January 11, 2012 2 Comments
In an alternate America, the United States has won the war in Vietnam resulting in a third term of office for President Nixon. Forced into early retirement when a bill is passed outlawing masked crime fighting, the Watchmen disappear until the death of one of their own indicates a plot to kill superheroes. Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), left to investigate the murder from outside of the law, warns his ex-colleagues of the danger at hand. With Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) – the near-omnipotent result of a scientific experiment gone awry – losing touch with reality, it is left to Rorschach, Silk Spectre (Malin Åkerman) and the second Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) to identify their attacker, and try to thwart an imminent nuclear war in the process.
Isn’t it amazing the extent to which mood and preconceptions can colour your experiences? Taking my seat in the staff showing after a long day at work, tired and dispirited by director Zack Snyder’s past offerings, I instantly hated Watchmen as technical difficulties with the projector meant that we were watching it until approximately four o’clock in the morning. Three years on and the ordeal all but forgotten, I settled down to give the movie another chance, hoping all the while that Film 4 had better luck with their own nation-wide screening of the film. Awake, relaxed and actively willing to put that fateful night behind me, I was genuinely surprised by how much there is to like while watching the Watchmen.
Setting Alan Moore’s original graphic novel (or masterpiece, whatever you want to call it) aside – after all, it’s what he would have wanted – the end result of Snyder’s grappling with the dense and acclaimed source material is a flawed, bloated, but ultimately successful film adaptation. The story is distorted, but never compromised; the cinematography is stylised, but rarely distracting; and the cast are faithful, but never restricted by their earlier depictions. While the endless slow motion might smack of the director’s unfortunate proclivity for putting style before substance, in this instance is actually serves the story, allowing him to recreate single comic book panels while never alienating the viewer with gimmicks as both live in harmony.
Watchmen has it all: it’s as gritty as The Dark Knight, as subversive as Kick-Ass, as intelligent as V for Vendette, and as bonkers as Thor, while even leaving room for the occasional Spider-man-ism, as “baddies” are dispatched with knowing asides. Most important of all, however, is just how faithfully intricate it all is, with the end result being a truly satisfying and enrichening experience, despite its more insidious moments. While this is of course largely down to the good work done by Moore, it is impressive just how much depth Snyder has managed to retain in his own vision, particularly considering the chronic two-dimensionality of his other work.
Audacious, intoxicating and utterly compelling, Watchmen is a tour-de-force which is worth revisiting until it finally makes its mark. That said, at a long 162 minutes, it isn’t a movie to be taken lightly.