Yes, the rumors are true: I have finally seen Watchmen. In brief, I liked it. I liked it quite a bit–maybe more than I thought I would.
For the purposes of this review, I think I should first let you all know about my relationship to Watchmen. I have read Alan Moore’s opus. While I enjoyed the book, and acknowledge the influence it had on the comic book industry, I do not consider it to be Holy Scripture. In fact, given the choice, I’d probably choose to re-read Chris Claremont’s Dark Phoenix Saga before I’d choose Watchmen. That’s actually one of the reasons I waited so long to see the movie. If it sucked, I did not need to get trampled in a stampede of rabid Alan Moore fans as they charged out of the theater to set cars on fire.
Turns out I really didn’t have much to worry about.
What worked? Well, for starters, the cast. I’m pretty willing to accept other people’s opinions about things–especially since I expect the same in return–but, if you’ve read Watchmen and do not think that Jackie Earle Haley totally nailed Rorschach, then you obviously hate puppies, candy, and America. Sure, Haley’s “I’m the Goddamn Batman” growl isn’t exactly how I imagined the character would sound, but all other things being equal, it worked pretty well. Haley might have walked away with the movie, but Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Patrick Wilson were also quite good as The Comedian and Nite Owl, respectively. I’m willing to admit that I might be the only person on the planet who was excited to see Matt Frewer playing Moloch and Rob LaBelle as Wally Weaver–possibly the first time since Taken that these two fine character actors have appeared in the same production–but, I did “squee” internally when I saw them both for the first time.
Now, what can I say about Malin Akerman? Correction: What can I say about Malin Akerman that won’t get me smacked by every woman I know? Yes, Akerman’s Silk Spectre was pretty easy on the eyes.* She also kind of looks like an adult version of Violet Parr, which is not a bad thing:
If I have one negative thing to say about Akerman’s performance it’s this: she comes off as too young. Unless my math is off, Jupiter was about 27 when the Keene Act was passed, which would make her 35 in 1985. Akerman, god bless her, looks at least a decade younger. Not a deal breaker, just an observation.
For the most part, I think Billy Crudup did a pretty good job as Doctor Manhattan, although there were times when he came off as childlike, as opposed to disconnected. I think the real weak link in the cast was Matthew Goode. For someone who’s supposed to be the perfect human, Goode’s Ozymandias comes off as excruciatingly bland. Maybe I’ve misread him in the book, but I would have expected him to be much more charismatic and a lot less…dull.
From a storytelling standpoint, both David Hayter and Zach Snyder did a good job of cutting down the massive text of Moore’s original, without losing too much of the core story. The decision to use the opening credit sequence to tell a large chunk of the Minutemen backstory was a brilliant one, as were the decisions made regarding which aspects of the main characters’ backstories to include, and which to cut. I was blown away by the adaptation of “The Abyss Gazes Also” and “Old Ghosts”–my favorite chapters–although I must agree with the overwhelming sentiment that the bathroom scene between Rorschach and Big Figure came off as a bit odd.
Personally, I didn’t miss the squid. Again, this could go back to my whole “I don’t worship at the altar of Watchmen” thing, but I think the change works. From a storytelling point of view, there wasn’t nearly enough time to fully explain Ozy’s giant mutant brain-squid. However, we were shown the destructive nature of Doctor Manhattan’s powers throughout the entire film. (It just struck me this morning that the Watchmen film basically used the “exploding man” story that Heroes did at the end of its first season, a storyline that was attacked for “stealing” the idea of destroying New York to create world peace from Moore’s Watchmen…and I found the whole thing pretty funny.)
Oh, and was it me or was Archie’s flamethrower the greatest ejaculatory metaphor ever caught on film?
What didn’t work? The slo-mo. Stop with the slow motion action scenes already, will ya! Enough. Once or twice, maybe, to prove a point or show something particularly awesome, but you don’t have to do it every time someone throws a punch. I fear that the “Superhero Slo-Mo” may soon ruin films just like Bullet Time did.
Overall, I’d give Watchmen a 9 out of 10, with most of that last point going in the “Not bad, but not what I would have done” column.
*: Seriously, have you seen Malin Akerman?!?