Saturday, March 07, 2009

Review: Watchmen

"It's too late for mankind... it always was." Lines spoken on Mars by a naked glowing Blue superhero to his ex-girlfriend as the Earth is hours from nuclear holocaust... oh it sent lovely shivers down my spine it did.

Watchmen is dark and grisly, dealing with the chunky themes of the inevitability of death, imperialism and what it is to be human. Or then again it might just be people in funny costumes running about - actually it's probably a bit of both, and consciously so.

Before getting into the themes there were a number of little things I noticed that indicated this film is not quite like others. The amount of unabashed full frontal male nudity for example. There's also a whole heap of back story that no one bothers to spell out (which I personally found a blessed relief). Added to that it treats the audience as if it knows some history without bothering to explain anything at all, nice.

For example some of our heroes help Nixon win the Vietnam War and our plot opens as he is serving his fifth term as President. Quite rightly, as an 18 certificate film, it never once indicates that these might not have been the actual historical outcomes nor does it try to spell out what the implications for these things might have been for the Cold War. Thank the gods!

We enter the film proper with society on the verge of obliteration due to an all too human and believable cause. One "hero" has been assassinated but no one knows whether this is the government, a Latin American communist or a simple incidence of law and disorder.

As the tension builds and the threat of nuclear war increases most characters seem fallible and flawed, dwarfed by the size of the global problems. Only Dr Manhattan - the one superhero with actual (and overwhelming) powers seems up to the task of averting the annihilation of the human race, and he seems to be losing interest in the whole lot of us. What's clear is that even if humanity escapes this time around, a lot of people are gonna get hurt.

I've not read the originals so have no idea how faithful the film is but it certainly seemed to me an intelligent film that explored the murderousness of our world and how good people find themselves committing terrible deeds. I also suspect it examines the genre of the superhero - which I'm certainly no expert on. However, if the Comedian isn't Captain America's darker, truer brother I'll eat my spandex hero costume, overpants and all.

Anyway, I went into the cinema expecting a 7 out of 10 and came out having well exceeded my modest expectations. This sort of film often disappoints me but then, perhaps, this isn't the sort of film I thought it was. With a complex morality and rugged pace I found it deeply satisfying - if I have a disagreement with the film it's political one that should in no way reflect badly on the film.

Don't read this para before seeing the film:

When it comes down it, it is the plans and schemes of clever men that set in motion the perfectly executed, if horrific, salvation of humanity. Where social forces exist they are either powerless or completely disinterested in their coming fate. Whilst, unfortunately, that side of things might ring true to life there are no supermen out there to avert disaster. It's either us or no one. Probably the latter.


scott redding said...

I'm one of those who side with Alan Moore. He's run a mile from all the film adaptations of his work (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, League of Extrordinary Gentlemen).

His work tends to be unfilmable. That is, you can film it. But. You can get the looks right, but the moral centre wrong (this seems to be what's happened with Watchmen and V). Or you can get everything wrong (League, From Hell).

Russell Banks said as much in interviews about Atom Egoyan's adaptation of "The Sweet Hereafter" (if you haven't seen it, run, don't walk, to your friendly indy video store). That a novel has a moral centre, a moral view of the world, and that most films don't translate this correctly. Hence, it's easier to film versions of Tom Clancy novels, since there isn't anything transformative there going on, you don't think about yourself, how the world works, differently after reading it.

Jim Jay said...

Have you seen the film? I'd interested in hearing how it differs from the original. I hear some of the minor characters have been removed (which is inevitable and no bad thing) but I certainly didn't find the film shallow... I suppose I should go find the book(s?)

It's one of those very rare occasions when I tempted to see a film a second time

scott redding said...

A review from Alternet: "America Is a Dangerous Vigilante, Heroes Are Sociopaths: The Not-So-Mythical World of 'Watchmen'"

Green Gordon said...

Late review, but not too much to say. Apart from cheesy soundtrack and stupid sex scene, the film was... ok.

The graphic novel is much better (and has a slightly different ending).

Alan Moore was right to keep out (as films go, I may have preferred V for Vendetta...).