March 6, 2009

As Faithful As It Gets

Ow! My neck hurts. I told them that it would be a bad idea to go back to his house to hang out, as everyone would show up early and steal the good seats, but teenagers never listen to reason. So, as fate would have it, we were stuck in the front row. The very front row, which is a shame, because Watchmen is not a movie that you watch in the front row. You'll be doing yourself a disservice. Watchmen has been 20 odd years in the making, and, after careful thought, this 2 hour 47 minute beaste that has been bestowed upon us is the best version we could possibly get.
Watchmen takes place in an alternate 1985, one where America won Vietnam, where Nixon is still president, where Americans and the Soviets are on the brink of nuclear war, and where superheroes are not characters on a comic page, but real life people, whose exploits have been outlawed. One of these masks, The Comedian, is brutally murdered one night, prompting the last remaining vigilantes to come out of retirement and find out the reason behind this killing. Soon they discover a conspiracy engineered by a sinister foe, whose agenda will have consequences the world over. The story is based on the Alan Moore graphic novel of the same name, and follows it to the note, with the odd change here and there. Moore, disappointed with previous film adaptations of his work, and rightfully so, asked that his name be taken off the film, the idiot. 
Watchmen features a talented cast comprised of less famous stars then one would expect for a movie of this type. Credits include Jackie Earl Haley as the psychopathic, masked vigilante Rorschach, Patrick Wilson as the Batman ripoff Nite Owl/Dan Dreiberg, Malin Ackerman as the sexy, latex wearing Silk Spectre/Laurie Juspeczyk, Matthew Goode as the world's smartest man Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt, Jeffery Dean Morgan as the hard hearted, beefy Comedian/Edward Blake, and Billy Crudup as the naked, blue, God among men, Dr. Manhattan. Most of the performances are first rate, especially Haley as Rorschach. He adopts a Clint Eastwood growl for his masked sociopath, and pulls it off incredibly well. It's a hard thing to accomplish, making us care for a character whose face we barely get to see, but he pulls it off. The two other stand outs are Wilson and Morgan. Wilson, who was last seen in the awful Lakeview Terrace, is really convincing as this man who is lost without the costume, and finds rebirth in it. Morgan is revelation as The Comedian. He's in the movie the least of all the characters, which is a shame, because he is so damn good in those few scenes that you can't help but wish to see him again. The other three performances don't fare quite as well. Billy Crudup is fine as the CGI creation he portrays, and he does a great job at bringing emotion to this superman slowly losing touch with humanity, a role that could have been one note. Unfortunately, he forgot to translate that emotion into his voice, which stays the on the same level of detachment for the whole movie. It works to a certain extent, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't annoyed. Goode is fine as Veidt, but he's miscast. He's simply not right for the role, from his stature and physique, to his accent and hair color. Everything is just wrong. He does a good job, nonetheless. I can't say the same for Ackerman as Silk Spectre. She is easily the movie's weakest link. She does an average job as the super hot, Wonder Womanesque, caped crusader, but compared to the caliber of some of the other performances, it just falls flat. There isn't much to say about supporting performances. The movie centers around these six characters, and doesn't deviate from them at all. 
Director Zach Snyder is a smart man, and a fanboy in every sense of the word. The source material he is working with, is, without question, the absolute best of it's kind to ever come around. Watchmen, the graphic novel, stands as the marker where comics became more then just flashy cartoons, but a legitimate means to tell a story. It took superhero cliches, and promptly threw them out the window. It played with the idea of superheroes being real, flawed people. It told a dark, violent, and sad story, the likes of which had never been seen before. Snyder, who last helmed 300, is aware of this, and flat out refused to not make his movie anything less then a faithful representation. You get the sense that every single thing put in the frame was put there for a reason, from a picture on the dresser, to a piece of paper blowing in the wind. This is nothing less then the most faithful comic book adaptation ever made. There are countless shots in the film that could be compared to the drawings they mirror in the book, and there would be barely any difference. Snyder sticks to the plot of the book for the majority of the film, providing the right amount of exposition in the brilliant opening credits sequence, and occasionally making a few changes. His insatiable lust for blood that he showed us in 300 is used to full effect here; there is some seriously brutal shit in this movie. Snyder had to extend a lot of the action scenes from the book, but he does a fantastic job. He creates excitement the right way, by staging intelligent and well thought out fights, rather then just shaking the camera around. It is great, but then, he fucks up and changes the ending. All you fanboys out there, take a moment of silence; there is no squid. (WARNING: HERE, THERE BE SPOILERS. HIGHLIGHT TO READ, IF YOU WANT) At the end of the movie and the book, the culprit behind the conspiracy has been revealed to be Veidt. In both, the end goal is the same. Veidt planned to destroy major cities around the world in order to unite the nations of Earth against a common threat, preventing nuclear war. In the book, he artificially creates a massive alien, which he has teleported to NYC, whereby the creatures mind literally explodes, causing mass destruction in the city. In the movie, well, it involved Dr. Manhattan. I apologize for giving this away, but you were warned.(SPOILERS END HERE) The book ending worked because the threat that was engineered was a legitimate reason for the countries to put aside there differences and unite. It seems so much more far fetched in the movie.  
There are other problems to be sure. For one, who ever was in charge of makeup for the actors portraying Nixon and Kissinger should be slapped. Seriously, I more believed Frank Langella as the real Nixon then whatever the hell the Nixon in Watchmen is supposed to be. Also, Snyder has a slight obsession with slow motion sex scenes. The one sex scene in the book has been extended here, and set to "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen. Are you kidding me? I hate that song. I hated in Shrek and I hate it here. It turns the one of the few scenes of actual passion in the movie into one of the most cringe inducing scenarios that ever involved T&A! Speaking of "Hallelujah", the soundtrack here is hit or miss. All the songs work by themselves; the "Music From the Motion Picture" album is really good. But, when you see where the songs are placed in the movie, you can't help but wonder what Snyder was thinking. I understand the use of Dylan and Hendrix, but why Simon & Garfunkel and who ever the hell wrote "99 Luftballoons". Also, some key scenes in the book are mysteriously absent in the movie, like the murder of a mentor of Wilson's character, or the Tales of the Black Freighter sub comic (which will be released on DVD and the eventual Directors Cut). 
Watchmen is an "event movie", in every sense of the term. It is selling out theaters all over the country, features countless thrills, and will leave you satisfied in the end. But it achieves so much more then that. Like The Dark Knight, it goes deeper then most comic book films, delving into the psyche of the masked avengers on display, rather then just having them beat up on the bad guy, 'cough' Spider-Man 'cough'. Zach Snyder has done the impossible and filmed the unfilmable graphic novel, and managed to not muck it up too badly. Some of the choices he made ruin the overall experience, and keep it back from achieving true greatness. Watchmen could have easily been the best superhero movie ever, bar none. As it stands, it's second in my book. Damn it Snyder, if you had just kept the damn squid! A-