Watchmen Review

Watchmen is a 2009 superhero film written by David Hayter/Alex Tse and directed by Zack Snyder. This is an adaptation of the famous Alan Moore graphic novel of the same name, which Snyder actually used as the film's storyboard. Despite painstaking effort being put into making it as loyal as possible to the comic, the movie has an infamously polarizing response from both critics and audiences.

Story
The film takes place in an alternate version of the 1980s where Richard Nixon is still the president, superheroes actually existed in the past (but are now forcefully retired) and the Cold War has reached the point where nuclear Armageddon is imminent. One night, an ex-vigilante named the Comedian is killed and the masked psychopath known only as Rorschach believes that something sinister and evil is just around the corner...

What bothers me about this story are the themes presented to the audience. The film is extremely dark and nihilistic, taking a Freudian psychological approach to human nature. It presents human beings as scum, merely animals who have nothing to give into but our primal instincts and that our base mode of psyche is chaos and sin. The Comedian's entire persona is around the idea that everything in life is a big joke, a cosmic level prank where everything means nothing and the film seems to agree with him. If you've ever taken a psychology class, you know that Freud's ideas were not true, so why do we keep believing this guy's teachings and using them in our movies? Because I know that everything involving its message on the human condition isn't true, the film gives me nothing to analyze and therefore, no purpose or value.

What also bothered me was how it portrays the study of psychology in general. I know this might be an odd thing to focus on, but I believe we need to be more careful about what we're teaching about how our minds work in movies. In the film, Rorschach takes a rorschach test and the shapes remind him of memories from his past, what made him who he is. First of all, nobody actually uses the Rorschach test anymore; it's been proven that it doesn't help the patient or give insight to the doctor on how to help his patient. Rorschach's psychology also confuses me. They say that he's a sociopath, but if that were the case he wouldn't know how to fit into normal society, perhaps having odd speech patterns, inability to properly understand others emotions or feral tendencies. He seems to be no less behaved than any other bad mannered person and he does show some form of sympathy for others. We need to start thinking more about how we portray mental illnesses in film.

The characters are all unlikeable to one degree on another; Rorschach is an unmerciful sadist, Nightowl and Silk Spectre are pessimists, Dr. Manhattan is a nihilistic know-it-all and the Comedian is a sadistic, vile prick. I know the Comedian is supposed to be disgusting, but that doesn't excuse the rest of the characters for being unlikable. Admittedly, all of them are fairly interesting, especially Dr. Manhattan and the way he views time. However, I'd rather have simple characters I care about than complex characters I can't stand.

The screenplay takes much of the dialogue right out of the comic. It does a good job at giving world-building information without sounding like exposition for the sake of the audience.

Technical
The cinematography is actually pretty bad. I couldn't explain how but I always felt like the subject of every frame was off, somehow. The shot composition felt odd; empty, yet somehow full. Even when a shot of a subject was properly centered, I couldn't help but feel that something was wrong with it. Maybe the camera was at a bad angle or maybe it was just ever so slightly off. I'm just not sure. Perhaps it's because it was trying to look more like the comic book than a film.

The entire movie looks disgusting; the only way I can describe it is that everything looks like it was shot through a grimy lens. Even in shots where the characters are perfectly clean it looks dirty.

Perhaps it's because they're shooting with such odd colors. The color scheme is very neon mixed with sickly shades of yellow and green. I guess this was to imitate the visual style of the comic book, but it doesn't look great. There's also a filter of grey used throughout the film that, again, makes the movie look nasty. It shouldn't look like they stepped into a back alley at night when it's in a laboratory in the middle of the day.

The transitions are hit and miss. At times, they use some pretty inspired ways of taking you from one scene to the next. Other times the transitions are startling; many times I had the feeling that if they had just waited one beat longer to go to the next scene it would've been better. Just wait a few more seconds and let the last line sink in before you go to the next scene. Instead, they jumped the gun too many times.

Whatever my other problems with the film, the acting is mostly good all around, with Jackie Earle Hayley stealing the show with his portrayal of Rorschach. Jeffrey Dean Morgan gives another great performance as the Comedian, completely portraying his gleeful nihilism. The only one I'm not sure about is Malin Akerman as the Silk Spectre. Sometimes she delivers her lines just fine, but other times she has a bit of a monotone. I also don't remember a lot of facial expression diversity from her.

The score and compilation soundtrack are also great. Composer Tyler Bates managed the capture the dark, epic tone of the story and the songs they chose for the film fit perfectly with every scene.

I need to talk about at least one more positive for the film; the opening credits. This is some of the greatest visual storytelling I've ever seen. It manages to go through 40+ years of alternative history without using one line of dialogue. I would recommend this movie just for that scene, but it's easily accessible online.

Summary: I don't understand people's reactions to Watchmen. I don't get people who like the comic, I don't get people who like the movie and I don't get people who dislike the movie because it wasn't like the comic. Watchmen is a perfect recreation of a putrid, ugly, nasty, Freudian monstrosity that should've stayed inside the head of the nutball who wrote it. It has no understanding of the human mind, unlikeable characters and a vomit inducing visual style. It's an empty nothing of a movie that thinks it has something important to say but doesn't.

D+

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