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Quint weighs in on WATCHMEN!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my thoughts on WATCHMEN. I must preface this with a couple of things. First off, I will be discussing some specific spoilers, but I’ll make sure to hit those at the end of the review so if you don’t want to know you can be fairly certain of not hitting any huge spoilers through the main review. Secondly, this review needs to be taken in with a certain context. Much like Alan Moore and David Gibbons’ original comics, the movie is dense and packed to the gills with visual information, so my thoughts are first impressions. I’m eager to see it a second time to see what holds up, what is clarified and what, if anything, has less impact. I had to do the same with The Dark Knight, actually. So many layers, so much foreshadowing and ambiguous character development… that I had to see it a second time to actually explore the world presented on the screen. Now, WATCHMEN isn’t as good as THE DARK KNIGHT. I don’t think anyone can successfully argue that DARK KNIGHT is lesser filmmaking than WATCHMEN, but both share one common bond. They shouldn’t exist in this over-homogenized, lowest common denominator studio system that dictates what is made. DARK KNIGHT is the very first comic book movie to take the ludicrous and completely ground it in reality. Others have come close, but it was Dark Knight that reached the finish line completely. The villain was dark, the structure was uncommon, there were real threats, real deaths and true ambiguity in the villains and heroes alike. WATCHMEN is a near 3 hour long adaptation of one of the most dense and layered stories in the history of comic books. It’s a $100 million R-rated studio picture that keeps almost everything that people have been saying for two decades now would never ever make it into a movie. The gore, graphic violence, graphic sex, the comic’s structure, the foul language, the bleak ending, a main villain that is possibly the hero of the book depending on how you look at things, the blue genitalia and the overall grayness of character all survive in the context of what the book demands: an epic spectacle. I know there are those who would argue with me on that, but don’t misunderstand me. Spectacle isn’t what the book was about, but it’s very much part of the world. Can you imagine a film version without Mars? Can you imagine one without Antarctica? Or without the world-changing plot coming to fruition? In order for the characters to have the impact they were intended to we need to recognize them in a world of superheroes. In the comic it was a familiar comic world these radically different and flawed characters inhabited. They represented known comic archetypes and turned them on their heads. So, without the big budget spectacle the characters couldn’t exist in the film version of that world. Instead of just carrying over the comic book references, Zack Snyder also implements film references, which is probably why you can make allusions to Batman & Robin with Ozymandias’ nipple suit and why Nite Owl looks more like the Nolan Batman in costume than he does in the book. I think it’s amazing this film exists at all and is as close to the material as it is. I don’t think it’s flawless, I don’t think every part of the film works, but all that aside I’m still kind of dumbfounded that I watched this movie and that it’s coming out on many thousands of screens. For the first 20 minutes of the movie, I wasn't very involved. I noticed this when they showed the opening at BNAT, but I got the same feeling seeing it in context of the whole movie. I was detached. For the first 20 minutes I found myself just waiting to see the next scene from the comics come to life. I found it beautiful and well done. The world is gritty, real. The characters are true to form, almost to a fault. When you see the old Minutemen time the costumes do seem fucking ridiculous, but that’s the intention. I loved seeing the world realized, but I did have the disconnect that I still can’t quite put my finger on. I don’t know if I felt that because I knew the material and was anticipating the next moment or if there’s something missing in the connecting tissues or if I just needed that first reel to settle into the world. I still don’t know, which is one of the reasons why I look forward to revisiting the film. Since this is an ensemble, I’m going to go down a list of actors and characters and give you my brief thoughts on them. Jeffrey Dean Morgan/The Comedian - Morgan is actually great in this role, which is one of the toughest in the cast. He’s a despicable character, someone really hard to relate to, but Morgan somehow gets you cheering for this character at certain moments, even after you know how soiled he is as a person. It must have been hard for him to walk that line, but he pulled it off. I hate his old age make-up, though. It looks like they just brought in Edward James Olmos to play old Comedian for the opening. Carla Gugino/Silk Spectre I – Beautiful as always and fantastic in the flashbacks, but I think her old age make-up hurts her in the “current” scenes. It really is just terrible, looking like someone just smeared silly putty on her face. I think the Sally Jupiter/Laurie Jupiter relationship is also undercut a tad. I’m curious to see if there’s more in the longer cuts. Malin Akerman/Silk Spectre II – Akerman is gorgeous and generous with her sensuality, so that’s much appreciated. I don’t think she’s bad in the role at all, but I’d say of the cast she’s the weakest link. I know a lot of my friends had a lot of trouble with her line delivery, but it didn’t bug me. Ultimately, she embraces the strength and vulnerability of Laurie that is crucial to making her relationships with Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl work, so I wouldn’t say she’s miserable in the role. Billy