Canister X Movie Review #93: Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut (2009)
Written by David Hayter and Alex Tse
Directed by Zack Snyder
Runtime 215 min.
5 out of 5
After the Comedian has been murdered, lone remaining vigilante Rorschach begins an investigation into his old acquaintance’s death. Since most superheroes were banned from existing after some legislation several years before, he looks up old allies and even old enemies in his quest for the truth. Slowly, he begins to unravel a plot that could bring about a disaster unlike anything the world has ever seen before.
Based on what some would argue is the greatest graphic novel and superhero story of all time, Watchmen written by Alan More and Dave Gibbons, this movie adaptation was years in the making. Not this specific rendition, but from what I know, the book was optioned way back when it came out in the ’80s but never got off the ground. One of the reasons was very few filmmakers had the guts to touch it because Watchmen is such a revered work amongst comic fans and even in some literary and academic circles.
Enter director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead (2004), Man of Steel, 300 and more), whose eye for detail and a knack for visual storytelling takes on the gargantuan project and does his best to faithfully adapt Watchmen to the big screen. Him and his creative team nail it, in my opinion, and adapt the book the only way something like Watchmen could be adapted: panel-by-panel. It was the safest route but also the smartest. Some changes were made—like the ending—but for the most part, the book is translated completely as is to the big screen. Even the director’s cut includes additional scenes and animated clips from Tales of the Black Freighter interspersed throughout just like the graphic novel has bits of the pirate comic peppered throughout the main narrative.
Watchmen asks the question: what would superheroes be like if they existed in the real world? Whether they are of the superpowerless variety or something more Superman-like ala Dr. Manhattan, you get an honest portrayal of superheroes in real life, all centered around the mystery of the murder of one of their friends.
This story is about as down-to-earth as you get regarding superheroes in real life, and depending on the angle you’re coming from, can be equal to or more so than Kick-Ass in that regard.
Each character in the flick matched their character in the book, all the way from the crazy-yet-cynical Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), to black-and-white-justice-seeking Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), to idealistic-yet-obsessed Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), to insecure-but-strong Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), to misguided-but-you-can-see-how-he’s-right Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), and a supporting cast that makes every moment believable.
The Watchmen story is so dense that the fact they were able to take the twelve-part series and showcase nearly all of it in around three and a half hours—I’m talking about the ultimate cut of the movie, which includes Tales of the Black Freighter and a bunch of additional footage not seen in the theatrical release—is pretty impressive. What’s amazing about the Watchmen narrative and thus the movie is the incredible amount of history for the characters that needed to be shown without bogging down the main story, which was the Comedian’s murder. You get to know these characters intimately, their pasts, their present and in some cases, their future.
Zack Snyder’s knack for visuals gave this flick its own flavor and tone thanks to the color filters on the film. The score is fantastic. The action scenes were well done and quickly-paced, using brutal fighting techniques and the right amount of blood.
Watchmen is certainly not your traditional superhero flick. It’s a superhero drama and is meant for an audience who likes to have some thinking along with their superhero slugfests. As a comic book fan, I appreciated the movie’s faithfulness to the graphic novel, the overall story of Watchmen, and how each person involved really seemed to take this movie seriously. Nothing was tongue-in-cheek.
Watchmen ranks right up there as one of the greatest superhero movies of all time. If you consider yourself a superhero fan, then you should check it out. It’s a serious look at the genre through the lens of a clever story with amazing characters, all of which you feel like you’ve known for ages instead of just for a few hours on the screen.
Highly recommended. Not for kids.