This is one of those movie reviews where you have to wonder where you even begin. Do you judge it based on its faithfulness to the source material? Do you judge it based on it solely as a theatrical work? It’s a tough question, and an even tougher one when it is a film adaptation of one of the most beloved works ever in the history of comics.
For 23 years people have attempted to make Watchmen into a movie. Some called it “unfilmable”, others wanted to make huge changes to the plot and characters, but ultimately it fell into the lap of Zack Snyder, the director of 300. The good news was he didn’t want to make many changes at all, and he fought to keep it as true to the original as he could. While there are some minor and some major changes, overall the main themes still shine through, and it makes for an engaging film.
Let me be up front in saying I thought the opening credits, all set to “The Times They Are A-Changin'” by Bob Dylan, may be some of my favorite opening credits of all time. As the music plays, we are treated to amazing photographs and video that helps us follow all of the costumed crime fighters that have existed in this movie universe since the 1940’s. It is a great use of time, it conveys the history you need to know that this is an alternative world you have entered that runs fairly close to ours, but not quite.
This is a story that happens on so many levels simultaneously that it is almost impossible to easily summarize what it is really about. It is a story of humanity and are failings. It is a story of what would you be willing to do and/or live with to accomplish what is ultimately a noble goal. It is a story about ideals. It is a story about the type of people it would take to dress up in a silly costumes and fight crime, and if they do it for the good of their fellow man or if they do it as some sort of adrenaline rush/aphrodisiac. When you realize the number of ideas this work tries to convey, you begin to understand why people thought it was “unfilmable”.
What you end up with for the film that is a surprisingly breezy 2 hour and 43 minute running time that flies by without feeling anywhere near that long. And while it may not give you clean-cut answers to those questions and ideas it puts forth, it at least addresses each of them. The thing is that you have to watch for them, you have to pay attention to so much, that most people will just see it as an unusual super hero movie when it is really so much more.
If anything surprised me about the film, it is how unbelievably brutal it is. While the comic was certainly no field of daisies, when you see the violence of the comic projected on a theater screen, it becomes shockingly violent, but it works. This is not a film for the squeamish, you will feel uncomfortable, and that may be one of the highest compliments you can pay the filmmakers. It never feels exaggerated, it feels like these people live in a brutal world, and, at times, they must be brutal in return to do good. Although I will say the Comedian/Sally Jupiter scene in the billiards room is done so effectively, that even knowing the outcome, I still found it difficult to watch for its realism.
From filming, music selection, special effects and acting, this movie delivers on all fronts. (With the exception of Malin Akerman as Laurie… she got it right in some scenes, and in others you were fairly certain she had no clue what was going on, or how to play it) Sure some things are missing that I would have liked to see stay in from the original work such as the news stand owner and the kid for example, or Rorschach having his pocketful of sugar cubes, but, in general, Mr. Snyder did his job, and you get to see a Watchmen movie that is darn close to the original work, and is a heck of a good film to boot.
To the fans of the book who have complained about “the squid” being absent (I’m not going to explain this to non-readers of the book as it would give away the ending of the movie completely), what they replaced it with makes a ton more sense. You don’t miss the squid at all, and you actually wonder if it was ever really needed in the original work. Believe me, I was nervous about the change, but the new solution works out a heck of a lot better.
Although I was uncertain as I left the theater, I liked the film more and more as I thought about it through out the evening. My highest possible recommendation, even if you have no clue what you are getting in to. Just don’t go expecting The Dark Knight, because this is certainly nothing like it.
(And thank you to regular commentor “Contrary Jack” and his wife for actually convincing me to leave my office to see this opening day with them)