REVIEW: Watchmen

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Watchmen
162 Minutes // USA // Warner Bros. Pictures
dir.
Zack Snyder
Saturday, March 7th, 2009. Scotiabank Theater IMAX.
starring:
Jackie Earle Haley, Billy Crudup & Patrick Wilson

Based on the 1986 graphic novel of the same name (written by the critically renowned author Alan Moore) Watchmen is as much an intellectual delight as it is visual feast.

So in 2009 we have already reached the point of division in critical acclaim with a film. This film is Watchmen. It is the latest film from stylized director Zack Snyder: a man whose imagery of violence is lavish in the very least. However for the first time in his career, Snyder isn’t working with point blank violence and action, but rather a compelling and broad tale of inner conflict. Although (due in major part to the story being about crime fighters) there is violence is sprinkled throughout the story within the vigil characters, it never once attempts to revive the eye-widening gore that 300 achieved.

Through a montage during the opening credits, Watchmen engages the audiences attention by not-so-subtly revealing the importance of these groups of – not so super – heroes. (groups as in “the Watchmen” have been apart of American culture for two generations) With JFK being assassinated by The Comedian, Dr. Manhattan being militarily used to single-handled destroy the Vietcong, and plenty of other important moments in American history.

Written by comic-book adapting specialist David Hayter (X-Men & X2) and newcomer Alex Tse, Watchmen is a film that works on all levels. Whether it be the romantic in your heart; the hate-driven vigilante you wish you could be; or the wise-man who knows great pain, but also great knowledge, the themes the story has to offer are universal. Unfortunately, this may not be for everyone because of how its presented to the audience.

The primary theme the film plays off of is personal sacrifice. In this case it is done to achieve solace. Every character sacrifices something dear to them – whether it be personal ideals or manageable objects – to become more comfortable with and of society. With this, Watchmen catches the typical viewer in an emotionally vulnerable state which creates an emotional connection with very minimal resistance.

Almost Shakespearean in its structure, the film is sparse in its humor and almost entirely devoted to the psychological drama caused by the characters’ inner conflicts. Watchmen does wonders in building the suspense and raw emotion which resonate in some of the most interesting thrillers to date. There are spats of humor here and there cut delight the viewer a bit more than it would if the content of the project were not manifold.

Edward Blake/The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is heinously attacked and murdered by an unknown assailant. Through slow-motion photography and skillful choreography, the fight that precedes the finale of Mr. Blake being thrown out of his apartment window is masterfully done. It triggers the soundly and gives a strong sample of what to expect for the next 150 minutes.

In terms of violence, the film uses the accuracy and detail of these movements to stimulate the viewer as much as possible.

With The Comedian dead, the group of former vigilantes that were forced into retirement by President Richard Nixon are in a problematic scenario. “Costumed heroes” are being picked off and no one knows for what reason. To get them out of the way forever? To prove that they aren’t as heroic as they’d been made out to be in the past? To have some fun? These are all probable.

Watchmen has a distinct mechanical structure that very few films in the history of cinema have. Many films have plots that break off into tangents that result in multiple stories – this isn’t the case for Watchmen. It opens on Walter Kovacs/Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) and very seldom leaves his perspective for the opening hour. Then it switches perspective and follows Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup) and his tireless journey to help humanity as much as he possibly can. However, he is in a relationship with another former hero known as Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) which accounts for some delicately placed melodrama.

Scattered throughout are the stories of Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) who is a money-mogul and said to be the World’s Smartest Man, Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) who lives a calm and ordered existence, and Edward Blake/The Comedian whose role in the film while impacting, is rather a collection of impression flashbacks from his life and experiences with both generations of Watchmen.

The majority of these characters share personality traits like a grade school bully would share his lunch. This projects a wide variety of emotions and people you can connect with that may or may not inch you closer to loving the film as I do. As I said earlier, there is something for everyone.

Realistic performances (see: great) and a much more heavily themed film than one would expect to receive going in, Watchmen is as much an intellectual delight as it is visual feast.

***½

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