Watchmen is widely regarded to be the best work of Alan Moore, widely regarded to be the best comic book writer of all time. It’s jam-packed with action, mystery, philosophy, and most importantly – superheroes. But even though all the ingredients for an amazing film are there, it doesn’t mean it’s what we’ll get. Previous film adaptations of Moore’s works have been, almost entirely, utter rubbish… From Hell was a dreary drudge through London with a drug-fuelled Johnny Depp (not good drug-fuelled like Nic Cage in Bad Lieutenant or Maradona in football, but bad drug-fuelled like everyone in Requiem for a Dream, or Bez from that band he was sort of in). Then came The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a film so bad it made Shir Shean Connery shtop acting. And V for Vendetta, the least crap. But still crap.
Moore himself, when asked about the film before its release, simply said: “Do we need any more shitty films in this world?” So perhaps Watchmen isn’t quite the safe bet is seems… So who to helm this daunting project? Zack Snyder – not to be confused with Rob Schneider, good god don’t ever confuse anything with… with… whatever Rob Schneider is. If you’re unaware Snyder is the man who previously brought us Olympic-sprinter zombies vs Ving Rhames (yes!) in Dawn of the Dead, as well as lots of muscly men in leather thongs in the homoerotic, historical (sort of) war flick, 300. Snyder has claimed this is his dream project, but will his dream become another Alan Moore nightmare?
Watchmen is set in a world where once beloved superheroes have now been outlawed, with most retired and living under new identities – but some still yearn to fight injustice. If this sounds familiar, it’s because this basic set-up was used by The Incredibles; however, while their backdrop was beautifully rendered CGI-land, Watchmen’s backdrop is an alternate version of 1985America, where the streets have never been less safe, Nixon has never been more in power and the cold war has never been hotter. All of this is established in the film’s opening sequence, a montage covering around 50 years of superhero-related events, and their rise and fall from grace. It’s beautifully shot, and manages to impart all the required information, while also hitting emotional notes and good gags – all without a word being said.
The film’s opening suggests anti-hero, The Comedian, assassinated JFK from the Grassy Knoll.
The film features brilliant send-ups of existent heroes, such as the tech-savvy Nite Owl (Batman), and the ridiculously over-powered Dr Manhattan (Superman), and somehow managed to get in decent backstories and developments for all five main characters – inside the 160 minute running time. This is slick and visually-stunning storytelling, and while at times it can feel a little bloated – Snyder and co have done a great job of condensing the twelve-book epic into one film. All the changes and cuts that were made seem intelligent, especially losing the book’s bizarre climactic creature – a gigantic alien with a face that looks a bit too much like a vagina.
The opening sequence is set to Bob Dylan’s “Times They Are A-Changing’”, an excellent accompaniment to some of the most enjoyable minutes I’ve spent in a cinema. In fact, throughout the film Snyder’s choice of music is interesting, and often enjoyable. There’s just one bit where… well, I’ll come to that later. The film’s visuals and knack for dramatic flare (with Rorschach having the best of the lines, with gems like: “The people of this city will look up and shout ‘save me!’ And I will whisper… no.”) is unquestionably excellent. For proof of this you need but watch the film’s stunning trailer.
The frankly bizarre alien, thankfully ditched from the film. You see it. I know you see it.
There is one point where, for me, Snyder firmly puts his foot wrong. This misstep comes in what is simply the worst sex scene I can think of (and I’ve seen Showgirls). The unerotica comes between Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), who can’t get it up unless he’s wearing the suit, and Silk Spectre II (Malin Åkerman – who never looks entirely comfortable in her incredibly revealing outfit). The Owl is out of practice and shape, where the Spectre seems very ill-at-ease throughout their fumblings – firmly fixed in some horrific place between teen and middle age. This whole sordid affair takes place in Nite Owl’s weird spaceship-plane, and at the climax he thrusts the Spectre onto a button which spurts a jet of flame. Yes. It’s an orgasm joke. And all of this is set to the tune of ‘Hallejulah’, by Leonard Cohen. I mean… what?
While the film’s cast are almost universally excellent, there are a couple who let the side down somewhat – I’m looking at you Åkerman and Matthew Goode (Ozymandias). I have to admit, though, that otherwise this film is about as good as it possibly could have been. Though if you haven’t read the comics you might want to grab yourself a third beer, as some elements will be lost on the uninitiated – but soon to be inebriated.
Is Nite Owl compensating for something?
After success with Dawn of the Dead and 300, Snyder delivers again. Once again he demonstrates his natural gift for a well-composed shot, superb production design, and a real comic-book feel. He is a master of geek-chic, there’s no denying.