typing is not activism….

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Watchmen – the movie: Review

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Given its nature as a graphic novel, it is more than fitting that Watchmen is a similarly graphic film. Anybody familiar with Watchmen, the book, is most likely enamoured of it, and sure to have an idea of which elements of the richly layered text matter most to them.

The good news is that the characters are mostly well cast and recreated in a manner true to the novel. Promotional material is already out, spruiking the end of the superhero as we know it. But rather than ending anything, Watchmen – both as a book and as a new film – is about creating a necessarily new approach to the modern hero fable.

Rather than the appalling candy floss of Spiderman or Superman, and even less ‘moral’ than Hulk or the Dark Knight, Watchmen’s mostly well-drawn characters are multi-dimensional and as ambivalent as they have to be. Even with the elevation of some modern concerns like energy sources and the geopolitic of Afghanistan to a prominence they lacked in the graphic novel, Watchmen honours the original work of Alan Moore in a way that the Waukoski brothers’ molestation of V for Vendetta did not.

Matter-shifting Dr. Manhattan has all the power needed to save humanity from itself, but lacks the desire to use it. The Comedian is an alcoholic misogynist sociopath who wants to see the world burn, but shudders fatally when that possibility becomes certainty. Rorschach is almost as psychotic and unforgettable as on paper. In almost any other film, he could be the standalone supervillain.

Ozymandias/ Veidt lacks some of the impact he should have, simply because he is not portrayed in any sympathetic way, he looks more like a blonde Ken doll or Flash Gordon extra than the more rugged and wise comic book depiction of his character, and because the casting decision for this character who simultaneously achieves total heroic and villainous status is perhaps the worst in an otherwise well-played film. Other than Veidt, the Richard Nixon character is probably the closest to caricature in the film, contrasting pointedly with the far less thinly drawn characters driving the story.

And let’s face it, how few action movies of the last decade – whether transposed from comics or not – have offered anything substantial or challenging by way of character development, let alone done much more than sermonize Brady Bunch values thinly veiled in bloodshed?

Even at around 150 minutes and using the graphic novel quite faithfully as a storyboard, the filmmakers were never going to be able to transfer the entirety of such a complexly constructed book to screen. So the question really is one of what they left out and how they managed what was kept in.

A number of the vignettes and side stories not involving the Watchmen characters don’t make it into the movie and this is something of a shame. The directors and screenwriters likely made the decision that to do otherwise would crowd the work and add confusion to an already agile film which does – to its credit – faithfully use the soundtrack laid out in the novel, augmenting it with some clever pop culture inserts and beautifully constructed media montages and character backgrounds. Similarly, some of the book’s more extreme supernatural elements are excised, traded off instead for more ‘real world’ scenarios. Again, this is probably a choice based on what the film’s structure can solidly support and what audiences can comfortably absorb.

But the choice is also made to give the love and lust relationships of the novel greater prominence than they originally had. In a way – and like some of the costuming – this choice reaffirms the stereotype of the comic book fan as frustrated middle aged virgin. But the notion is fleeting, mostly offset by an avalanche of great ideas, explosive violence, and dark philosophical observation. Fans of the novel may scowl at the ending, but at least it offers a surprise for everyone.

The big question: is Watchmen a film release worth looking forward to?

Absolutely – catch it on the biggest screen and biggest sound system that you can. It’s really quite a movie experience which, despite some annoyances and absences, isn’t to be missed.

Unless you’d rather be watching Australia.

Watchmen gets 8.2 out of 10 (on a scale where V for Vendetta gets 6.5, X-Men 1.5 gets 8 and The Dark Knight gets 9)

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Written by typingisnotactivism

February 25, 2009 at 9:58 am

One Response

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  1. I kept thinking that the guy who played the Comedian was Javier Bardem (I found out later that it’s actually Jeffrey Dean Morgan), but the two actors definitely look alike

    coffee

    March 15, 2009 at 8:51 am


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