Crudup/Dr. Manhattan – Jon Osterman is probably the most fascinating character in the story. A man who becomes a superpowered being in a world where there is none of his like. What happens when you become a God? How much humanity do you lose when you are no longer human, but your essence is retained? Billy Crudup is fantastic here, really acting through the effect. Crudup and Jackie Earle Haley are the two masterstrokes of casting of the movie, I feel. Crudup brings so much to every movement and his vocal performance is spot on. The second part to his performance, the digital representation of Manhattan, is well executed, too. There are only a couple of shots that really stood out to me as being digital. The rest of the time my brain was fooled into believing this radiant blue figure wasn’t a whole bunch of 1s and 0s and really there on the screen. Patrick Wilson/Nite Owl – Wilson really captures Dan Dreiberg’s uncertainty, his inner turmoil and quiet self-loathing. You almost get a feeling that Dan is punishing himself unconsciously for hanging up the costume while his conscious mind spends most of the day trying to convince him that he’s happy… living alone, in a world going to shit. He’s got the gut (although, admittedly not as pronounced as in the comic), the posture, the horrible glasses and the personality from the comic, but what’s more important is that he sells the transition, the excitement and the feeling of being alive once more when he puts the costume back on. It’s a rather thankless, but crucial role in a cast of flashier characters. Matthew Goode/Ozymandias – Probably the most scrutinized of them all in the lead up to release. I wasn’t sold on Goode in the role, but he did surprise me in the film. He has a near impossible task and I’ll get to that here in a bit, but he succeeds in bringing the Adrian Veidt from the comic to the screen in his performance. There will be those who frown upon his casting just for the fact that he should have been a more traditional Superman type full of charm and muscle. I see that, but it’s also been done. Look at Kinnear in MYSTERY MEN. Unfortunately, other films have stolen that concept before Watchmen could be made. I will say that I think if Snyder had been able to cast Tom Cruise in the role it would have been genius… not because Cruise could have delivered a better performance than Goode did, but because of the baggage that Cruise brings with him as an actor. Jackie Earle Haley/Rorschach – Haley is the star of the movie as far as I’m concerned. He swings for the fences with the fan-favorite role of the dark anti-hero Rorschach and hits a home run. Haley brings everything he has to this role and makes the impossible happen. He made me wish that Walter Kovacs stayed Walter Kovacs after he’s unmasked in the film. I wish he hadn’t gotten his “face” back. I never in a million years would have thought that I’d want more Rorschach without the mask, but Haley was so stellar without it that I wanted more. If Snyder got nothing else right, the fact that he nailed Rorschach so dead on would be his saving grace. But Snyder did come to this film with his A-game. I’ve seen arguments in the talkbacks about how he was not the right director for this material and I don’t understand it. If he tried to make this film like 300, all CG and machismo or even if he tried to make it like his DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, with the shakey cam and total reinvention of the original material then I’d be right there with you guys, but that’s not how he approached this film. In fact, I’d argue no one but Snyder could have made this film. Wait, wait… put those pitchforks and nooses away. I don’t mean that Snyder is the best director in the world or even the most interesting choice for this material. What I’m saying is that in the real world of filmmaking, there is nobody out there with the power and pull to have made a film like this, at this level, with the intent of keeping it as true to the source material as he did. It’s kind of a perfect storm situation. Warners was going forward with this and had just made a shit-ton of money on 300, an R-rated comic book adaptation. If Snyder had not made that film or if 300 hadn’t been so popular… or if 300 had been watered down to a PG-13… we wouldn’t be here today. Snyder never would have gotten offered the movie and even if he had been he never in a million years would have been in the position to strong-arm the studio into making it so long, with an R-rating and true to the tone, spirit and specifics of the comic. Visually, he’s done an amazing job. The slow motion isn’t over-used, but when he does use it he does it for a reason. I remember reading somewhere that Snyder said he’s using slow motion in this film as a way to make it feel more like the audience is reading the comic and it’s absolutely true. He slow motions on the splash pages or half-splashes… the incredible moments where you’d stop reading and take a moment to admire Dave Gibbons’ awesome work. Every moment where there’s slow motion I felt was picked specifically to reflect that feeling. He might have been blowing smoke up our asses, but watching the movie I couldn’t agree with his visual choices more. I think some of this cues are a bit off… he picks some great ‘70s and ‘80s music… everything from Jimi Hendrix to Simon & Garfunkel and a perfect song for the… erotic... moment on-board Archie… I won’t ruin it here, but it’s a great pick. Some of them feel perfect, but others feel unneeded. I know All Along the Watch Tower is mentioned in the graphic novel, but it felt a little out of place where Snyder chose to put it in the movie. In many ways I feel the film suffers a little from being too true to the comic. And this circles around to a point I brought up when talking about Matthew Goode’s performance as Ozymandias. Now would be a good time to stop reading if you’re