Saturday, March 07, 2009

Watchmen (***)

Watchmen.  162 mins. R.  Directed by Zack Snyder.  Written by David Hayter and Alex Tse.  Starring Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Malin Akerman, and Carla Gugino.

Watchmen arrives in theaters after a two-decade struggle to adapt it to the big screen, an arduous legal battle that threatened to send it straight to DVD, and constant bickering among fans of the graphic novel about the alleged "unfilmmable" story.  Expectations were high with this one, and though I only recently read the graphic novel for the first time and am not a lifelong fan of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' seminal work--named one of the top 100 pieces of literature of all time by Time Magazine--I think the movie is a faithful, passionate version with moments of brilliance.  But it's too long and the last hour is a complete drag, sending audiences out of the theater on a wave of meh.  I give credit to screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse for compacting the story and making sense of the constant flashbacks (and flashbacks within flashbacks).  The movie is structured like an old school detective yarn, with Jackie Earle Haley's Rorschach trying to solve the recent murder of fellow masked avenger, The Comedian (Grey's Anatomy's Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and figure out who's trying to knock off superheroes.  Just like the graphic novel, the movie exists in an alternate version of 1985, where Nixon is still President and nuclear war is imminent with Russia.  For about the first two hours, the movie is great.  The opening credits are a standout sequence, as is everything with Rorschach in jail.  Haley and Morgan steal the show as Rorschach and The Comedian, respectively.  They're awesome.  Everyone else?  Not so much.  Patrick Wilson is okay as Nite Owl II, but Malin Akerman has no business being in anything other than a romantic comedy, and Billy Crudup gives a solid but boring performance as the superpowered, naked and blue Dr. Manhattan.  Anytime Dr. Manhattan is on screen, the movie becomes ponderous and tedious, and a bunch of other adjectives that will have you checking your watch.  By the time the final hour rolls around--basically everything after Rorschach is busted out of prison--the story gets weirder and weirder, taking its characters to Mars to Antarctica and back again.  I think it's at this point that the fidelity to the source material gets in the way.  The white and black striped tiger with horns?  Uh, maybe that's cool in the graphic novel, but it comes out of nowhere and is just lame as seen on screen.  Stuff like that should have been cut.  Director Zack Snyder is a talented guy.  Between this and 300, he's got the fast-fast-then sloooow motion action sequences down to a pat.  Snyder has great visual acuity, but he's not so good with actors and character moments.  When Watchmen is good, it's really good and like nothing else you've ever seen.  Like I said, there are moments of brilliance, and I would definitely say you should see it, but it is by no means a great movie, or even a really good one.  



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