A Newbie’s review of “Watchmen”

03.08.09 8 years ago

Warner Bros.

I’d never heard of “Watchmen” six months ago, much less ever read the graphic novel upon which the movie is based. However, after seeing the film a few days ago, I fall squarely in the camp of those who think it probably should have stayed a comic book.

In case you’ve been as clueless as I was, “Watchmen” is the story of retired superheroes, who are being knocked off for some unknown reason. The remaining superheroes reconnect to try to find out what is happening to them personally, while the world at large is on the brink of annihilation. The hope for saving the universe lies in Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman, a physicist, who was nuked in a lab accident and is now able to shift particles and rearrange atoms and all that cool stuff.  And yet, in a plot point I’ll examine further, he still has a whiny girlfriend who wants to know why he can’t connect with her and meet her emotional needs.  Maybe, just maybe, it’s because he’s been vaporized…

There are several things to admire about “Watchmen.” At the top of the list is Jackie Earle Haley’s portrayal of Walter Kovacs/Rorschach. He is such a raw nerve, so damaged a character, that there is no room left for humanity to reach him. He acts blindly, but with a conviction that never wavers. Rorschach makes Rush Limbaugh seem like a leftie. It’s a really bold, consuming performance, made all the more remarkable by the fact that for the vast majority of the film, Rorschach’s face is covered by a burlap sack that-in a device that I loved-is constantly rearranging like a Rorschach test.  His emotion, primarily disgust, is conveyed through his Clint Eastwood-like whisper and his tightly wound body language.

Similarly, hats off to Jeffrey Dean Morgan. As Edward Blake/The Comedian, he takes a sociopathic reprobate, woman beater and presidential assassin and makes him the most charming, compelling person in any room he’s in.  Nice work if you can get it. I wanted more of him, despite hating him.

Most of the movie simply doesn’t work. Director Zack Snyder wanted to stay so true to the graphic novel that he forgot to flesh out the characters. And many of them remain as archetypal and one-dimensional as the comic book paper upon which they first appeared.  The worst of the lot is Laurie Jupiter/ Silk Spectre II, who followed in the family business: her mom was the original Silk Spectre and has now gone from being a superhero to being a super drunk. As Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre, Carla Gugino does a great job with very limited resources. The same can not be said of Malin Akerman as her daughter. It is so wooden a performance that Snyder should have saved the salary and just used a cardboard cut-out.  Hitfix’s  resident “Watchmen” expert (actually Drew McQueeny’s “Watchmen” expertise far extends beyond our site and to the world at large) felt Akerman made an interesting choice to portray Jupiter in such a childish fashion. I just think she is a really bad actress and she looked great in the skimpy costume.

Granted, hers is the most cartoonish role in many ways. She’s not developed in any way (which goes to Drew’s point about her child-like delivery). Often her lines were delivered so flatly, she should have just had text  bubble pop up over her head; they’d have more emotion.  That brings me to another point. Despite their super powers, both  Silk Spectre (SS)  and Silk Spectre ll (SS ll) are lost without a man. The dialog between Jupiter and Dr. Manhattan is laughably bad. He’s trying to save the world, she wants to know why he doesn’t have time to pay attention to her and where is the relationship going. At certain points, I figured I must have been transported to the theater next door and was watching “He’s Just Not That in to You.” Showing Rohrshach as a severely dysfunctional human being works. Jupiter just looks like a stereotype of every needy woman ever seen on TV. Armed only with the knowledge that Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl  has a crush on her, she switches her affection from Dr. Manhattan to Nite Owl in a matter of minutes.

Don’t get me started on her mom (again, well played by Gugino).We’ve all been attracted to the bad boy at one time or another, but they usually haven’t beaten us eight ways to Sunday and tried to rape us. Please girl…  Why is it that when male characters are dysfunctional, it’s so much more interesting and for a diverse number of issues, whereas it seems like women’s dysfunction always plays out in their relationships with men and some variation of neediness? As if that’s the only connection they have with any worth.

Having said all that, there are moments at the end that almost salvaged the movie. I don’t want to give away any of the plot, but the last five minutes of the Watchmen’s trip to Anarctica and what transpires stayed with me long after the movie was over.  The questions of do motives matter? Do the ends always justify the means? Are there people so beyond repair that death comes as a blessing (well, I know the answer to that one is yes)? 

Since I am the music blogger here, I want to weigh in on the usage of music in the film. Tyler Bates’ score is very effective. Additionally, the licensed music, while never inspired, was clever throughout. I liked the device (even though it’s a well-worn one) of using a beautiful standard-in this case, Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable,” juxtaposed against the violence of the opening scene.  “Sounds of Silence” played over the cemetery setting also worked very well.  My favorite touch though,  was the moment when Adrian Veidt/Ozmandias, who is now the world’s most powerful man,  gets in an elevator and a cheesy, Muzak-version of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” played.

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