3/8/09

Watchmen (2009)

Malin Akerman (Laurie Jupiter), Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan), Matthew Goode (Adrian Veidt), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian), and Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl II)

Directed by Zach Snyder (300)

From IMDB: When an ex-superhero is murdered, a vigilante named Rorschach begins an investigation into the murder, which begins to lead to a much more terrifying conclusion.

Up front, every reviewer seems obligated to make some pronouncement as to what connection he/she has to the 1985 graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Keven bought it for me about ten years ago, and I quite enjoyed it. I must say that the cult fanboy frothing holds little appeal for me because it was never so very, very good that I lived off rumors of its eventual adaptation. In other words, it's not sacred to me in the way that, say, X-Men was.

However I enjoyed the story, particularly the analysis of intention, morality and injustice. Contrasted against Rorscahch's hard, uncompromising view of right and wrong, Adrian Veidt's mechanizations are the bedrock of the book, and no lack of a giant squid changed that here. The compromised ending actually worked for me, despite my teasing.

Does that bedrock moral dichotomy come across in the movie? Sure. To a point. The conceptual decisions made by Zach Snyder and his team, however, diluted what should've been a very powerful finale. The painfully obvious musical montage selections, the utterly corny fight scenes that looked extremely outdated some ten years after The Matrix, and the ridiculous interpersonal dramas--made no less tolerable by some patchy acting--left me feeling as if the central emotional punch of this very high-minded morality tale got left on the cutting room floor.

I'd give Keven's theory that it was intended to be tongue-in-cheek some merit if the entire production hadn't tried so hard to seem cool--cool CGI, cool stunts, cool hair, cool violence, cool blue penises. It was the "trying too hard" factor that eventually did me in. And as my friend Karen pointed out, when was the last time you saw a comic book movie that actually amped up the sex and violence over the source material? The answer is never. Trying too hard.

That said, two performances stood out: Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian. Haley's unmasked prison-bound Rorschach, in particular, was the highlight of the film, and Morgan's neurotic, nihilistic turn as The Comedian was the central riff against which Veidt's and Rorschach's divergent takes on morality were contrasted. These two made the rest of the cast seem amateurish and plodding, except for the occasional sense of slithering androgyny from Goode's very Duran Duran portrayal of Veidt.

It's taken me two days to determine that I just didn't like it very much, which was just about the length of time it took me to come to the same conclusion about 300. It suffered the same problem as 300, in that style over substance makes for some pretty thin emotional connections between me and the characters. In the end, I just didn't care.

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