Watchmen: The Movie Review I Never Wanted to Write…
It has been heralded as the greatest graphic novel of the modern age. A work of genius, showing the dark, seedy underbelly of a world gone wrong. It’s one of the rare gems that shows that sequential art can be considered literature rather than frivolous flight of fancy reserved for drug store wire book racks and dank stores filled with musty fanboys. It was supposed to be the pinnacle, harnessing the notoriety that many other artists try to achieve. The “brass ring” so to speak. Yes, I speak of Watchmen. The Graphic Novel, mind you, as the film is unfortunately not in the same league.
We all wanted it to be brilliant. We all wanted it to blow away the past summer blockbusters based upon special effects, show that the fantastic story could be embodied on screen and do the book justice…
We were wrong.
Before I continue any further, this post will be so utterly spoiler laden, that if you were to read this with the expectation of it being a clean post, your head would explode from the sheer amount of detail I will go into here. You’ve been warned (Not like I think anyone reading this blog hasn’t read it / seen it anyway). Let us begin.
Disappointment abounded from when I began to observe what was shaping up to be the main through line: the very brutal beginning of the story that was to be quick and dirty, was doled out into a extremely long Snyder-SloMo™ scene where we might as well have had both the parties involved (Edward Blake & Adrian Veidt) return to their respective corners after the round bell was rung by the ref. This really set the tone for how the combat was going to be shown for the next 3 hours: 300-esque slo-mo wire-fu. As I had feared, this beginning –like a drunken Silver Surfer– was a crass herald of what was to come.
COntinuing into the film. there are so many things I took umbrage with, that I wish I could go by the timecode and nitpick each of the issues, but that seems too petty. I’ll give a general overview with what I think are the most egregious offenses of the film, and allow less important things to fall by the wayside as certain plot points things just couldn’t be fit in or were done at the behest of the Evil Overlord that is the Studio.
My main complaint about the movie is if you are going to do a story that is based around heavy character development and exposition, you better have some goddamned good actors to be able to perform that task. The film blew this one 5 minutes out the gate. I’ve always been a strong proponent of featuring unknowns in major films, as it gets us non-name brand actors (“name brand” meaning actors like Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, etc.) work in things that could make our careers. Watchmen was an exercise in that failing so miserably I’m almost rethinking that whole concept. Whereas I still think it’s a good Idea to give new talent that may be more suited to the role an opportunity to shine, there are instances where there may be a damn good reason why certain actors persist in remaining as “unknowns”. They’re just…not very good. Or at least not good enough to be noticed by the mainstream.
The prime offender of this in the film is Malin Ackerman, the “actress” portraying Laurie Juspeczyk, or the “Silk Spectre”. She had to have the been one of
THE most godawful, unwatchable parts of the movie. Problem is though that she is nearly 1/5th of the fuckin’ movie. I hope whichever casting director she banged to get the job is pleased with themselves, because he nearly singlehandedly destroyed this film by allowing her on set.
Ackerman (better known as the hoary nympho wife of Freakshow in Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle) has very little in the way of acting skill, and is very persistent in showing that to the audience whenever on screen. The only talent that she really has is shown in the scene where she bangs Dan Drieberg in Archimedies, the vehicle of his superhero alter-ego, Nite Owl. Her whiny, emotionally flat delivery gave me a headache, and to get a headache every 15 minutes throughout a film is a huge red flag.
Laurie Juspeczyk, as portrayed in the graphic novel, is supposed to be a firebrand with a devil may care attitude. If you piss her off she will tell you so, and give you a very colorful piece of her mind afterward. She is a tragic character, mainly because she is angry all the time: Angry at her mother. Angry at the world. Angry at herself. But not one iota of that comes through in Ackerman’s performance. When Laurie leaves Dr. Manhattan (AKA Jon Osterman) after she catches him working while a doppelganger he created of himself makes love to her in another room, she is supposed to be so hurt, ashamed, and angry that she rails at him about how he’s disconnected himself from humanity, and how she feels less important than his work before finally realizing that no amount of yelling is gonna get through to him, thus she ends up leaving.
