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Matt's Watchmen Review

Updated on November 14, 2009

Watchmen is a film that has received split reception from critics and audiences alike since it was first released.  Many of the observations  by naysayers are not only unfair, they are borderline juvenile.  I’ll address many of these criticisms in the observation section of my review.  I think this movie is grossly underrated by most and that it ought to be applauded for flying in the face of many of the conventions that have been established in the genre of comic book movies over the years.  This is an unusually sophisticated film for the genre.  It uses very complex characters to tackle many complex issues surrounding the practical life of a costumed superhero that other stories such as Superman, Batman and Spiderman have skated around – at least in the movies.

Observations

-          Antiheroes – this is an important topic to touch on because this movie is full of them.  Virtually every main character in this film is flawed or damaged in some way, some more than others.  I applaud this film for showing Superheroes in such a murky shade of grey, truly it does take a certain sort of person to put on a mask and fight crime, and such a job would exact a price over time.  This is not something that is often portrayed in comic-book movies.  This may be one of the most interesting elements of the story, and ironically, it is a problem as well, because much of the audience will have trouble identifying with the characters.  It may be tempting for the audience to label certain characters in Watchmen as villains, certainly Rorschach is only one step removed from being a serial killer, but it would be dismissive to simply label him a villain.

-          Nudity – Much controversy arose from the excessive full frontal nudity in this film.  If it wasn’t such a huge topic of discussion, I would never address this in a review, but under the circumstances I feel compelled to add my opinion to the discussion.  I won’t pretend that it wasn’t an uncomfortable element of the movie when I first saw it, and in the final analysis, I’m not sure it was necessary.  In the theater it was almost distracting, but in the absence of a theater-sized screen, it’s really not something I notice when watching the film.  It’s entirely up to each viewer to decide how this element will affect their opinion of the movie.  In this particular case, it does not affect my opinion one way or the other.

-          I found some of the make-up a bit distracting, particularly the Nixon caricature that is in the movie.  I’ve come to wonder if that might not be something the filmmakers did on purpose as a way of reminding the audience they were looking at an alternate reality.  Having seen the film multiple times, I think it might have been a mistake to go in that direction. 

-          Slow motion in the action sequences – I saw no problem with the way the action sequences were shot, the slow motion and the way the camera were used added to the feel of the movie.  I definitely give props to the filmmakers for not using shaky camerawork in this movie.  The steady camerawork and the slow motion gave the movie a very epic feel that many modern action films lack.

-          The ending – without saying too much, I wasn’t sure how to feel about the ending to this movie when I finally saw it.  This sort of ending is highly unprecedented in the genre so it caught me off guard and got me to think about the issues the movie addresses.  I definitely enjoy movies like that.  I can see why the ending was problematic to some people, but I think this may be one of the best endings in comic book movies, and a good ending counts for a lot with me.

Performances

- Jack Earl Haley’s is the real premiere performance of this film. Rorschach is a nasty, uncompromising antihero that is a borderline psychopath. Somehow, it’s his character that I found myself most sympathetic towards by the end of the film.

- Patrick Wilson turns in a great performance as Dan Dreiberg, the mild mannered everyman of the group. Having seen his performance as Raoul in Phantom of the Opera, I expected good things from him when he turned up in the cast list. He didn’t disappoint, but I’d really like to see him in a different sort of role at some point. He can’t keep playing characters with true-north moral compasses for his whole career – not without boring himself and his audience.

- Jeffery Dean Morgan was fantastic as Edward Blake. I was familiar with him, having previously seen his work on Supernatural. Blake is one of the most irredeemable characters in the film, yet Morgan managed to bring a lot of humanity into the role. It was a fine line he managed to walk, and a lesser actor would not have pulled it off.

- Malin Ackerman’s is the performance that didn’t jive with critics or audiences. I think it was a passable performance, but obviously nothing special. She seemed to struggle a bit with the more dramatic scenes and there were a few moments in the movie where I found her unconvincing. So if there’s a weak link in the cast, she’d be it, but she does NOT drag the movie down.

Music, Cinematography, and Special Effects

-          The music in this movie is amazing.  The selections of classic rock used throughout the film are nothing less than inspired, and each time they overlay the action with a song, it adds to the big picture of the film in a very real way.  Artists on the soundtrack include names like Nat King Cole, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix.  You’ll see very few soundtracks as well put together as this one.

-          The cinematography of this movie is well worth the price of admission, with a diverse set of landscapes.  Particularly impressive is the cityscapes that are present which really sets the great atmosphere of the alternate 1985 the movie takes place in.

-          At a budget of 100 million, this was not a particularly modest production, but 100 million is a nice round number for a movie like this in my opinion.  This movie is effects-heavy, and it is not subtle, but this was never meant to be a subtle film.  There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking here, but it gets the job done effectively.  Best of all, I expect this movie will age fairly well, which is no small issue when speaking of sci-fi/fantasy films of this sort – which tend to become dated more quickly than movies from other genres.

The Bottom Line

Watchmen is a very unusual superhero movie which will clearly not be to everyone’s taste.  I however thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  The production values are solid, the script is excellent, as are the performances.  I think Watchmen is an excellent addition to the genre.  7/10

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