Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Watchmen - Movie Review

WATCHMEN (***1/2) - Starring Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Carla Gugino and Matt Frewer.
Directed by Zack Snyder.

I loved it.

I read the graphic novel for the first time about seven months ago, and I haven't read it since. I tend to want to read books before the movie comes out, but I also wanted the memory to fade so when I watched the movie, I could let some elements surprise (beyond what the filmmakers are changing). Seven months isn't enough time to forget a lot; there were only a few points where I wondered "Did they change that from the book?"

I thought the opening credit sequence was great, to the tune of "Times They Are A-Changing" as we watch the revisionist history of the United States if superheroes had been around. It gets in a lot of backstory in three minutes. In fact, the whole soundtrack rocked for me, finding perfect spots for "All Along the Watchtower", "99 Red Balloons", "Hallelujah", and a great closing credit song with My Chemical Romance's cover of "Desolation Row."

Yes, the movie is admirably faithful to the source material, something that can't be said for a lot of previous Alan Moore adaptations (see The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Or don't.) Most of the changes made, I agree with. I'm glad they cut all the stuff with the kid at the newspaper stand reading the comic book about pirates. It added a level to the graphic novel, but we can't have a five-hour movie.

The stand-out in the cast for me was Jackie Earle Haley as Rorshach. Rorshach has the best story-arc anyway, but Haley has to do most of it behind the inkblot mask. Haley has the raspy Batman-voice thing going, but he's able to convey menace with a slight head-nod. By the time his mask is ripped off, I was giddy to see what Haley was going to do and he didn't disappoint. I was also impressed with Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan. The big blue demi-god is emotionally detached, and Crudup, who arguably had the hardest job, keeps him believable. Patrick Wilson is fine as the impotent Nite Owl, a guy who's regressed into his Clark Kentisms the longer he's retired. Matthew Goode was okay as Ozymandias, nothing really special there. Malin Akerman was flat as Silk Spectre for me, but not bad enough to drag the movie down.

I'd be curious about what people thought who hadn't read the graphic novel first. It's a deconstructing take on superheroes, showing that after a few decades of vigilantism, most of the "masks" have been psychopaths themselves. Superheroes have eventually been outlawed, except for Dr. Manhattan, who works for the US government.

We see the Comedian attempt rape and later kill a woman pregnant with his child. We see Rorschach do a number of bloody killings (although I liked the more subtle way he dispatched of the child killer in the book). Dr. Manhattan wins the Vietnam War by walking across the fields and making bodies disintegrate by pointing at them. It's violent stuff.

The ending is different, but I think this ending would be more palatable for non-fans, and I don't think it's worse than the book's ending. Some of the plot points have been used in everything from The Incredibles to Heroes, but this came first.

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