“This is a joke. This is all a joke.” – Edward Blake “The Comedian”
I’ve never read the Watchmen comic book, having first heard of it when the film’s release generated exceptional buzz. Friends of mine raved over the comics. After reading mixed film reviews from others, I’m grateful not to have read the comic book, watching the film with no expectations and open arms.
I could sense I was about to experience something different with the scene’s jarring opening sequence, the Comedian launched from his apartment window and into a rainy night, splattering onto a New York sidewalk, his smiley face badge still intact. The film then opens with the credits while showing us a history of the birth and decline of the Minutemen and the passing of their legend to the Watchmen, while Bob Dylan’s Times are A-Changin plays, along with snapshots of significant moments in history. This is captured with montages, each spectacular, filled with color and energy, letting the audience absorb each scene’s story.
The rain continues to pour down throughout the film, giving us a rotting city that Rorschach describes with anger, narrating from his cryptic journal. The darkness is embraced not just by the city but surprisingly by some of the superheroes as well, such as the Comedian savagely attempting to rape his fellow super hero Sally Jupiter and Adrian Veidt’s sinister plan to remake the world, his God complex in full bore. This, however, is the magnetic pull for the film, showing flawed superheroes that are insensitive, impotent and insecure, and mostly without actual super powers, showing themselves to be humans with a deranged mentality, storming through New York ready to save us when they are the ones that need to be saved from themselves.
The soundtrack is compelling, from Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watch Tower” to Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence” (beautifully coordinated with the Comedian’s funeral), both songs initially used in the comic. The masterstroke is using Mozart’s “Requiem” near the end of the film, signifying the death of the world as Veidt’s bombs pummel the major cities of the world into dust. Fatally, though, Snyder uses Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” during Silk Spectre’s over the top sex scene with Nite Owl II.
The main characters aren’t portrayed by superstar actors but mostly somewhat proven faces or those on the fringe, giving each character a fresh feeling and believability, with none of the baggage that a marquee actor would bring. Everyone performs well, with stand out performances given by Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (the Comedian). Unfortunately, Malin Akerman is underwhelming, giving a flat performance and unable to keep up with the rest of the stellar cast, though, she looks every inch the super hero in her rubber outfit, performing many of her own stunts as well.
Director Zack Snyder gives us a modern film noir casted with superheroes and endless possibilities, an exciting new approach that was only hinted at with Tim Burton’s Batman. Snyder uses slow motion extensively so we can clearly see the power of the action, such as Silk Spectre barely escaping an exploding fire and Veidt’s escape from an assassination attempt. Visually the film is stunning, the colors and special effects overwhelming at times, leaving the senses in awe. Snyder’s vision and feel for his material is thorough and complete, a film that covers the many sided layers of life, reflected in our beloved, corrupt anti superheroes.
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Tags: Adrian Veidt, Billy Crudup, Bob Dylan, Comedian, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jimi Hendrix, Leonard Cohen, Malin Akerman, Minutemen, Mozart, Rorschach, Sally Jupiter, Simon and Garfunkel, Tim Burton, Watchmen, Zack Snyder