Saturday, March 7

Review: Watchmen (2009)

Directed by Zack Snyder
Screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse based on the comic books written by Alan Moore (uncredited) and illustrated by Dave Gibbons

I am at a great disadvantage here. Being all too familiar with the comic books---a worshiped masterpiece in the geekverse, Alan Moore's defiant Vormachtstellung that not even today's James Joyce-redefining comic scribes like Grant Morrison (Final Crisis) can usurp---I can only see Zack Snyder's Watchmen as a homage, a greatest hits collection with a catchy, hook-heavy beginning, a drawn-out middle, and a choppy ending that betrays the strength of its parts.

A "fascinating failure" as Brian Michael Bendis puts it, but also undeniably a creature of fierce beauty, Watchmen is at its strongest when it is a superhero movie. From the gracefully brutal murder to the stunning opening credits, part 1960s centerfold posters, part proletarian art, Snyder, right from the outset, obviously wears his heart on his sleeve. He doesn't just shoot locations, he meticulously dresses them up with panel-accurate details only a minority will appreciate. But still lovingly done. The movie begins with such infectious giddiness that it's impossible not to get carried away by the costumes, the bluesy-noir cityscape, by Jackie Earl Haley's perfectly tuned: Rorschach's Journal. October 12th, 1985.

After the novelty of aesthetics wear out, after you're knee-deep in the fractured lives of the characters, the cracks begin to show. Again, maybe it's just my familiarization with where the story is headed, but the reverence to the source material that propelled the early parts to such great heights has made a middle that sorely needs editing. I did not enter the movie house expecting a direct translation of the comic (we have the Watchmen motion comics for that) but somewhere in the middle, it began feeling like one. Rorschach's investigation loses its momentum with every character back story, which worked on the page but chops the film's pace awkwardly. To put it simply, Snyder's attempts to infuse the movie with layers---socio-political, textured tones, the now famous buzz phrase deconstruction of the superhero---is strained.

Strangely enough, and I have to agree with AICN on this one, it is the action sequences (the Park Chan-Wookian prison escape) that reveal the heart of the movie. Even frustratingly vacant Malin Akerman (Silk Spectre II) delivers the punches with much gusto. All the blood splatters and crunching bones become anthems of good winning over evil, of despair, judgment and deliverance. I love it how everything seems to boil down to something as basic as fist fights even in the brink of extinction. It's the most human act of the movie. It's the most any of us could do.

In many ways, the question Who Watches the Watchmen? held the book together. The superheroes themselves were metaphors for moral guardians, governments, Justice Leagues and Avengers, anyone who makes it their duty to dictate, to judge, to save. Who watches them?

Who's watching Zach Snyder because the singular theme, the raison d'être that makes Watchmen the comic book a timeless example of great writing is missing from Watchmen, the movie?

So here's my simile for the entire experience: Watching Watchmen is like watching a tightrope performance in a circus. It's breathtaking. It's dizzying. It's wobbly and one can't help but wonder if the movie will make it through in one piece to the end.

The ending of the movie does reflect the comic book's but at this point, Snyder's direction is all over the place at what should be (ironically) the point of convergence for all characters. By taking out the fantastic (the giant squid), the exposition is bogged down by too many details, by misplaced slow-mo sequences, by cut to cuts of several locations that when the great reveal is divulged, it's more like a sigh of relief that the movie has finally reached this point.

Who Watches the Watchmen? a distant whimper, lost in translation.


Watchmen posters here.
Watchmen Box Office Watch here.
Watchmen Videos, The Complete Collection here.


Andy Briones said...

I was suppose to watch this today, but I was so exhausted after sitting through the 2-hour odyssey known as Padyak that I just decided to go home and hit the bed.

I haven't read your review yet; I'll read it after I've seen the film. :-)

Thor said...

How's Padyak? Was planning to catch that yesterday too but second viewing of Watchmen with my sister left me in a coma.

Watchmen soundtrack (the songs) sucks. Uber corny. Hahaha!

Andy Briones said...

Padyak tends to be overly sentimental; mejo may pagka sappy. Plot wise, it's okay; the execution though is really bad.

I was planning to watch Booking, then Watchmen after Padyak, but I really got exhausted with the latter.

Wait, you saw Watchmen twice? Holy kamolie. Hehe.

Started watching Season 4 of Project Runway. That Christian guy gets on my nerves. And so does what's-her-face; the new age woman who nearly got eliminated in the first episode.

Thor said...

And it looks like I'll have to watch it for the third time. I promised a lot of friends that I will see it with them. Now, I'm demanding free movie tickets and food to get me through Watchmen.

I don't mind Christian but what's-her-face is truly annoying, Bjork on LSD annoying. Has she spit on her fabric yet? Heh.

Andy Briones said...

I haven't seen that episode yet, but I saw the preview. Eeeew. Eeeew. Eeeew.

Swear to god, there's some serious grossness going on in Season 4.