[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00450AGFA][/pullquote] Generally considered one of the best and most influential comic books ever written, Watchmen was one of those things that no one ever really expected to see turned into a film, not least because it was in development hell for twenty years before finally getting made. The general opinion was that, even if it did get made, it would probably be a failure both as an adaptation and as a standalone film. Fortunately, the general opinion was wrong. Zack Snyder’s film is far from perfect, but it’s a brave, fiercely ambitious work, and about as good as an adaptation of the comic as we could reasonably have hoped for.
In an alternate 1986, superheroes are, or were, a fact of life. Most have either retired or been forced into retirement, with the exception of the state-sponsored Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the unbalanced psychotic Rorschach. When the Comedian is discovered murdered, having been thrown out of the window of his penthouse apartment, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) takes it on himself to solve the mystery, and ends up uncovering a conspiracy which could bring America and Russia to nuclear war, forcing the old heroes to come back out of retirement.
Watchmen, unfortunately, a very difficult film to summarise, and the above description doesn’t nearly do it justice. This was one of the biggest fears for the film version: the comic is astonishingly deep and multi-layered, and it was believed that there was no way all that depth could be successfully put on screen. Sadly, people were correct about this; there is quite a lot of material missing, mostly consisting of backstory and tertiary characters. All the same, the opening credits montage does a fantastic job of filling you in on what you need to know about the background, set to The Times, they are a-Changin’, and is actually one of the film’s best sequences.
While the lack of extra material is a shame, David Hayter’s script is very pragmatic, and the sections of the Watchmen graphic novel which have been cut are ones which probably ought to have been cut for a film version: it never feels like anything crucial is missing. People complained about the absence of Tales of the Black Freighter, a comic within the comic, but frankly, while hugely important in the comic, it’s pretty much the first thing which should have been cut when writing the screenplay.
While Sucker Punch did reveal that Zack Snyder can’t write a coherent screenplay to save his life, what it does share with Watchmen is spectacular visuals. He may not be able to write, but he can certainly direct, which hopefully bodes well for the upcoming Man of Steel. It’s safe to say that, by this point, close-up shakycam has more or less run its course, and Snyder takes great care to make sure the camera is stable and pulled back far enough that the audience can appreciate the care which went into composing the scenes.
The other nice bonus is that it results in some fantastic fight sequences; he’s greatly increased the complexity of the fights from the comic, changing the characters’ fighting styles from relatively simple street fighting to full-blown martial arts, and the scene where Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) break into a prison is a particular highlight.
Watchmen is one of those films which people thought couldn’t be made, and in many cases, shouldn’t have been. Alan Moore remains staunchly opposed to any adaptation of his work, and I can understand why, as Watchmen is, by necessity, very simplified compared to its source material.