Set during the Cold War, Watchmen (2009) tells the story of a group of retired superheroes as they try to uncover a murderous plot against them.
Firstly it must be said, during it’s release did not have a lot going for it. Based off a 1986-1987 limited series comic-book release of the same name it was wholeheartedly disowned by author Alan Moore - this of course had been nothing new as Moore had taken a public stance against his creations having any film adaptions as he viewed his work as that of a single medium.
"If we only see comics in relation to movies then the best that they will ever be is films that do not move. I found it, in the mid 80s, preferable to concentrate on those things that only comics could achieve. The way in which a tremendous amount of information could be included visually in every panel, the juxtapositions between what a character was saying, and what the image that the reader was looking at would be. So in a sense ... most of my work from the 80s onwards was designed to be un-filmable.” - Alan Moore
We then enter director Zack Snyder (300, Sucker Punch, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) who has seemingly taken that statement as a personal challenge when he sought out to create this adaptation of Moore’s work.
Clocking in at 2 hours and 42 minutes, Watchmen is in many ways a film that should be both celebrated for being an artistic accomplishment and also an example shown to students in film school of how not to adapt an already established story into a screenplay. Just to get this covered off the bat, this film is almost a shot for shot recreation of the source material, which is by far a gutsy move by the director - but is not without it’s inherent issues.
Visually the film is stunning - the story presents to us a complex, if not dark and nihilistic tone, though it never appears as too dark, still allowing itself to show unsaturated colours at the right times. As a fan of the original story there is barely a wasted shot - whether we’re viewing something to convey a certain feeling, to deliver on a future point in the plot, or even just to show an easter egg for the more attuned fan, this film if nothing else is visually magnificent. While credit should go to Snyder and his Director of Photography - the real praise should be passed on to the graphic novels artist Dave Gibbons as it is truly his designs that have been slavishly recreated in this film.
The pacing however is truly where the film is a letdown. This goes hand in hand with how it has been adapted from the original story. In a way I believe Snyder agreed with Moore, instead of making any creative changes to the plot for timing purposes he allows this story to play out in time with it’s counterpart. This is an issue in various times as we seemingly jump back and forth from flashback to main plot seemingly at a whim, all while the film shifts it’s character of focus along with it. This never truly allowing us to grow attached to any of the cast, and in result we get a film that is both clunky at it’s best and boringly detached at it’s worse.
I have had a very mixed relationship with this film - when I first viewed it I did so as an event screening - I was hyped, and so were the other fans. However after my initial viewing I was left conflicted, the film I had seen was definitely Watchmen, I got what I wanted, but I was left empty. I felt as though I hadn’t watched a film. I had viewed the same graphic novel I had left at home on my desk and I didn’t know if I was any better for having done so. Snyder doesn’t afford you the opportunity to feel anything - the characters are robbed of all warmth and almost soullessly they walk back and forth between scenes - you’re shown how rich in history they are but the film never makes you care - and that’s a problem.
While this film will always hold a place in my personal collection - I can by no means recommend anyone pursues it, in a first or second take - this film will leave you cold and numb, and perhaps worse, with almost 3 hours less than you had prior.
- Sebastian B