wanting to steer clear of spoilers. I’ll be talking a lot about the end of the movie below. You have been warned. Matthew Goode has the most difficult part of the film, which has been a question on the mind of Watchmen fans since the very first attempt at adapting the material… How do you wrap everything up without making it 10 straight minutes of exposition as it is in the comic. In The Incredibles they call it monologing, where the villain has to explain his whole plot to the heroes and that’s the responsibility Goode has to shoulder here and while he did it the best he could it still feels like it slams the brakes and forces us to examine every part of his plot, even the most farfetched. I can’t offer up any ideas on how to avoid this, but it is a problem… however, it’s a problem that is brought directly over from the comic, so I doubt you’ll see much discussion about that from the fans. What you will see continuing on is the squid debate. That has been raging since the first indication that Snyder didn’t include the squid in the film and will continue on as long as there are fans that have breath. Now I’m seriously going to be discussing specifics on the ending, stuff that isn’t in the comics, so if you don’t want to know, please don’t continue on. Adrian’s goals are the same. He wants to create a worldwide catastrophe that ends the cold war and the probability of mankind’s ultimate destruction. How he does it has changed and the knee-jerk is to think it doesn’t work. I thought that as it was happening onscreen, but the more time I’ve had with it, the more I’ve thought about it the more I love it. Essentially, Adrian gives everybody a common enemy, just as he does in the comic. But instead of aliens, it’s Dr. Manhattan. He replicates Manhattan’s energy, with Manhattan’s unwitting help no less, and uses it to destroy strategic places. The arguments so far against this are real and understandable. Why wouldn’t the rest of the world assume Manhattan was working on behalf of the US? Why wouldn’t they still launch against the US in retaliation without thinking it over? They don’t expressly say it, but the impression I got is Adrian picked strategic points for his devastation. Sure, there are the high population centers all over the world, but he also targeted every nuclear site. The assumption is that he literally eradicated all the nukes so there’s no knee-jerk launch possible. But more importantly, what brings the world together is the fear of a vengeful God, not aliens. And that is the part that I love. The arms race doesn't continue because Manhattan seems to be so omniscient that everyone is afraid to develop such technology. They took something in Dr. Manhattan’s character already and really underlined it. Since so much of Manhattan’s character is his struggle to retain any sort of humanity while wielding the power of a God I think it was a fascinating choice to play that up and it’s a choice that puts character first, which I think most fans will be able to appreciate. What sells it to me is a line that Nite Owl has at the end of the movie when asked if he thinks everything will be all right now. He says something like, “As long as they think Jon’s still watching them, I think we’ll be okay.” Is it more typical to have little blue blasts going off instead of an alien invasion replicated? Sure. I, like the rest of you, would love to see that on the big screen if, for no other reason, to see something I’ve never seen before. But what they replaced it with works, not just for the story but for the characters. The complexity of the material is still there, the shades of gray in every character, good or bad, is still there. The bizarre alternate reality is still there. The comic’s flashback structure is still there. All the main character motivations are still there. I frankly am shocked that the problems I have with a studio-made Watchmen movie are essentially nit-picks. I hate the old age make-up on Gugino and Morgan. I think the Nixon make-up is ridiculous. I don’t like some of the song placement in the movie… some of the connecting tissues seem to be… slight… Malin Akerman is just okay as Laurie. Is that really all? Maybe I’ll find more to dislike upon my second viewing, but here’s where I stand on the film at this current moment. This is my first impression. I can say without any doubt whatsoever that everybody will worship Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach. I could watch a 3 hour movie of just Rorschach in prison and be the happiest boy on earth. He’s that good. Maybe I’ll have a better opinion on the overall vision when I see Snyder’s all-in cut, where Hollis has a full character and not a one-scene introduction, where the Black Freighter mirrors the world we’re experiencing and we get to have the kid and grumpy bastard at the newsstand pulled out of the background and more into the foreground. Right now I can’t really judge the lack of those scenes since I know they’re filmed and will be in a longer cut in the very near future. So, count me onboard with this one. There are things that have been changed that I don’t mind. It doesn’t bother me that the group they formed was called the Watchmen, it doesn’t bother me that The Comedian assassinated JFK… that fits with his character and only goes to give him more reason to be in the position he’s in when we first meet him… namely falling from a skyrise. If you think that stuff really will get to you, then you might have a different opinion than I do. But that’s where I stand. Damn, that was quite a lengthy review. Sorry for being so long-winded, but I had a lot to say about this one. I now need to pack up for WonderCon in San Francisco. I’ll be there from Thursday through Monday morning. If you’re attending, drop me an email. Depending on my schedule there should be some hang-out time available. -Quint

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