Watchmen Film Review

Posted on: 19/03/2009

By Emma Ede

Title: Watchmen

Director: Zack Snyder

Rating: ****

“Who watches the watchmen?”

Watchmen is the comic book adaptation that most comic book fans never thought would happen. It has been attempted numerous times, and had been judged un-filmable. That is, until Zack Snyder, following his work on 300, agreed to take the project on.

 Being based on a comic has the obvious problems, as well as those specialised to this particular comic book – how to please the fans of the original, and how to fill a cinema with people who had never before heard of the Watchmen, and allow them to access, enjoy and understand the movie. This is especially difficult with this comic. Critically acclaimed as the greatest graphic novel of all time, it has a lot of devout fans, and a movie has a lot to live up to.

Set in an alternate Cold War America, Watchmen shows what the world might be like if masked vigilantes existed. These, with the exception of one, are not superheroes. They are normal humans, who used to don masks and catch criminals themselves. They are now forcibly retired – they have been outlawed by the government. The film opens with the murder of one – The Comedian, alias Edward Blake, (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and the rest of the film centres around the remaining ex – Watchmen: Rorschach, Ozymandias, Nite Owl II, Silk Spectre II, and the sole super powered member of the group, Dr Manhattan (he’s the big blue one).

As Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) investigates the death of the comedian, the action jumps between the past, the present, and between multiple threads of the story. This can pose a problem – for those uninitiated in the story of the Watchmen to understand; and also in that, at 162 minutes, it’s a long film to go without toilet breaks. I speak from experience – do not buy the big drink!

 This movie contains a lot of violence. It has an 18 rating for a reason – it is not always a pleasant viewing experience. With attempted rape, murder (lots of murder), torture, and graphic fight scenes, even the least squeamish person with have a moment of … ick. Picking out examples without ruining the movie is difficult, but suffice to say, it’s graphic, and translated from a flat, single 2d drawing to a moving image makes it a lot worse. Even having read the comic, I underestimated how bad the violence would be until the movie started. Some of my friends who hadn’t read the comic were stunned at the density and frequency of the gore.

The characters in the film create little empathy – we do not feel for any of the characters, who seem to be too gruesome a caricature of people to create any sympathy. Our victim is an attempted rapist who killed the woman impregnated during the Vietnam War when he wished to return home. Our – hero? – or at least narrator is a sociopath killer, with little care for human life, except to punish the guilty. The remaining characters – an aloof genius with a sneer for rest of mankind; a retired, miserable, self pitying middle aged man; a big blue superhuman who is steadily losing any humanity – do nothing to gain any pity. None are likable. Which is very strange for a movie – there is no one for the audience to support.

Aesthetically, the film is a masterpiece. Based on storyboards taken from the comic, the film is gritty, dark, and not just in the – they didn’t use much in the way of lighting – way that seems to characterise Nolan’s Batman films. No, the sets seem dirty, and grimy, and typify the growing fear and panic of a cold war climate which seems ready to escalate into nuclear war.

The use of CGI is obvious – there is a blue naked man who changes in height, appearing and disappearing at will, in the form of Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), who was created in a motion capture suit much in the way that Gollum was in Lord of the Rings. Surprisingly, this does not make the film ridiculous, but adds to it – even though much of the background is created by computer, it is careful designed to match the various decades in which the film has scenes set – and even the superhero costumes, supposedly made by these people in their basements, match this. This attention to detail adds realism to the film and grounds an otherwise unfeasible concept.

The movie emphasises well the themes running through the original story – the idea of the humanity behind those we idolise, of the darkness of the everyday, and of the similarities between good and evil – is it the action, or the intention, that is important?

I think you should see this film. Not because I am a fan of the comic (which I am), or because I want your bladder to explode, or because I want to creep you out completely with the gore. No, I want people to see this film because it raises important issues of why we do things and how far we take them, how single people can act for the masses. It’s difficult to keep up with, yes, but I think you’ll enjoy it, at least, if you enjoy a good action movie…

Spiderman this is not.

Have you seen the film? What did you think of it? Do you agree with Emma? Add your comments below.


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