Written by David Hayter and Alex Tse Directed by Zack Snyder Starring Billy Crudup, Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Malin Akerman, Matthew Goode, Jeffery Dean Morgan
Watchmen was the most frustrating movie experience of my life. It is adapted from my favourite work in comics, that also happens to be one of my favourite works in fiction, period. My lofty expectations, admittedly, may have been impossible to satisfy, but at first, it seemed a possibility. The opening sequence of the film is quite good. Then the opening credits, which are accompanied by Bob Dylan, are some of the best I've seen. It isn't long after that when cracks start to show. The original score is, for the most part, very poor. The musical cues are laughable. The acting seems top notch until a couple characters are introduced. The second half completely falls apart.
The score is so standard and out of place, it takes you right out of the film. Stupid action music that should stick to Mortal Kombatand the like. Horribly cheesy guitar twangs. Generic ominous music underlining the emotions so Mr. Snyder doesn't actually have to bring them to life. One piece of music actually works quite well though. The character Dr. Manhattan has a brilliant sequence, and I mean brilliant, where we see time through his perspective. He describes different things happening in his life as if they were all occurring at once. The music during this scene is restrained, cold, but beautiful, much like Dr. Manhattan himself. That success is, of course, undone by the numskull choices throughout the remainder of the movie.
It is a shame that the actors give such noble performances for this movie. Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earle Haley bring the incredible characters of Nite Owl and Rorschach to life in an extraordinary way. It is Billy Crudup's turn of Dr. Manhattan that impresses the most, however. His voice is distant, calm, with the slightest hints of empathy and power, exactly how it should be. The rest of the main cast are also great, Malin Akerman, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan have tough roles to play, and they admirably succeed. I am sure that Matthew Goode's performance is also very good, but his role suffers from editing, and lack of execution in the final act which is hardly his fault. It is in the supporting cast that we find some really bad acting.
First off, Robert Wisden as a caricature of Richard Nixon. He has the most ridiculous makeup on, intended to increase his likeness to Nixon, but what it does is look fake and cartoonish. What makes it worse is that there isn't supposed to be a single scene with Nixon. Such an addition is absurd and ill-advised. That is outdone, believe it or not, with what I am claiming to be the most embarrassing performance in a serious movie ever. Carla Gugino plays Sally Jupiter, the mother of Laurie (Akerman) who resides in a rest home in California. In actuality, Gugino is 37, but her character must at least be in her late 60s. The makeup here, is even worse. The acting, is even worse than that. She completely misfires, failing to bring any aspect of the original character to life. In the comic she came off warm, sad, and a little pathetic. Gugino plays her bitchy and spunky, and appears to be as able-bodied as they come. In flashbacks, she gets to play her own age and she is just as bad. I even went a bit red in the face when watching her read her lines. Her screen time is minimal, but her performance is poisonous enough to infect the film even when she isn't there.
As someone who adores the source material, the first half wasn't all that bad. Much of the dialogue and narration is word for word accurate. The set design is wonderful, with an awe-inspiring attention to detail. However, to say, like so many have, that Zack Snyder is faithful to the source material is absolutely incorrect. For the most part he is faithful to the surface of source material, but he isn't as true to the tone, the themes, the grit, and sometimes even the characters. The ending is changed, which is beyond unforgivable. The new ending presents a plot-hole so large it is appalling.
I have to give credit, where credit is due. Zack Snyder's visuals, although hardly appropriate for the movie, are astounding. There is a place for him in the industry, and despite my current homicidal fantasies, I actually think the guy will make some good stuff, at least to look at. Tackling the intellectually complex Watchmen? Bad idea. Zack Snyder's movie occasionally feels like a 12 year old's book report come to life.
Thankfully, the source material is so strong, that some of it's richness comes through in the movie. Dr. Manhattan's scenes work like magic. The film is somewhat thought-provoking, even if the-supposed-to-be-a-shocker ending is glossed over. Most critics are discussing the themes of the story in their reviews, something I'll only do if talking about the comic. Several sequences are a joy to behold, seeing the comic come to life. Alas, the (mostly) superb acting, and several well-executed parts are not enough to redeem what this film really is, a revolting failure.
Snyder's brash, overdone style is so wrong for the movie. Everything looks artificial, but the comic book felt so gritty and real. A Kubrickian approach would have been better suited (Watchmen is more Clockwork Orange than it is 300), but still, the comic should never have been adapted to the screen. The original Watchmen is a master work, the crowning achievement of it's medium, the Citizen Kane of comics, and here it has been sullied. I demand retribution.