viewer does feel like he is reading a live action comic book. The characters in the film have plenty of development in the form of flashbacks, fans of the graphic novel will be thrilled. The film is pretty much lifted from the novel with some minor additions--the film is more action-packed than the graphic novel, (the action scenes are brutal, fast and hard-hitting) some sequences are extended and some are deleted. The film has its share of sex scenes and nudity and you see Dr. Manhattan the way he was in the comic--stark naked most of the time. The film does emulate a certain darkly foreboding mood, but it also doesn't lose it's sense of black humor. The screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse is meant to give us a sense of nostalgia, and they do succeed, well, at least until the final act of the film…
Purists of Alan Moore's storyline will be a little disappointed as certain key elements in the graphic novel are missing. Laurie is a smoker (which is why she turned on the flamethrower and caused the accident) and abhors donning her costume, the original Nite Owl wasn't killed by gang members, the boy in the news stand does make an appearance but the key subplot on what he was reading is missing. That subplot, "Tales of the Black Freighter" was extremely important in the graphic novel's commentary on humanity's sense to survive. The conversation in Mars between Laurie and Dr. Manhattan is significantly short, and loses a lot of its dramatic and emotional edge. Yes, Snyder and company does make an impressive visual and aural feast, but they missed the original story's message and philosophical relevance.
I am also assuming that Alan Moore had his name removed because the climax takes a significant nose dive and I am sure purists will be very upset. The climax in the film lacked a strong effect on its narrative as it deviated from the original source material. This ending may be easier to connect with for those unfamiliar with the graphic novel, but honestly, it felt very clichéd, unimaginative and predictable. The approach in the graphic novel was very methodical, moody and full of emotions which is why it became a so-called holy ground for comic fans. This film is just another Hollywood fare that uses the source material as a template and not as its stimulation and inspiration.
The direction by Zack Snyder is competent but it does have a lot of problems. Sure, it is difficult to compress 12 issues into one film--but one can stay faithful to the feel, essence and thought of the original. He uses the recognizable scenes and famous illustrations in his shots to tickle fans of the graphic novel. The film has an overabundance in slow motion, and while I thought this was meant to emulate the feel a comic reading experience, Snyder could have done well in refraining a bit from the slo-mo. The direction does present quite a number of plot holes, and felt uneven at times. The biggest goof of them all occurs in the final act of the film when Dan Drieberg said that "everything will be ok, as long as people believe Jon is watching over them.." which is PURE contradiction to what happened before and is an abandonment of the book's essence. I cannot disclose any more without further spoiling the film, you will have to see for yourself. The direction is definitely a mere "copy" of the sequences from the novel, and Snyder made no effort to make the "Watchmen" mythos his own and insists that audiences should fill in the plot gaps themselves.
The performances are decently acted for the most part and I thought Jackie Earle Harley stole the show as Rorshach. I loved the scenes when he's in prison. The character is by far the most interesting character of them all. Walter Kovacs would give the most ruthless movie serial killers pause. Malin Akerman is charming as Silk Spectre 2 and luscious Carla Gugino even makes an appearance as her mother. I found Stephen McHattie's "Nite Owl" quite amusing but found Matthew Goode's "Ozymandias", interesting but a little underwhelming--his plan made him unworthy of being the "smartest guy in the world". The CGI rendered "Dr, Manhattan" looks very good and maintains a creepy nature to his character.
The visuals are very well done and the CGI rendered environment is quite cool to look at. The costumes have been improved to give the film a more "real" feel, Dr. Manhattan and Rorshach are the two characters who had their appearances unaltered from the comic. The special effects does give the illustrations in the novel a certain amount of homage. The soundtrack is reminiscent from the 60's, 70's and 80's music which I thought was a good approach to give the scope of its diverse periods, but some may say that this approach hampered the film as it lost a lot of the brooding, moody feel of the source material. There is a good number of sex and nudity, as well as a strong display of violence against women.Now, please do not let my observations to give the impression that I didn't like the film. Complaints aside, "Watchmen" is entertaining enough and it is worth a look. The film is very polished with high production values and is a visual marvel that I will still have to commend the effort. Those unfamiliar with the graphic novel will no doubt be impressed but hardcore fans of the original story may be very disappointed. It also has the potential to turn off some viewers given its violent content and the way it somewhat glorifies the harsh realities of human nature (which the graphic novel never did). It is just a purely ineffective vision of the "Watchmen" mythos, while the premise was faithful to its original material it never truly achieved its complexities in emotional and psychological impact . While not an excruciating film, Snyder's adaptation missed the mark that it felt absolutely unnecessary. After more than 2 hours watching Snyder's rendition, to expose certain heartbreaks, satirical touches, nicely shot action sequences, it gave very little in the way of artistry, emotions and thrills that I found myself pining for the source material's philosophical and emotional significance. I can understand Alan Moore's request that his name not to be associated with Snyder's vision.
Recommended! [4- Stars]
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