Watchmen, directed by Zack Snyder, opened to much acclaim. The film has massive appeal to comic and graphic novel fans, as it is one of the most anticipated adaptations ever. Additionally, the film has drawn crowds from outside of the comic realm, attracting a healthy mix of sci-fi and action lovers, plus the techie crowd who simply adores anything with good special effects.
The film starts out very strong, with instant action followed by a very well done montage to get the viewer pulled into the story. The montage has some very artful camera work and features Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin.'” It sets the tone early on for cinematic greatness, but much to the audience’s chagrin this tone gradually diminishes. The strong start with slow deterioration is reminiscent of the director’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.
After the powerful opening scenes, the plot begins to gradually unfold into several threads, the most worthwhile one being Rorschach’s. It is not surprising that Rorschach’s character is the saving grace of the film, since he was unquestionable one of the favorite characters from the textual version of Watchmen. Rorschach, played by Jackie Earle Haley, touches the entire audience spectrum. His very nature as a costumed hero pleases the sci-fi lovers, action buffs will appreciate his almost sadistic nature, and his mask shows off some impressive shifting CGI inkblots for the technies. Furthermore, those who appreciate deep story and well developed characters will love Rorschach’s back-story, coupled with the noir vibe emanated by his gruff narration.
Rorschach aside, many other characters were unbelievable. Of course this is not related to their abilities, since any move-goer would expect supernatural powers and unbelievable abilities in Watchmen. No, their unbelievable nature comes from their actions and the occasional cheesy scenes. The actors and actresses in the film demonstrated poor inflection and limited emotional range throughout many crucial scenes. Furthermore, the scenes were often overdone and became clichés of themselves. The awkwardly lengthy love scenes come to mind; while certain love scenes were meant to be devoid of emotion, the blissful moments still felt empty and odd. Now imagine this poor emotional resonance coupled with the out-of-place song “Hallelujah” playing in the background.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character, The Comedian, offers additional layers of believable acting, but his role in the film is limited primarily to flashbacks and establishing the back-stories of the other, less impressive characters. Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan could have been a salvageable role with slightly better writing. Crudup did manage to convey a neutral and monotone voice for the character who sees things from a detached perspective, yet the scenes with Dr. Manhattan are hard to swallow because of the poor acting unfolding around him, as well as the constant display of Dr. Manhattan’s private parts. While the first few times of showing Dr. Manhattan’s blue, glowing, nude form may have been artsy and interesting, as the movie continued it just became obnoxious. While other characters got regular close-ups and other angles, it seemed that Dr. Manhattan’s shots were inordinately comprised of full-body frames.
Also, despite the expensive special effects that went into Dr. Manhattan, the overall look of the film and its characters is one more campy than sincerely “real” and believable. Yet again, Rorschach saves the film’s edginess, with his rough-hewn costume and dark posturing.
Overall, the film has some positive character development coupled with some other horrendous cinematic choices. It is relatively consistent with the graphic novel, though there were obviously changes for the big screen. The film deteriorates to near-dust by the end, but is somewhat salvaged by a nice framing effect courtesy of the dynamic Rorschach. The film deserves a solid 7 out of 10 for its ambitious nature yet semi-poor delivery; Watchmen has its moments, especially early on, and is a good pick for most audiences that appreciate action and adventure, but those who are interested entirely in characters and story will want to see a different flick.