And this is after it’s already been shown that her and Jon’s relationship is very tenuous and that things seem to have been going more downhill as Jon drifts further and further away from any link to humanity. In the film, Dr. Manhattan, as played by Billy Crudup, does his job of showing his disinterest in the affairs of man… but Ackerman does nothing to show any type of rage against his ambivalence to her or the world. She just reads the notes off the cards and says without even a hint of resignation, “Jon, I’m leaving you”. And the previous “fight” they had about his disassociation moments before, was little more than a light chastisement; I’ve had harsher fights with my cat, and he can’t even talk back to me. And she only gets worse. It’s not bad enough that her character is supposed to carry a hefty portion of the film, its even worse that the actress is not the only offender in this film.
Matthew Goode playing Adrian Veidt (AKA Ozymandias) is nearly the male version of Malin Ackerman, in terms of terrible acting chops. Granted he seems like he could be a really good actor, probably classically trained at RADA like all the other limeys lucky enough to be born in England. But playing his role, he seems as if he just doesn’t give a shit. it’s bad enough that when he does decide to act that he is so slimy that all he needs to do is have a mustache and twirl it like Snidely Whiplash to make his metaphorical neon sign blazing HEY, I’M THE BAD GUY DIPSHITS! to be be complete.
How can I say this…YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO KNOW HE’S BEHIND IT YOU GODDAMN MOVIE RUINING HACKS. If anything, he should seem just as innocent as the rest of the superheroes and in just as much danger as everyone else. At the end of the story when it finally dawns on you that he is behind it all, it’s supposed to be a huge mind-fuck. Now, maybe I’m stupid. Maybe you saw it coming from the very first panel in the graphic novel. Good for you. You’re goddamn Sherlock Holmes reincarnated. Congratulations. But, for most of us, it was supposed to be something so incredulous that we didn’t want to be true. But from the first frame that you see Goode as Veidt on screen, you just know that he’s gonna be the person to pull that crazy trigger and go all AWOL on the heroes, even if you don’t know the ending (which, yes, I will eventually get to: Don’t skip ahead). And if he can’t keep from doing that and act like a hero (because that’s how the character actually views himself), then you do 1 of 2 things: A) get a new fucking actor, b) swat the director across the nose with a newspaper and threaten to sodomize him with it unless he stops treating the dramatic throughline like a middle school remake of The Sixth Sense.
That’s another thing. Zack Snyder definitely has his shit together on how things should look design-wise and how things should be framed to flow from shot to shot in a film. But hell, he didn’t really deviate from the comic much, so about 85% of his work is done for him already.
I could get a monkey to fuckin’ do that.
What the director really needs to bring to the table in this circumstance is the ability to coax from the actors the best performances that they can possibly provide so that the audience doesn’t throw their hands up and say “fuck it” 15 minutes after the opening credits. Snyder couldn’t deliver on that… or was unable to because some of the actors were completely incapable. Looking at you, Ackerman.
It’s my honest opinion why some great performances came out of 300 was because most of the actors in that film are just Really. Damned. Good. They were also mostly British, so that helped. It lent a sort of credence to most of their vibrant monologues detailing death, war, and victory. But in Watchmen, the acting needed to be more subtle, understated but still very meaty. A good deal of the time the actors seemed to be delivering dialogue just because they were told to, not because they had an emotional investment in the character’s arc. As we’ve seen from the Star Wars prequels, though, that’s not something that is always be the fault of the actor. Seriously. When actors have good directors, it evokes emotions that color the characters for the audiences benefit and makes it much more interesting and easier to be able to empathize and care about what you’re seeing unfold in front of you. If you have a crap director that is only interested in visuals, or “stage picture”, or just doesn’t understand acting in general, you get a less than stellar end product.
But Snyder wasn’t exactly directing epically complex films prior to his last two. His last claim to fame?
Dawn of the Dead. The Remake. You do the math.
