Monday, March 09, 2009

Watchmen: The Good, the Bad, and some awkward Shtupping

I think, having gone in with the lowest possible expectations, that overall I liked this movie, that it was as good a film as could have been made from what is one of the best and most complex stories ever told about ladies and lads who run around in their underwear or less beating people up - but I will have to see it again to have a better sense of it (ah netflix, how I will wait for thee). The first 45 minutes were utterly entertaining. The Comedian's death I thought was exciting, and the flashback sequence that followed was excellent. Then the movie really slowed down.

In trying to make this film as true to the book as they could, they tried to cram as much of the story in as they could, and it seems like they just ran out of steam. They didn't go back in and take their scenes to task with the same even-ness. Dan Drieberg coming home to find Rorschach eating beans in his kitchen was head an shoulders above the flashback scene to when the "The Watchmen" fail just after take-off and The Comedian teaches the Smartest Man in the World a lesson. The second act, with all its suspicion building and interactions between the characters should have been building those characters up, delving into them, making them full and well rounded. They went straight to exposition instead, speaking out the plot, like so many failed Star Wars movies(PM, AotC, RotS).

I thought Rorschach, The Comedian, and Adrian Veidt were developed characters with interesting narrative arcs, and Jackie Earle Haley is firmly someone I am looking for in cast lists from now on. The problem I had was the rest of the characters - they were not allowed to develop, and this is what slowed the movie down.

Dr. Manhattan was close to be being complete, but they stayed too tight to the chest reaching toward his dispassionate level. Nite Owl was an odd miss, since I think Patrick Wilson did a really very good job with the character - he looked the part and I thought had the right tone in his voice - but his lines just didn't hit. Bad writing undid this guy. In the book I always saw him more as stifled rather than impotent, more boxed in by the events surrounding him and his desire to see his friends through it, always uncertain about what he should do. In the movie he was too often just a sounding board for plot exposition for the more powerful, more knowing characters, which was unfortunate.

Uncertainty was the great sin in Watchmen the Film, and its most uncertain character must of course be the most poorly developed. The female characters were outright neglected, but Laurie Juspeczyk gets a big, flat gray wall as her character's emotional canvas in the film.

Laurie's uncertainty was for me the strongest emotional undercurrent in the book, because it best reflects the overarching question - what does a person need to become in order to do what they must. In the book the male characters, without fail, responded to that uncertainty as if it were a weakness, as a sign that Laurie was a damsel in distress, always needing protection and rescue. But Laurie proves her uncertainty is anything but a weakness. She is decisive, choosing to leave John and then go with him to Mars, choosing to take up fighting again with Dan, and in doing so shows how the men's failure to accurately perceive her reflects their inability to understand precisely what is happening until it is too late. In that way she always seemed to be stronger than the guys, who move about waiting to know better what is happening, but the movie doesn't have that realization of her uncertainty, it doesn't get into it enough that we care about her conflict.

Speaking of conflict, the highs of Watchmen were, ironically, some of the best fight scenes I have seen since Sayid took on Kimi. A fight scene for me has a simple test - does it bring up that feeling my younger, more erstwhile self would have felt, causing me to run out of the theatre and across the hoods of cars in the parking lot, jump around on street signs, or otherwise engage in stunts I'm not sure I can manage anymore. The Matrix was a prime example, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon another. Watchmen has this feeling. And it does make for entertaining cinema.

My biggest problem with the movie was Laurie and Dan's fight scene in the alley, where they take on 15 gangmembers then slowly make love in Archie(and ruined an otherwise excellent song in the process). The fact they were able to take out so many guys just smacks of "superpowers", of some super-fu that allows them to dash evil upon the rocks of justice as unceasingly as a wave and then follows it up with a very typically hollywood, very awkward, slow, and unexciting movie sex scene.

In the book I remember them only taking on 4-5 guys and then, pardon my french, fucking. The whole point is they are adrenaline junkies who have been clean for years and all of a sudden get another taste, and all they can do afterwards is rip each others clothes off and get down to it. All of these characters need that stimulation in order to feel anything but the slowing of the blood in their veins.

The lack of any allure in that scene is kind of telling the story of Watchmen the film for me, because Watchmen is a lot like sex - it doesn't have to be as good as the book to enjoy it.

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