Comic book movies have had a lukewarm reception from American movie audiences. They either love them or hate them and there is no in between. Director Zack Snyder can now have the distinction of making what might be considered the first comic book movie that has received mixed reviews from critics and fans alike. It isn’t so much that the movie fails – far from it, it just does not live up to the hype that has been surrounding its release for all these years (talk of this movie has existed since the late 80’s).
Snyder (from 300 fame) is a rather stylish director and can create some of the most brilliantly composed images seen in the movies these days. He does deserve some credit for that because in a day and age of boring blandly composed shots dominating the cinema it is refreshing to see someone actually take the time to make the frame full of life and detail. Unfortunately quantity does not always equal quality and almost immediately we begin to see that this movie does not have what it takes to live up to the brilliant graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. The story, for those who may not know, is about a group of disgruntled super heroes who have been forced into retirement because of a law passed by the United States government. When one of the heroes is thrown out the window of his twenty story apartment the rest start wondering if there is someone going around killing all the old heroes. The story begins to take some unexpected turns and ends on a rather depressing note.
Watchmen has been seen by many critics as pointless because it does not have the same kick as the source material, which was also a reflection of post Vietnam politics and hard-core nihilistic philosophy. The characters are all flawed and some have serious psychological issues. While most of them would not be considered sane they all have one thing in common. They are all humans who have some sort of problem that most people can relate to. Rorschach, for example, is a man who is completely jaded by the American justice system so he takes the law into his own hands by tracking down kidnappers and murderers and killing them in cold blood. Not someone most people would relate to but he ends up being the most interesting character in both the book and the movie, so at least I can say that Snyder got that right.
The biggest problem I have with the movie is that the ending was changed in a way that may not seem like a big deal to those people who haven’t read the book, but has infuriated most fans because it blames the big event that happens on a really major character instead of offering up a rather big moral dilemma like in the book. By doing this Snyder suggests that he does not seem to really understand one of the book’s main ideas. Is it possible to save numerous people by killing a small portion of them, and is it worth it? This is not to say, however, that the movie is a complete dud.
The movie does have a brilliant title sequence in which we see all the old superheroes and current ones posing in some of history’s most famous and infamous moments like the end of World War II and Andy Warhol unveiling his new print of one of the masked heroes. The movie also sticks to the source material fairly well, dealing with some of the story’s best points as well as keeping the tone of the book fairly intact. Also some of the performances are absolutely perfect, especially Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. He is able to articulate exactly what Rorschach was supposed to be about and embodied his every mannerism to make anyone believe that they are watching the drawing of the character jump off the page and on to the screen.
So the real question is should you go see this movie? The answer is yes, but do so with the knowledge that it is not going to live up to the hype created by the trailers and ads seen on television. It is an enjoyable movie and definitely has some periodic moments of brilliance that make it worth seeing, so if you have some time this weekend go and shell out the seven dollars to see it.