But not all the acting was abominable. Jackie Earle Hailey as Rorschach nearly saved the film every single time he showed up, and stole the whole
show when he pleaded for death from Dr. Manhattan. Though I have an issue with that as well: I don’t think that that scene should have been able to do that. Two and a half hours of celluloid and that steals the show? That should be the film’s fucking epitaph right there. Nothing against Hailey, as he was consistently brilliant throughout, but if that’s the best part of the film after ninety percent of the film is finished, something else has gone horribly wrong somewhere earlier down the line…
I also have to give praise to Crudup for his performance as Jon. He was very moving as a disassociated being; a grander creature (god?) than what was going on around him, but still dragged down to the lower depths of humanity by some outmoded moral obligation that his essence was no longer concerned with. Though I did always expect him to end each of his monologues with the phrases “Priceless” and “for everything else there’s MasterCard”. The unfortunate side effect of having a recognizable voice, I’m afraid. But his performance was commendable nonetheless.
Aside from my issues with the acting (which I feel is the main thing that I’m qualified to critique, as it is my livelihood and background), there were a few (alright, numerous) story issues I had with the film. And no not stupid whiny crap like, “why didn’t they include the B story with the newspaper vendor, comic book kid, the Topknots, and the people on the street”. I know that there was limited time to work with, and only certain things could be included: the most obvious thing to be excised was that B story.
I get that.
But there were sections that were included that seemed to be be included “just because”, or had no impetus behind them/any type of resolution/were just poorly executed.
Going from least egregious to worst, I’ll start with the inundation of the Nixon character. Richard Nixon, in the story, is only a tertiary character at best. He’s shown as little more than a silhouette whenever he does show up and he truly is just a background character that holds the keys to the apocalypse that Veidt is in the process of averting. Tricky Dick’s legacy permeates the universe of Watchmen, but it’s only to show how bad things could have gotten had his terms in office been allowed to have been expanded from 2/3rds to a full 4. He really added nothing to the film outside of some comic relief of seeing a lookalike in a bad nose prosthetic and jowls. Really unnecessary.
I also intensely disliked how they played up the violence of certain sections just so we could be reminded that “Hey, the guy directing this is the same guy that directed 300! Remember that carnage? Here’s more of the same!” Another unnecessary additive that was chosen in favor of sacrificing something that possibly could have been important…like, y’know, character development.
I will mention this once and let it be: The scene in Archemedies when Dan is having sex with Laurie was 10 times longer than it needed to be, and in my opinion was only filmed because Ackerman was willing to debase herself. It was purely because some studio exec said, “Can we show her boobs? I think it’ll get more idiots in the seats. Lets show her boobs.” I found it cheap, distasteful, and wholly worthless. It was purveyed in a wholly wrong way than it was in the book which in turn detracted from the film’s credibility.
Lastly, I’d like to lay down the blanket statement that I found more or less the last 30 minute of the film unsatisfying. And this is mainly for 2 reasons (and a few nitpicky smaller ones): Ozymandias was unpunished at the end and, of course, the lack of a certain colossal sized cephalopod.
The issue with Ozymandias I have is that after he’s committed his dirty deed, no one can expose him so they have to leave him alone, keeping his secret to enable world peace. But, even though he has one…ONE line about how he felt each and every person’s death he caused (yeah right…), you never see him really get any comeuppance or punishment in the film. His character just kind of…ends. Poorly.
In the book, him being the smartest man in the world, seeks validation and justification in what he has done as being the best and only answer to unite the world in harmony, from the only being on earth that possesses greater intellect than him: Dr. Manhattan. But by the point that he seeks it, Jon no longer views the affairs of humans as his own. He has all but checked out of the human race and won’t give Veidt any validation for his actions which is the worst kind of punishment for Adrian. He needed to know that his solution to the gordian knot that was his world was the only solution, as well as the right one. And since Jon won’t (or honestly can’t) give that to him, he will forever be tortured by millions of “what ifs”; forever trying to ascertain if he was right in what he did, but will never know. This was something that was very simple that could have been added in (had they bothered to truly develop his character, rather than just let him be a two dimensional “comic book villain” which he claims not to be), but for some reason was left out, in turn leaving Veidt’s personal demons highly absent and any type of audience closure with his character largely unresolved.
Lastly, lets talk about the damned squid. Why the fuck they decided to leave it out, I’ll never know. I heard claims that it was too hokey, but obviously whoever made that judgment call didn’t see the costumes for the heroes from the ‘40s Minutemen in the film…. Hooded Justice’s costume was one of the most ridiculous, cosplay-esque things I’ve seen in a film. Sure it was true to the book, but dude… there’s a limit. If you’re going to go that far, then go the fuckin’ full monty and don’t pull the squid from the climax.
