Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (The "Watchmen" review)

The above question was first asked by the Roman poet Juvenal, which translates to "who watches the watchmen?" or "who guards the guardians?" Socrates also was asked the question, and in Plato's The Republic, his answer is simple: they will guard themselves against themselves.

But the real question is, who will guard me against mediocrity?

I have a soft spot for Watchmen. The graphic novel, that is. It really opened doors for me, showed me how unconventional fiction can be, how the structure isn't always limited to simple words and paragraphs, but can unfold right before your eyes. I remember finishing it for the first time, about six years ago, breathless and shaking and refusing to believe it was over. This, I thought, is the Great Modern Novel everyone's always talking about, right here in my hands, all 416 pages of it.

When they announced a film adaptation, I was psyched for a split second before I realized that they were going to allow an industry that doesn't believe in making films for the sheer art of it to film an unfilmable subject.

Needless to say, I wasn't too thrilled with the film.

Yes, to the haters who will probably hunt me down and firebomb my car, it was practically panel-for-panel. But that can limit a film, especially when you're also lifting dialog that just doesn't translate well from the page to the screen. Rorschach's narration was awkward and unbelievable at times. Each scene worked if you viewed them individually, but not as a whole. The direction and flow of the movie was so disjointed that I actually stopped caring at one point. Cohesion? Why would you ever need that in a film?

Don't even get me started on the laughable soundtrack. Or the uncomfortable sex scene (which Zach Snyder seems to just LOVE putting in his films... Remember 300?). I was disappointed in the lack of character development, too.

There were some character changes that I just didn't enjoy. One of which being Rorschach's coherence. In the novel, he's rather... um, fucking insane? Is that the word I'm looking for? Yes, I do believe it is.

I also didn't enjoy how sinister Veidt was. In the novel, he always seemed at least a little human, but in the movie he really came off as cold and calculating. Even his rationale about the detonation and the resulting fallout was just so... inhuman. I was really upset that the "I did it!!" scene from the novel never made it in, since it was such an emotional reaction. But sacrifices must be made in the transition from page to film.

Dr. Manhattan's character was changed, too. And he was also hung like a friggin' draft horse.

However, errors and bad decisions aside, the casting was rather brilliant, Jackie Earle Haley and Matthew Goode in particular. Both slipped into their roles with frightening ease and really stole the show. Patrick Wilson, who is a fantastic actor, really sold me as Nite Owl II, not afraid to show the audience that boyish charm and conscience that we see in the novel. However, it was Carla Gugino as Silk Spectre I and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian who really captured my attention. Casting JDM was a stroke of pure genius -- he's exactly as I pictured The Comedian in my head, right down to the jaunty gait and his smoke-over-gravel voice. Ms. Gugino shone as the aging hero, the bitter quirk to her lips telling of a lifetime of unhappy stories and countless disappointments. She was fantastic.

My only qualms were with Malin Akermann and Billy Crudup as Silk Spectre II and Dr. Manhattan, respectively. Akermann definitely had the look down, but I couldn't stand her. Her acting was dry and lifeless, and she showed no facial expressions whatsoever. Even after learning a very important secret, there was no emotion. I watched her, thinking, "Fortunately Snyder wanted no reaction from her in this movie". As far as Crudup goes... I don't know what it was, but he rubbed me the wrong way. Which is funny, because I'd normally let that man rub me however he wants. I just don't think he was right for the part, although he definitely looked like Ostermann, pre-accident.

The opening credits left me breathless, though. I thought they were absolutely perfect and will probably go down in history as the best of their kind. Kudos, yU+Co Design & Animation!

Overall, the film kept me rather detached throughout and I didn't actually leave satisfied as so many Watchmen fans did. Which is a shame, because I really wanted to. That being said, as many faults as it has, I think this is as good of an adaptation as we'll ever get.

The unfilmable film still remains as such.

I give Watchmen 3.5 out of 5.


Dan said...

Another mediocre review! I'm so torn - I think it looks great, but I can't get the stink of 300 out of my memory. At least you're slightly positive, which makes my decision slant a little towards "See it."

R.C. said...

Maybe I should lower my expectations...

But seriously, I'm telling you to go see it and decide for yourself. This was just my opinion. My well-thought out, rational and awesome opinion.

Go see it. Preferably in IMAX.

And I'm sorry your book sucked.

Jill said...

I've seen much worse movies, but I still wouldn't recommend Watchmen. If you've got to see it, I'd suggest waiting for the rental. Bottomline, it was boring. Very, very boring.

R.C. said...

It's hard to call the movie boring, as it really wasn't a superhero film; a political satire, yes; a reflection on mankind's many anxieties and obsession with war, yes; the question of authority in a world that longs for it but abhors it when it's there, yes.

But if you went looking for a superhero movie, you weren't ever going to find it in "Watchmen". The fight scenes were short and really didn't do much than remind us that these people used to be heroes.

Although I didn't care for it, I wouldn't not recommend it.