The Comic-Book Movie That’s Gotten Better With Age: Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (2009)

Review of The Director’s Cut of Watchmen, 2nd Viewing 

I don’t read a lot of comic books. The majority of ones that I have read were never vastly interesting to me. I have, however, read Watchmen, because the idea of a more politically complicated atmosphere in the superhero genre has always caught my attention significantly more than others (ex: The Incredibles, V for Vendetta, The Boys, etc.). Watchmen is a graphic novel that I somewhat “worship” and find to be one of the boldest pieces of fiction ever written. It’s genuinely as good and morally daring as folks make it out to be. 

So, naturally, Zack Snyder’s adaption of the infamous book has quite the burden to carry. 

Just from the opening credits that play Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’, which introduces the inception of Snyder’s taboo modification to the representative superhero adaptation, it was more than obvious that this Watchmen movie was going to piss fans off. Snyder loves to keep his stylistically extroverted and overemphasized style in check, and despite him being quite the sucker for Alan Moore’s story, there was, case and point, going to be a major change in presentation in this live-action retelling. Personally, I think these beginning few minutes are some of the most disturbingly resourceful in movie history and set the time period and setting of Watchmen towards total accuracy. Showing the death of The Comedian, graphic footage involving celebrity homophobia, a recreation of JFK’s brutal assassination, and repulsive genocides, it’s evident, like how Moore went into making his graphic novel, that Snyder didn’t want to hold back on the brutality and savage parallelism that could be made to 1980s humanity; that is if superheroes could’ve ever been actively involved in our history. 

The director’s cut’s bulky 3-hour runtime has allowed Snyder to give us enough comfortable room to develop our main characters to appropriate extents, with fascinating and often melancholy backstories that allow the cynical fixations of the characters’ beliefs to feel justified by the end of the picture. Rorschach, who is a personal favorite of mine, brings some arguably “emo” diary narration to the movie that is, nonetheless, partially amusing and partially genuine. He arguably also stars front and center in some of the most imposing scenes of the motion picture. The Comedian, even though killed off in the first couple of minutes, furthermore gets character reassurance as well, as Snyder attempts to visually interlink The Comedian’s history with other characters like Laurie and Sally Jupiter. Larry Fong’s cinematography is, for the most part, pretty badass and maybe sometimes a little too dark and reliantly filtered, but it fits the gritty, edged mood. In truth, it’s really hard not to complement Fong for making every shot look so specific in context and so spot-on to the images from its source material. Snyder obligates himself to cover so many various settings, and for the budget, he pulls it off impressively. Watchmen additionally has a crazy-good soundtrack that’s a little too overutilized but shouldn’t bother the contemporary too badly. Lastly, the visual effects still hold up reasonably well for a 2009 property.  

When it comes to Snyder’s constantly bloated methods, however, problems begin to arise in Watchmen—thankfully though, more so than a lot of his other movies. Some of the extras’ acting are painfully cringy. Even some of the main leads’ performances are questionably amateur in a few scenes, yet not enough to draw away from the partially intriguing dialogue that’s often extracted right from the comics. A lot of the scenes particularly involving Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II feel artificial—even if some of them are torn right from the comics; they don’t appear contextually deserved towards the actual structure of the film. The dialogue is sometimes rocky in certain spots as well, but also often very idiosyncratic—in a good way! Plus, there are distractingly cliché moments in Watchmen despite the fact that the movie usually has an overall noticeable eccentricity in storytelling.  Snyder’s interpretation furthermore shamefully neglects Ozymandias’s character development in this adaptation—which is a pity because he plays such a crucial and thematically important role in the Watchmen legacy. 

Even with these many blemishes in mind, we have to remember that Zack Synder had quite the shoes to fill in, and, you know what, I believe he pulled it off pretty triumphantly. The Watchmen novel is a gigantic, almost too-stuffed-to-adapt story, and for what it’s worth, this might be the best movie adaptation of Watchmen that we’ll ever get—hint, hint, make a TV show revamp instead, people. It’s unapologetically insensitive as is its source material. It succeeds as the needed yet evidently unwanted turning point in comic book quality that The Dark Knight also initiated. That’s that. It’s under-appreciated in my book. The controversial Watchmen is indisputably one of the greatest comic-book movies of all-time—I’d give it “top ten,” to be honest—in spite of its justly pointed out flaws. 

Verdict: B

The Superior Comic-Book Adaptations

“Watchmen” is now available to stream on YouTube, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, and Amazon Prime.

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