There was a lot of back and forth as to the fact that they couldn’t do the squid if they didn’t include the B-story with the missing Author who also wrote the Black Freighter Comic that was woven throughout the story, as well as the missing Psychic, Comic Artist, etc. that all contributed to the creation of it. And all I have to say is this: Fuck you, Warner Brothers. You didn’t try very hard.
Who the hell says that you have to have it cannon perfect or not at all? If the ending was going to be changed anyway, and you weren’t going to hold up the integrity of the literature, then just change the reasoning for the squid. Make it something like Veidt and Manhattan were trying to toy with genetic alteration to make humans invulnerable to nuclear fallout or something, which in the process allows Veidt to create something wholly alien to this world and using his team of researchers that he killed anyway to create the psychic blast that kills 15% of the worlds population (including most of New York) and puts terrible visions into the heads of psychics the world over. You don’t need tons of exposition for that, and the genetic abomination is innocuous enough for it to end up being a mind-fuck for the folks who wouldn’t see it coming. It’s not cheap and insulting to the audience, and if you’re worried about hokey I’d take a long look at other parts of the movie before labeling that as a huge problem point. It was just disappointing because of the fact that this was exactly the type of crap we were expecting from Warner Brothers, but were then assured by Snyder that he would fight for the books integrity, when in the end he fulfilled our expectations for us all to be let down and for the source material to be fucked because the execs think they’re smarter than Allan Moore.
And for anyone who says, “but when I read the book originally, I thought the Squid was ridiculous, even then”, I’ll answer with, “That’s the point, dumbass.”
Why do you think that the Comedian is so upset about the fact that he saw something that rattled him so much that he went to Moloch’s and wept like a baby? He’s terrified because he saw the final punchline of the joke that was the end of his world. And the punchline was a giant squid.
It’s ironic. Simple.
And I think because of the fact that it wasn’t a giant squid (which is so ridiculous on its own), the Comedian’s breakdown at Moloch’s loses a lot of it’s oomph and credibility. In the end, it lacks sense. One could argue that it works whether they used the squid or the bomb carrying Jon’s “energy signature” (which sounds like bad Star Trek: The Next Generation technobabble. There are no Tricorders or Mark IX sensors in 1985, so I find it hard to believe that they could find out it was Jon so…expediently. Outside of the fact that it was “in the script”). I think the fact that the Comedian views it as a bad joke lends itself more to the giant squid ending than the “Dr. Manhattan went crazy” one. It just seemed too overprotective of an audience, one that wouldn’t have cared either way since they were still reeling so hard from Malin Ackerman’s bad acting (god, I hate that woman). I just wish that Snyder hadn’t lied to us from the get go or capitulated eventually with the studio, just to get the fanboys on board (As you may recall, he insisted that the ending wouldn’t be changed, then it was).
That just makes us not want to trust you, Zack. What credibility you had left is on the cutting room floor, and they only way you could redeem yourself is do re-shoots or use alternate takes for the Über Directors Cut Blu-Ray Version to include a squid and maybe a few scenes where Ackerman shows more emotion than Hayden Christensen in Attack of the Clones.
Most of my other issues with the film are minor fanboy things that don’t really merit mention here, as they only were choices that I personally would’ve done differently. But If you really want to know, I might reply them to you in the comments.
All in all, the film ended up a mildly horrid attempt to get fanboys to shell out their hard earned money in this shitty economy for a seat one of the largely anticipated comic films of all time, only to do a half-assed job in its execution with a few high points, but largely missing it’s own point.
Personally, I’m surprised that there weren’t reports of more fanboy riots.
Fuckers are going soft…
PS: Whereas I highly respect Wil Wheaton, I find in retrospect that his spoiler-free review of the film was very dubious. As an actor, I think that Wil should’ve known better an be more disgusted by certain actors performances and not have settled for the pale imitation of an ending they sleepwalked through. C’mon Wil, I know we have waited so long we didn’t want to bash it too hard, but these are GLARING issues. All that aside though, Wil Wheaton is a great guy who I would have over with his family for dinner anytime and would love to play D&D with. Make sure to follow him on Twitter if you use it, and make sure to add me as well!