Zack Snyder directs Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson and Jeffery Dean Morgan in this faithful adaptation of the graphic novel that explores an alternative 20th Century where right wing superheroes exist uneasily with history.
Like Mike Nichol’s Catch-22, Michael Radford’s 1984 or Mary Harron’s American Psycho, Snyder sidesteps the process of reformatting a massively unwieldy classic piece of literature (assumed unfilmable) and rather cleverly just recreates as many of the important moments that fit together and stringing them on like beads into just about an acceptable running time. Faithfulness is Watchmen’s key selling point. It is faithful to a fault – as every key image and scene is resurrected from the frames and pages like it was a holy text, visual deviation is sacrilege. This means even for the initiated so much is squeezed onto a 150 minute buffet plate it is all becomes fascinatingly indigestible in one or two sittings and the relentlessly dense pace means that certain key players shift from what was essential on page to almost Scooby Doo style villain on screen (Ozymandias I’m looking at you… as it seems fake Richard Nixon gets more field time than this integral member of the Watchman team). The characters have been cast with look in mind rather than chemistry, the direction is focussed on getting each shot flawlessly xeroxed exact leaving little room for personality. The cast just sit lifelessly in perfectly recreated tableaux, like mannequins in burning storefront window. We have no connections with these sketches, care little for their machine emotions or plot dictated concerns, with the exception of a horrifying pair; Haley’s psychotic Rorschach and Morgan’s right wing enforcer The Comedian. These characters explore the violent underclass and the conservative conspiracy to oppress them in a capitalist dystopia. They are also the most fun – both performers approach their monsters with glee and zeal. Nasty pieces of work who excel at ultra violence and are repulsed at the alternate history that has both shaped them and they have shaped. The oh so 2009 CGI enhanced action feels overly embellished and already dated but to be honest adding a scene or two that lasts more than a minute, even if it is some hyper-stylised slow motion fighting, gives the viewer appreciated room to breathe from the plot, plot, plot plot, plot, plot… And in the rare instance where Snyder does sin and navigate away from Moore and Gibbons source material (big tweaks to THAT ending) we get, in my eyes, an actual massive improvement, a noteworthy update. The hints of sex and kink have been locked onto and blown up as well, satisfyingly so. Often this feels like cape and cowl pornography, and I write that as praise. There have been more engaging and more exciting and more inventive and more masterfully made films in the last seven years, at least a hundred I’d rate over this… Yet I keep returning to Snyder’s Watchmen, keep putting it on. Like the bloody gum hole where a tooth has fallen out, my tongue keeps lapping at it and exploring it. Watchmen is a fascinatingly reverential monument to a classic comic book, an eye popping prayer, and gory, nihilistic act of devotion. Watchmen is watchable and rewatchable. More importantly, it is fucking cinema.