Watchmen is finally here. The graphic novel that was said to be unfilmable has been filmed. The film Fox said wouldn't be released (in a way) has been released. The project writer/co-creator Alan Moore would not bless did not need it. After decades of stop and start development, the film has been made and the question that everyone is asking is whether or not it lives up to the greatness of the graphic novel that broke new ground when it was first released back in 1986. Unfortunately, this is a question I cannot even begin to answer as I have not yet read the source (I know, I know). What I can tell you is that this is a wonderful movie. Flawed? Sure, what movie isn't? However, it is an intriguing film that is as fascinating as it is exhilarating.
It has been over a week since I have seen the film and nearly as long since I wrote that opening paragraph. Each day after returning home from the day job I would sit and stare at the screen, cursor blinking incessantly at me, demanding that I do something with it. I would reach out ever so tentatively, strike a few keys, stare pensively at the precious few words that appeared and press delete. This would go on for hours before I would have to move on to something else. Now, with Dr. Manhattan as my witness, I will get something down. I will share some thoughts with you on this fantastic feature.
Watchmen is not your typical superhero movie. The heroes of this alternate universe are no Spider-Man, Iron Man, Superman, or Batman (well, maybe a little bit of Batman). They have no powers, no special abilities, and sometimes their motives are less than altruistic. What they have in common is a desire to battle the bad guys.
The world surrounding these heroes is a much different place than one in which we live. It is a world that has outlawed heroes for "the greater good." The thought is that there is enough death and destruction without vigilantes running around causing even more damage. So, in story's present time, our heroes are a retired lot who have moved on with their lives, mostly, while retaining a certain affection for what they were able to accomplish before the government shut them down. On top of that, the world is on the brink of nuclear annihilation as the Cold War is reaching a boiling point. This is where the story proper picks up.
The movie opens with the murder of a hero, partially seen in the trailer, followed by a great opening credits sequence (set to Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A' Changin'"), which further sets up the world we are watching. The Comedian is the hero who has just been killed, and his death is being investigated by Rorshach (Jackie Earle Haley), one masked vigilante who has refused to give it up, as that is what he is now. He may be unbalanced and paranoid, but he knows when something is up.
As the tale progresses, we learn more about each of the heroes who comprise the Watchmen, who they are, where they came from, and where they are at now as they come together in an attempt to discover the truth behind the death of the Comedian and what impact these changing times could have on the world at large.
When you look at it on paper, the plot seems to be a little conventional. Fortunately, the story is much more layered and complex than I am willing to do justice here. This is a film that eschews standards of action and character development in favor of developing a world that exists in the gray area between good and evil, where motives and methods play both sides of the fence in the service of what may or may not be the greater good.
That clears things up some, doesn't it? No? I guess it doesn't. The more I think about the movie and attempt to lasso my thoughts, the more difficult the process becomes. It is one of those movies that plays around in my thoughts, tantalizing my imagination while dancing around my ability to express myself. So, I feel I am going to have to leave the discovery of the narrative and the secrets it holds up to you, and believe me, you should make the effort.
Director Zack Snyder does a fine job of keeping everything on track. There is a lot going on, as the characters' origins and connections are all quite complicated. The flow is never confusing and I was always aware of what was going on. On top of that, Snyder's visual style is progressing nicely. Through three films, Snyder has displayed a penchant for visual flourishes while never letting them overtake the narrative, although sometimes the narrative is about visual flourishes.
The performances also go a long way to making the story work. Much of the praise is being given to Jackie Earle Haley, who gives an intense portrayal as Rorshach, the unbalanced detective. The enigmatic character does a lot of the heavy lifting and offers much to the mystery of the piece. Right alongside him is Billy Crudup who gives a voice to the one super-powered being in this universe, Dr. Manhattan. This is a character worthy of investigation — his powers place him on a different plane than ours, essentially a god among men, his outlook on life and humanity drastically altered by his state, making him detached from the world to the point of not caring.
The rest of the cast deliver as well, from Patrick Wilson's slightly nerdy Nite Owl II, to Malin Ackerman's Silk Spectre II, to Matthew Goode and his take on Ozymandias, the latter being an intriguing character, good at heart, but with a different take on how to use his notoriety for the betterment of the world.
In the end, this is a movie that wants you to watch it again and again. It comes out of the gates firing on all cylinders. It provides a story with implications that will provide much to think about, visuals that pop and provide a nice "Wow!" factor, and characters that will make you question the nature of the hero.