Fantasy and science-fiction genres on television and in cinemas are nowadays enjoying an incredible popularity all over the globe. Movies such as Fantastic Beasts or the latest Star Wars flics attract a vast number of viewers and elevate these two genres. In these two categories fall also movies about superheroes, many of them based on comic books. Especially in the last decade, such films gained an unbelievable amount of popularity along with critical acclaim. In one of my earlier post I have reviewed “Guardians of the Galaxy”, a sci-fi superhero adventure brought to the big screen as a live-action film by Marvel and Disney. In this article, I will be looking into a totally different superhero movie “Watchmen”, which premiered back in 2009 and is based on a critically acclaimed same named DC graphic novel. Watchmen will also grace the small screen with its presence soon enough since HBO decided to take on the material and produce a live-action TV show.
To begin with I would like to mention that I just recently watched Watchmen for the first time together with my wife, as our evening film choice fell on this particular title. This movie is not part of the DCEU (a shared universe of intersecting movies based on DC comics) and stands on its own, as it was intended with the groundbreaking graphic novel at the time it was published. The film is based on the Watchmen comic books, first published in September 1986 under the DC label as a collaborative effort of three British artists (Alan Moore – writer, Dave Gibbons – artist, John Higgins – colorist). The idea for the comic book came from Alan Moore who submitted his proposal to DC comics which lined out his intention of writing about superheroes who would then become unusable for future stories. The proposal was approved and Alan Moore had the task at hand to create completely original characters for the comic book series “Watchmen”. At that time Alan was already an experienced and talented writer, who created for DC comic book series such as “V for Vendetta” and “Swamp Thing” and even worked for Marvel on the reboot of “Miracleman aka Marvelman”. Dave Gibbons was an artist and writer himself who worked a lot for DC and Marvel in the past on such notable comic book works such as Green Lantern, Batman, Incredible Hulk and many more. The third in the team was John Higgins, artist and writer who worked on many comics including “Batman: The Killing Joke”. So basically all three artists had years of experience and extraordinary views and perspectives which led to such a success and critical acclaim the Watchmen comic book received. After the entire series which was labeled ‘graphic novel’ was published in the years 1986-1987, it was highly praised and celebrated not only inside the comic industry but also outside of it. Watchmen graphic novel received a prestigious Hugo Award (annual award since 1953 for science-fiction and fantasy works) as well as with its strong sales propelled DC Comics ahead of Marvel. The Time Magazine declared Watchmen to be one of the 100 greatest novels published since 1923, the only comic to make that list. Even now the Watchmen editions are being sold all over the globe and based on its success we are soon expecting an HBO series based on this enticing material. All of this was made possible thanks to the creativeness of the three artists, especially Alan Moore’s ideas and the creation of such memorable characters such as Dr. Manhattan or Rorschach. What makes Watchmen special besides a compelling story, is the focus on the structure and layout of the graphic novel. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons gave the series a grid layout and added recurring symbols such as the blood-stained smiley face. This last one became a recognizable symbol of the Watchmen phenomenon. Other special and memorable elements of the novel were the intertwined storylines as well as the feature of supplemental fictional documents. Overall an epic graphic novel. If you are interested, Amazon, as well as other online stores, have different editions of this graphic novel available.
Going back to the movie, Watchmen (2009) was directed by Zack Snyder, a name well known nowadays in relation to the DCEU films. Prior to his commitment to DC, Zack was the director of such notable films as Dawn of the Dead, 300, Sucker Punch, to name a few. To be honest, I have never watched the three films above and know his work only from his DC endeavors – Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman & Justice League. These DC films though quite entertaining, having some likable elements, never really convinced me to be great superhero movies. Based on DCEU films I have seen, I have to say I am not a huge fan of Zack and his directing style. Nevertheless, I still opted to see Watchmen and I really did not regret it. In Watchmen he managed to apply a noir tone of the novel to the film and held everything as close as it gets to the comic book. Choosing the right staff was also a great achievement, for instance, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach were phenomenal. Furthermore, the movie has incredible artistic touches. Just take for example the opening scenes of the film, which shows a mind-blowing fight between the Comedian and an unknown assailant, with the blood-stained smiley pin falling down to the ground. In my opinion, Zack did pretty well as a director of Watchmen.
As you know from my previous posts I am not really into comprehensive explanations of the film’s narrative. I believe it to be more exciting to go into details about the commitment and performance of actors and directors. However, Watchmen’s story is very unique and it would be wrong not to say anything about it. The film shows us a glimpse of a world where superheroes identities are known to men as a group of retired heroes take part in everyday life. The story takes off as Rorschach, a costumed vigilante, learns that one of his comrades was murdered and in his investigation uncovers a huge plot to kill and discredit all superheroes. Rorschach gets in touch with his former retired associates and together they fight to save themselves and the world, which is endangered as well. As you see the narrative of this film is quite special, though it contains the essence of every superhero movie – saving the world. However, the take on the costumed heroes in Watchmen is entirely different compared to other similar films, as they are presented broken, retired, old & used. I will not go deeper into further descriptions here and suggest everyone who is interested to watch the movie and experience this thrilling narrative on your own.
Regarding the casting, I believe some of the choices were phenomenal. For instance, the performance of the narrator of the film Rorschach, portrayed by an incredibly talented Jackie Earle Haley, was so dark, realistic and convincing that it was a real pleasure to watch him act. Jackie’s version of Rorschach goes in line with the noir tone of the graphic novel and shows a vigilante who without hesitation is prepared to sacrifice himself to save everyone else. Another breathtaking performance was delivered by Jeffrey Dean Morgan (portraying the Comedian), an actor so versatile and brilliant. Prior to Watchmen Jeffrey experienced a world in need of saving in a successful CW’s TV show “Supernatural”, and already there showed his devotion to the material. In Watchmen, Jeffrey portrays a reckless and violent hero showing us his dark side, which he does masterly. I even believe that Jeffrey’s experience in Watchmen inspired him and helped him years later to deliver such an astonishing performance in “The Walking Dead” as a ruthless leader Negan. As for others, Patrick Wilson as a hero Nite Owl, Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II were quite good in their roles. Both brought the essence of their characters very close to the source material, though missed out on bringing such depth and devotion as in the case of Jeffrey and Jackie. Further main roles were filled by Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan, Matthew Goode as Ozymandias and Carla Gugino as Silk Spectre.
Overall Watchmen with its incredible visual effects, great performances, and a compelling storyline is, in my opinion, one of the hidden jewels of the films based on DC comics. In terms of rating, I would here give the film 3,9 out of 5. If you would like to find out for yourself how good the movie really is, feel free to check it out on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.
So how did you like Zack Snyder’s Watchmen movie, if you have seen it? What about the upcoming HBO show? Some facts including cast choices are already published. The show is set to launch in 2019 as was officially confirmed on the HBO site. I would be very interested to know how excited are you about the HBO Watchmen series?