Last summer, the fanboy fest known as Comic-Con was buzzing with anticipation for the film adaptation of one of the most popular comic books of alltime. This past weekend finally saw the release of the long awaited Zak Snyder (300, Dawn of the Dead) film Watchmen, packing theatres all across North America with jaw-dropped comic book enthusiasts and average film goers alike.
Since its 1986 comic book release, The Watchmen saga has attained a devoted following of readers and has remained one of the most critically acclaimed pieces of comic book literature. While not having gained the mainstream fame like Batman, Superman, or Spiderman, the Watchmen film attempts to remedy this general anonymity.
Watchmen is a complex and philosophical film that provides a chilling exploration into the darker world of crime-fighting heroes . Despite the films relatively heavy content, its important to stress that David Hayter and Alex Tses screenplay allows those who are unfamiliar with comic book series to still appreciate and enjoy the film in its entirety.
The plot itself is very dense, and any attempt to elucidate the main plot points might result in a dozen tangents, leading to further digressions and detours. Films adapted from comics or graphic novels are perhaps easier to follow than a spoken or written explanation as the visual element is essential for plot development and understanding. So, with that in mind, please forgive the following, heavily condensed, plot summary.
The film takes place in 1985 America, a time where Nixon is still president. Yes, the same Richard Nixon who resigned in 1974. You see, the world in which the film takes place is a surrealrealist interpretation of 80s America. This alternative universe, which sees America victorious in Vietnam, and amidst heightened Cold War tension, is ultimately shaped by the presence of these masked crime-fighters.
The masked crime-fighting trend emerged during the 40s, but was eventually outlawed in 1977 by Nixon. After the murder of one of the original vigilantes however, The Comedian/Edward Blake (Jeffery Dean Morgan), along with the remaining crime-fighters (some original, others reincarnations of the originals) are forced to re-group and re-evaluate their role in the world as America and the Soviet Union verge on a nuclear holocaust.
While the actual aesthetic of the film and its digital effects are revolutionary, it is the story which is perhaps even more astonishing. The characters are all flawed, not quite like Superman and his whole kryptonite issue, but more like those of us who do not have secret lairs or the ability to leap over tall buildings in a single bound.
The Comedian, an emotionally skewed government pawn, is angry at the world. Hes seen the devastation and evil that exists and is simply fed up, but as a defense mechanism, attempts to be even crueler and harsher. Nite Owl (II) / Dan Dreiberg, convincingly played by Patrick Wilson, is reluctant to revisit his crime-fighting past, and struggles to regain his crime-fighting libido. Amidst his midlife crisis, Dreiberg begins an intimate relationship with Silk Spectre II/ Laurie Juspeczyk (Malin Akerman), a troubled young woman, struggling with her own domestic demons.
The other three primary characters, Doctor Manhattan / Jonathan Osterman (Billy Cudrup), Ozymandias / Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), and Rorschach / Walter Kovacs (Jackie Earle Haley), are considerably more complex. They provide a heightened sense of fantasy to the film and are of mental states that extend far beyond any average human being.
Zak Snyders directorial vision, large in scale and relatively true to the original comic, is simply stellar. His ability to direct fast-paced, bonecrunching, blood-splattering violence is accompanied by vivid historical reimaginings as well as tender, and at times highly erotic, love scenes. Its inevitable that Snyder will face criticism by hardcore Watchmen fans, but he deserves credit at least for not allowing this epic story to lose any of its intensity.
There is a glut of information presented to the audience. The film is 160 minutes of non-stop narrative; the sort of film that requires you to concentrate on every scene. While newcomers to the series can still enjoy the film, dont expect to get the full effect. Just like the original comic book, the film requires a second, third, or perhaps even a fourth revisit to truly identify the significance of the narrative minutia. And if youre not well versed in the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, behaviourism, and astro/nuclear physics, then much of the dialogue may not be as stimulating.
Perhaps the most surprising element of the film is its soundtrack. Snyder, rather than employing a lavish score, which is typical of the superhero genre, decides to use culturally significant popular music to heighten the dramatic moments. Bob Dylans Desolation Row , Jimi Hendrixs cover of Dylans All Along the Watchtower , and Nat King Coles Unforgettable are perfectly placed throughout the film.
This isnt your usual popcorn flick, so dont let the special effects and hype fool you. But if youre in the mood for a visually intense and intellectually arousing experience then, by all means, Watchmen is worth a watch.