Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Watchmen review: some early thoughts

So the embargo (Australian at least – already a punch up brewing between US critics on twitter as I write) has been lifted and today I saw Watchmen for the second time. I haven't as yet been able to sit down a really bash out all my thoughts on the film in a critical fashion (that's for later tonight) but here I just want to share with you my impressions and reflection on the experience as well as my reaction to the film...

There's going to be something like two distinct groups of people who go to see Watchmen at the cinema: those who have read the graphic novel and have experienced the months and months of endless anticipation and build up to the release; and then there will be those who haven't read the novel and are just going because the trailer looks great, it's full of superheroes and the advertising spend is huge.

Falling into the previous of those two my feelings are that the film is absolutely a success and can bare the weight of expectation for anyone reasonably-minded. For the uninitiated I envy the wild ride you are about to embark on, the transformation the comic book genre might take in your perception and that as a result you too might be encouraged to seek out the original book and read it for the first time, experiencing a property that has meant so much to so many for so long.

Contained within the glorious opening punch-up and the wonderfully vaudevillian credits sequenced played out to Bob Dylan's 'Times They Are A-Changing' are the beats, themes and spirit in which director Zack Snyder has gone about capturing the essence of Watchmen. Darkness and the loss of innocence is all pervasive.

Stripped from the film are elements such as the Black Freighter (to be inserted separately and in its entirety in the director's ultimate cut on DVD), sub plots with psychiatrist's home life, and police detectives. Snyder, using David Hayter and Alex Tse's fission-fused screenplay, resolutely stays as close as possible to Rorschach's (Jackie Earle Hayley) mean streets noir pursuit of Edward Blake's (masked 'hero' The Comedian) killer. Hayley is brilliant as the menacing, snarling, ass-kicking masked vigilante with sociopathic tendencies. Rorschach looks and moves the part as he slopes about the rain-drenched city in his fedora, trechcoat and ink-oscillating mask before leaping into action with the reflexes of a puma when called upon.

Patrick Wilson hits all the rights notes as washed-up Nite Owl Dan Dreiberg, always with a simmering strength beneath his bookish exterior. Malin Akerman doesn't always convince in her line delivery, though this might be do to some too literal page to screen transfers of slightly clunky dialogue, but does reach levels of wonder, hurt and innocence in the character of Laurie (Silk Spectre II). She also looks great and kicks ass in leather. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian? He nails it, you'll wanna hate him, but he's just too fucking good... argh.

I don't have time to write much more at this junction, I've another screening to go to, but the bigger themes of Watchmen are truly to be found within Snyder's film. Questions of humanity, determinism, mutually assured destruction are all handled well and concisely for the discerning viewer – never lost amid a flurry of slo-mo action sequences that are frankly stunning. Punches land with thunderous impacts, bones snap with sickening cracks, knifes plunge into flesh, glass shatters and blood splatters. Snyder showed up what he could do with 300, and revels in his style here whilst never going overboard.

There are definitely flaws: Ozymandias is largely a disconnected figure hard to associate with and the tougher philosophical questions his character asks, as well as his place in an argument of good and evil, is not as well-delineated as I would have liked and as a result the ending suffers just enough to notice. Second time round this came across much better, but I think I was filling in more gaps this time round. Also Matthew Goode might be the weakest of all the castings – which is disappointing.

Watchmen is a wholly satisfying intellectual and emotional experience as a film removed from its paper context, and one hell of a action ride. For my money it was better than The Dark Knight, which people forget was far from a perfect film itself.

WatchmenQ&As to appear here this week with Zack and Debbie Snyder, Malin Akerman and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
Watchmen is released in cinemas March 6, 2009.

Scott Henderson


Djoser3 said...

Better film than the Dark Knight.

I think they should slap your review on every poster following opening weekend!

You've certainly summed it up in a manner which will allow me to convince all my friends to see it at LEAST once (and allow myself to see it more than once, from the sounds of it.)

I can hardly contain my anticipation. Luckily, I know at least one friend who's going w/ me who's never read the novel, who's an intelligent, thoughtful dude. I'm 100% certain he's gonna fall in love with it. WOOT!

Anonymous said...

Good on you for saying that Watchmen is a better film than The Dark Knight. It's a bold statement but the more I think about it, the more I agree. I really enjoyed The Dark Knight but as you say, it is far from perfect, let alone the cinematic equivalent of The Second Coming that some people seem to think it is.