Andy Bockelman: 'Watchmen' is super, yet flawed edition of graphic novel

Andy Bockelman

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press. Contact him at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

Find more columns by Bockelman here.

— The smell of diesel exhaust from a mechanical avian named Archie, the sound of justice as a criminal's body crunches against the pavement, the surreal sight of man and woman as they peel each other's faces off like the layers of so many onions - all these sensory experiences and more explode off the screen in the revision of the cape and cowl set, "Watchmen."

In 1985 New York, the murder of Eddie Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) sparks a wave of controversy among his former colleagues - superheroes. Blake's notorious history as ultra-violent crime-fighter The Comedian has made him a lot of enemies, and his one-time associate, wanted vigilante Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), demands answers as to who has the vendetta against "masks."

But, as he investigates the mysterious circumstances, the rest of the world is more concerned with the prospect of World War III, a notion furthered by the work of super-being Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup). Manhattan's exposure to radiation has given him god-like matter manipulation powers, leaving both American and Soviet forces paranoid about his intentions as friction escalates by the day, setting the stage for a chain of events that could spell disaster for the entire world.

If nothing else, the film version of the revolutionary graphic novel of the same name is colorful in every respect, from language to set design to characters.

Haley's portrayal as the inscrutable narrator Rorschach is perfection from his classic film noir fedora/trenchcoat combination to the ever-changing black and white mask he considers a face, hence his name. It ain't easy being blue, but if you're Dr. Manhattan, it helps to have Crudup's pensive and detached tones boosting his performance as the near-alien entity.

But there are other actors in the lineup whose roles are either more grounded - Malin Akerman as Manhattan's paramour, Laurie Jupiter, who inherits the latex-laden persona of The Silk Spectre from her mother (Carla Gugino) - or eccentric Matthew Goode as the assuredly steady billionaire Adrian Veidt aka Ozymandias, The Smartest Man in the World - or just effortlessly drab Patrick Wilson as dorky Dan Dreiberg, who doubles as The Nite Owl, a would-be Batman clad in copper costume.

Still, no one is more real than Morgan as he plays the seriously unfunny Comedian - more villain than hero, as the heart of a true killer beats under the smiley-face button adorning his costume - over the course of four decades in various flashbacks.

Set against the timeline of an alternate America, the story casts dispersions upon the tried-and-true superhero narrative with a 1985 that has seen its protectors technically rendered powerless by a government mandate called the Keene Act but nonetheless still active.

The Oval Office still plays host to President Richard Nixon (Robert Wisden), never impeached for or even accused of involvement in the Watergate scandal, thanks to a U.S. victory in Vietnam. Cynicism hangs heavy as a result, and society has become more hateful, racist and violent, only to have someone as sadistic as The Comedian as a role model. Such is the tone in comic book writer Alan Moore's original work, leaping right off the page onto the screen.

Director Zack Snyder ("300") takes on the Herculean task of trying to preserve as much as the screenplay will allow of Moore's endlessly layered story and recreating the artwork of Moore's collaborator, Dave Gibbons. There is no shortage of images to watch for as each chapter of the story unfolds panel by panel, re-creating all the action, drama and humor of one of the most intense, adult graphic novels ever created and the only comic title to land on Time Magazine's list of the 100 Best Novels.

But whether you look at the tale as a murder mystery, a romance - between The Silk Spectre and The Nite Owl, primarily - or any other genre, it doesn't really come full circle, despite coming incredibly close.

While omitting the details as to the loose ends at the finale that are too easily tied up, one example of the botched transition to film is seen in the music - the moody Tyler Bates score sets the ambiance but clashes with a soundtrack that blares needlessly showy pop tunes such as Nena's '80s anti-war anthem "99 Luftballoons" and the Jimi Hendrix rendition of "All Along the Watchtower," as opposed to the original Bob Dylan version, which is quoted in the comic.

FYI: the only actual Dylan song is the all-too obvious, montage-driven "The Times They Are A'Changin'."

Instead of providing background atmosphere, the music takes over, filling any chance of quietude with an ironic displacement of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence."

Although undoubtedly exciting and resonant of the depth of Moore's prose, the audience of "Watchmen" must remain humble. The author's legendary hatred of Hollywood has resulted in Snyder's respectful observance of Moore's wishes that he remain uncredited on the film - movie and book can co-exist, but it's up to you if you see them as equals.

Comments

DV8 5 years, 1 month ago

Definately not bad, considering the book was considered "unfilmable".

Also, note that even though this movie is about superheroes, it is not appropriate for children. The comics were some of the first to carry the label "For Mature Readers".

Parents may want to watch it before allowing their children to.

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