Watchmen: Director's Cut Review

Good comic book movies are few and far between, and I can't say that Watchmen has successfully joined those elite ranks. But it's certainly not for trying.

If there's one thing Zack Snyder knows how to do right, it's style. Both 300 and his Dawn of the Dead remake were pretty well executed, if a little mindless, and overall, both turned out to be fun, fast-paced, and entertaining flicks. Watchmen does share some characteristics with Snyder's previous works, but ultimately, it aims a little too high for what it actually is.

The film begins in an alternate version of 1985, where Nixon has been elected for a fifth term and the US is on the verge of starting a third World War with Russia. We are thrown into the narrative with the murder of the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a former member of the now defunct Watchmen, a group of vigilante superheroes who don't actually have any superpowers (except for Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), who can do pretty much anything, and Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), who, uh...has a mask...that, um, changes?). Identifying the Comedian's killer, along with preventing a nuclear holocaust, becomes the central mystery of the film. Everyone is suspect, as the Comedian was somewhat of a violent, volatile loose cannon (that's fancy talk for douchebag). Slowly, the washed-up Watchmen of the past begin to come out of the woodwork, slap on their latex underwear, and get right down to saving the world like they're supposed to.

First, the good stuff: the soundtrack is fantastic, spanning everything from "99 Luft Balloons" and "Unforgettable" to Simon and Garfunkel and Leonard Cohen, and it actually works to enhance the scenes and to potentially alter the emotion they would normally evoke, as opposed to fading into the background and existing solely to facilitate the necessary audience reaction. And I have to admit, it takes serious balls to set the title sequence of a superhero movie to Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'." It's a little heavy-handed, but ballsy nonetheless. The acting is pretty solid all around, especially on the part of Haley.

Snyder also isn't afraid to inject small moments of humor into the largely solemn subject matter, which is quite refreshing in a time where most films about dudes in spandex take themselves way too seriously (which was actually one of my only problems with the far superior Dark Knight, or rather, with Bale's performance - but that's neither here nor there.)

Now, the problems. There are a few too many flashbacks, which, while they do provide relevant and necessary information, eventually start wearing on your nerves. Seriously, about a third of the film is comprised solely of flashbacks. Why didn't they just set it earlier and flash forward every once in a while instead? I'm not completely against the idea of revealing back story, and like I said, most of it is essential to Watchmen, but as these flashbacks start occurring more frequently, it becomes downright distracting; it begins to disrupt the flow of the narrative and takes the viewer out of naturally progressing the timeline of the story.

I've never read the graphic novel, but clearly it's packed densely with information central to its story, as indicated by the film's three-hour-plus running time. I realize that we're dealing with two completely different animals here, but it must at least be mentioned, as one is obviously based on the other, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The film does look like a comic book; it's sleek, full of intensely saturated color, and the fight scenes are slick and fluid and meticulously choreographed. But with that territory come the negatives of using a flat format as your basis; the film is at times repetitive and dull, relying more on glitz than profundity, and yes, it does run a little too long. This particular Director's Cut version boasts of an extra 24 minutes of footage, and I have to say, I could have lived without it.

The thing is, for all its high-minded posturing, historical references, and political didacticism, Watchmen still feels like a rather typical superhero flick. It always seems to be striving to be something more than it is, and the desperation is as palpable as that of a drunk, middle-aged divorcee at a singles bar. And, there's actually a line in the film where Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson) asks the Comedian, in complete seriousness, "Whatever happened to the American Dream?" Apparently it went right out the window along with subtlety and subtext. I think I might have actually groaned out loud at that one.

So there it is. Watchmen does style exceptionally well, and while it may falter a little in the substance department, it is at least attempting to say something. And hey, it's better to aspire to some semblance of meaning than to throw up your hands and take the easy, shlocky way out. I'm looking at you, Bruckheimer.

DVD Bonus Features

The extra features on this one are sorely lacking. There's a half-hour documentary on the cultural impact of the graphic novel, featuring interviews with the cast and crew, where they talk about the comic book like it was the second coming of Jesus. There is also a collection of video journals, which are really just an extension of the longer documentary, providing the viewer with more background information about the characters of the graphic novel and the film. On an unrelated note, there's also a My Chemical Romance music video for "Desolation Row," because their lead singer really liked the book. Makes sense.

"Watchmen: Director's Cut" is on sale July 21, 2009 and is rated R. Comic Book, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi, Thriller. Directed by Zack Snyder. Written by David Hayter, Alex Tse (screenplay) ; Alan Moore (graphic novel). Starring Abby Epstein, Billy Crudup, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Matthew Goode.

Inna Mkrtycheva

I’ve been trying to write something pithy and clever about myself, but as I am neither of these things I’ll just list some things I really like lately: the Twilight Zone, pizza, giant squids, “bloop” (look it up), bears, and Bill Hicks. Also, I have a growing fascination with music video goddess Jan Terri. It’s bad news.


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