Sunday, August 30, 2015

Watchmen (2009) Review:

With the creation of superheroes and comic books, the imagination of various artists and writers has endless boundaries. Once Hollywood proved to people and fans that adapting such works to film was doable, more and more studios began to hop on the gravy train looking for the most profitable opportunities to franchise. Whether it was mainstream or indie related, more and more comic book properties are being adapted to film due to the sheer craze that is consuming the movie business. For the majority of these cases however, very few productions involved adapt a graphic novel by the page. When it comes to this group of loyal fans, Watchmen (2009) is probably one of the few fans will say played it by the book (literally). Fresh off the critical and financial success of the Dawn of the Dead (2004) remake and 300 (2006), director Zack Snyder took on his second comic book adaptation (the first being 300 (2006)) and it performed just as well as Snyder's other projects.

"I believe I can flyyyyyy...."
Lots of fans and critics were pleased with Snyder's visual direction and the writing handled by Alex Tse (his first theatrical credit) and David Hayter (X-Men (2000), The Scorpion King (2002) & X-Men 2 (2003)). There are a number of good parts but for the average viewer, this film is just as confusing as it is watchable. The setting is in an alternate universe in 1985 where Richard Nixon was voted president for a third term. All superheroes must remain hidden and the cold war between the US and the USSR has escalated to where a count down takes place for when everyone fires nukes at each other. It's definitely new because honestly where would the world be if Richard Nixon continued his presidency? The plot is a crime mystery about a superhero named The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is killed by unknown assailant. Upon discovering this, the angry ink-faced detective Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) makes his mission to find out what happened while talking with his partners Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) and Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson).

Now, if this were just a crime thriller or a superhero Vs government debacle or a cold war fight, then the story structure to this would be a lot easier to follow. Unfortunately Hayter and Tse's writing tries to infuse all these giant plots together and it becomes quite difficult to follow for a number of reasons. A big problem is a constant shift in focus. There is nothing wrong with having multiple main characters as long as they are properly developed, and they are in this film. The issue is, the way each character is developed is so detracting from one another, and it begins to get confusing on what the main point of the scene was all about. Another flaw is the unequal tone in its storytelling. Frequently the way at which scenes and characters are shown dramatically swap between serious and comedy in almost surrealist like viewing as if the audience is supposed to laugh. Was this supposed to be a partially black comedy? Some of the sick humor is clear while other times not. The continuity related to time feels all over the place as well.

There are certain main characters that have a picture taken in 1940 and at that point they look like they're in their 30s. Jump to the current period and some of them look no different while others aged. How is it that some aged and others not? This can throw off viewers because they can't tell if they're watching the current or past time. It's not even that frustrating that the film is 3 hours long. It's just that with all this run time, perhaps something would feel in order? There are some areas that pick up for these errors. A big plus is the acting by all actors. The actor who looked like he had the most fun and who many people enjoyed was Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. The trench coat, fedora, the Rorschach ink blot mask and the gruff angry voice is makes the character so memorable. All the costume designs are unique in their own way as well. The special effects to Rorschach's mask and Dr. Manhattan look great too.

The action is another important key note. For most mainstream comic book movies that belong to logos like DC or Marvel, most are kept PG-13 for the sake of wider audience distribution and better ticket sales. By 2009 Marvel had a number of R rated films in their library like the Punisher, Blade and Man-Thing features. As for DC, this would be their first R rated superhero film and it is gloriously graphic. Maybe not bucket loads of blood are dropped but some scenes can make the viewer wince at just the thought of what is displayed. The cinematography by Larry Fong is decently crafted. Being that he worked with Snyder on 300 (2006) only seems familial and his work is well integrated in with the CGI. Sadly the film score composed by Tyler Bates and the soundtrack was disappointing. For one, Bates does not have a main theme for the protagonists so that's a bit dumbfounding to start off with. Any other tracks in between aren't really developed and mostly overshadowed by all the soundtrack songs that include various 1980s artists. Again, the music adds to that strange offbeat tone that shows its face time and again. Is it supposed to be hilarious?

It has well designed special effects, gory action set pieces, effective acting and good-looking camerawork. However, its good doesn't make up for the bad. The film score is minimally empty, the soundtrack library of songs and part of its writing don't mix well and create an uneven tone in overall seriousness. There are timeline continuity errors and the focus alternates too much with an overabundance of main plot lines.

Points Earned --> 5:10

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