The year was 2009, the R-rated mega hit Deadpool was but a twinkle in Ryan Reynolds’ eye, and Zach Snyder released his best film to date, the screen adaption of the unfilmable graphic novel, Watchmen. And it was a bit mixed. People either loved it for its gritty, stylish, thought provoking take on the superhero genre, while others hated it for all those things. But you can guess which side of that I fall upon. Hell, I still think it’s the best superhero film ever made, yes, I like it more than any Dark Knight or Marvel film, and here’s why…
1) It’s a dark realistic take on superheroes that really tackles complex themes and ideas, while still being a straight-up superhero flick. Not a crime thriller with Batman, or a comedy with a guy in a suit, at its core it’s a superhero film and is about things only a superhero film could be about, ‘what if superheroes where real’, did change our world, what would that world be like and who would those heroes be?
Of course this is all more thanks to Alan Moore’s seminal original text, but you can’t understate how hard Zach Snyder worked to bring the book to the screen as it’s whole self (it’s whole 215 minute run-time), and managing to make such a dense piece of literature so stylish and well-paced without losing a lot of meaning and depth.
2) Snyder’s style is stunning (what the fucks happened); easily Snyder’s most confidently directed film, his key hyper-reality style that mixes CGI better than almost any film, works masterfully to bring the pages of the book to life, without losing the texture and grit. With the talent he showed here he could have easily gone on to be a blockbuster director like a quirkier James Camron, but instead he made Sucker Punch.
3) The cast; the acting is top notch, with almost every actor born to play their character. Patrick Wilson bringing the likable dorkyness to Night Owl, Billy Crudup selling the detached humanity of Dr Manhattan, Jackie Earle Haley embodying Rorschach’s grizzled insanity, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan embracing the assholeness of The Comedian, costume changes aside they walk right off the page.
Outside Heath Ledger’s Joker it’s one of the few superhero films with Oscar worthy performances…. all except Matthew Goode who was just too smarmy as Ozymandias, you could tell from the go he was evil so the reveal lost a lot of weight compared to the comic; he’s not bad just too evil. Now a young pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth would have been closer to the book, his more natural charisma and warmth making his dark motives a real shock.
4) The music; Snyder’s use of iconic 80s tunes to invoke the era and themes of revolution is carefully implemented, from the iconic Bob Dylan opening credit sequence, the cheesy Leonard Cohen sex scene, and the sad Simon and Garfunkel funeral, Watchmen took seminal well known songs, and instead of being distracting fit them skilfully into the story as if they’ve always been there. Oh and the My Chemical Romance cover is badass, they really embrace the 80s punk vibe.
5) The ending. I am not to my surprise part of a small community that like the films ending better than the comic, even amongst people who have read the comic. The comic’s ending may work better from a plot stand point (some say), but the film’s use of Dr Manhattan in it’s climax comes from much more of a character and thematic place, and ties into Dr Manhattan’s dehumanizing arc so much tighter, and the ideas of nuclear war. It’s not just that I think the endings better than the book; it’s what that represents about the power of adaption through someone else’s vision, that making changes to original text doesn’t have to come from a hollow, money grubbing place, but from the texts itself…also the giant squid would of looked silly on screen. But more so because it wasn’t Hollywoodised, it was complex and morally gray and left us with a message not many blockbusters have the balls to tell, that as people we will expect an easy lie over a hard truth. We are compromised.
For a deeper look at the film and the comic, check out the Superhero Rewind on it which dives deep into analyzing the work.
Well not our most thorough post, but good enough for now, join us later this week and next week were we’ll…probably be talking about the Oscars.