Wednesday, April 22, 2009

AtoB Back and Forth Review: Watchmen, Part I

I'm teaming up with longtime friend, Kozy of April 31st to review films. We're calling the segment "A to B" because I'm Andrew and he's Brad. And he lives in Amsterdam, and I live in Buenos Aires. We generally won't get the new releases when the States do, but hopefully we can either help you reminisce or offer advice before you head out to the video store. So let's get to our third review - Watchmen.


Well, Brad, we're at it again. And this time, it's not some Oscar darling that's sure to please. Today's review is Watchmen, the film based on a 1980s graphic novel that is apparently beloved by many, many comic book guys. It's 1985, Richard Nixon is in the middle of his fifth term as president and we are at the brink of nuclear war with the USSR. There were once superheroes who ran around in masks, saving the day, but they've now been either banned or marginalized. When The Comedian, one of the old fraternity, is murdered, the rest want to know who's behind the hit. They proceed to do a Blues Brothers-esque getting of the band back together, though Mr. Fabulous could not be pried away from his maitre d' gig. Uncovering the mystery behind the murder leads to further intrigue and we find out more about each hero as the world approaches nuclear extinction. I'm going to leave the plot summary there otherwise we'll never get to the review. Neither of us have read the book, and I'd actually never even heard of Watchmen until this movie came out. So we're not going to come at this with the same perspective as the die-hard fans, so let's not worry too much about the source material.
Can you see the light???

But before we even get started, permit me to make a quick aside regarding one of the trailers. I was shocked to hear "Soulja Boy" come across the speakers, only to find that it was being used to promote a fourth Fast and Furious movie. Not only that, they're calling it "Fast & Furious." Even better, Vin Diesel is back to collect a paycheck. I thought the fact that they picked a song that had clearly finished its run was only fitting. Anyway, I declare here and now that we're not reviewing that one.
"Worst A to B aside ever!"

I'm going to start by asking you a question that was on my mind throughout my screening. How many times you had to leave the theater to go to the men's room? You're a bit notorious for frequently being "on the go", and because this movie is nearly three hours, I figured you had to step out at least twice. That question leads me into my first point. There was a lot going on in this film. I believe we had five main characters, though someone could easily argue that there are more. They gave us backstory on every one of them, and each was a crucial part of the plot. Some of these characters worked better for me than others, with Rorschach being the most compelling. In addition to all the plot details, we had a plethora of kickass fight scenes. You know I'm no fan of the Bourne-series-style shaky camera freneticism. Each fight was well choreographed and filmed in a way that we could understand and appreciate. A little clarity can go a long way. Most of the superheroes in this movie may be mere mortals, but they kicked ass anyway. On top of that, the concept was not only creative, but pretty high-minded. Nixon in his fifth term because Dr. Manhattan helped him win Vietnam? That's brilliant.

However, some areas were lacking. Aside from Rorschach, all the characters were pretty flat. And worse than that, none of them showed a lick of passion. How are we supposed to care about this movie if they don't? Perhaps this was more a problem with casting lousy actors. If some of the names that were rumored over the years had made it to the final project, I think everyone would have been fleshed out better. No, I'm not talking about Nite Owl's butt or Dr. Manhattan's, um, front. Those were plenty fleshed.
The real Mr. Fabulous here

I've gotten the ball rolling here, but haven't really given you any real conclusions about what I thought. See? Sometimes I can still play it coy. When I come back, I'll tell you about the strange man who was seated in the last row of the theater. But first, let's hear what you think!

Your pal,


Hey Reed,
Yep, here we are again, going back-and-forth, but this time the film under the microscope is certainly not as universally revered. Watchmen is a movie that went to great lengths. And I am not solely referring to the bladder-busting run time (and to answer your question, I did not get up to go the bathroom even once!!). Watchmen uses its length to properly present each protagonist, play out visual niceties, and weave story complexities.

I can confirm that I had never heard of Watchmen or read the graphic novel prior to screening the film. Additionally, my comic knowledge in general, of both the colorful paper books and feature length films is spotty. If I met a comic fan at a party and he were to offer an ice breaker like, "so, are you a fan of comic based movies?" I might agreeably reply, "Sure. I really enjoyed the latest Batman and Iron Man movies." To put this in sports terms, the equivalent conversation would go like "hey, are you getting psyched for the baseball season? Are you a fan?" and getting the response, "Well, I kind of like the Yankees. Jeter and A-Rod are cool." And there lays an initial obstacle. Going to see this version of Watchmen, as presented by Zach Snyder, is like catching a Kansas City Royals game. You can infer that these are important people, but without any stars it is tough to know who to root for or what to expect.

Without question there was a lot going on in this film - especially with 5 plus main characters, and a thorough back story on each of them. The only other film I have seen that went into that much detail about so many characters was the original Harry Potter movie, which by the way was horrible. Secondly, when you reply to this email, I am not interested in your snickers that I even watched Harry Potter in the 1st place. I was on a plane. Stuck in a window seat. And there were no viable alternatives! And although Potter is an inexcusable travesty to the senses, at least the studio knew before filming began that there would be 8 more films to come, so squandering the entire first feature (and moviegoers money) telling back story provided a longer-term payoff. Not so with Watchmen, as this is likely the only installment.

During the movie, as my mind wandered and bladder swelled, I thought to myself, this would all be a lot easier if they had hired name actors. In comparison, I did not know anything about Iron Man either, but with one central character and Robert Downey Jr. starring it was so much easier to jump in and enjoy. With Watchmen, I was only familiar with two of the actors, Malin Akerman and only because of my love affair with RomCom’s (she starred in 27 Dresses and The Heartbreak Kid) and Billy Crudup. And with Crudup, I thought he was Night Owl until I saw the closing credits and read that he had played Dr. Manhattan, at which time I turned to my wife and whispered, “Wow! I thought we had been staring at Crudup’s ass for the past 2 plus hours, but really we were looking away from his blue schlonger.” Needless to say, that was a sentence I had never uttered before.
Just be glad we didn't use a full frontal shot

But enough about the story and anonymous acting. I cannot talk about Watchmen and not include mention the visuals, specifically the cinematography. Watchmen is a beautifully shot movie, borrowing the best of Sin City and 300 and then adding in some fresh ideas. I am curious to get your take on it? Is Watchmen a case of style over substance?

Gotta run. Hit me back when you can!

- Kozy

Tomorrow we are back with Part II where I will excoriate Brad a bit for his affront to my sensibilities. Stay tuned!

Previous efforts:
Slumdog Millionaire
The Wrestler

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