Film Reviews

Watchmen Zack Snyder

Rating - 5/10

It has been almost a decade since Hollywood began its intensive combing through the back catalogues of comic books and graphic novels. Since then the filmic onslaught of genetically modified ubermenschen has been intrinsically entwined with the ever-changing political impressions of the decade. The immediate post-9/11 comic book films reflected an orthodox encapsulation of the superhero myth; those of individuals capable and willing to save mankind from traditional twisted forces of evil.

In this the final year of the "noughties," the tone of this vision has greatly shifted. Personable shades of black and white have diluted into an increasingly dark hue of immoral grey. The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s second instalment in his revisionist take on Batman, touched upon the moral fallibility and ethical constraints of the superhero to great critical and commercial acclaim. Presumably then, Zack Synder’s adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ mid-80’s graphic novel Watchmen, should have completed this unorthodox deconstruction of the classic superhero model; rather than ignoring many of Moore's subversions and critiques of the comic book superhero.

Set in an alternate history of the United States during the Cold War, Moore’s original graphic novel envisions a milieu in which America did not lose in Vietnam and Richard Nixon is still U.S President in 1985. The architects behind America’s military success were a series of superheroes and costumed crime fighters commonly known as Watchmen.
In Moore's graphic novel, by the late seventies, the Watchmen’s urban vigilantes were no longer popular with the general public and their professional role had been outlawed. In lieu of the changing conditions, some took employment with the federal government, others retired. However by 1985, the impending likelihood of a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union led some to question the group’s need to collectively react, especially when it appeared that someone or something was attempting to assassinate members of the disbanded Watchmen group. 
Whereas The Dark Knight delved into the moral shades of grey affecting its superhero protagonist, Zack Synder’s adaptation of Watchmen places its central interest in celebrating and revering the animated image. In similar fashion to Snyder’s earlier 300, his latest film impresses style over substance. In the case of Watchmen, Snyder’s fiercely attempts to emulate and replicate Dave Gibbons’ original animated storyboards. Synder’s deferential aesthetic approach provides the film with a painstakingly meticulous reproduction of Gibbons’ visual sense, often down to the smallest detail.
However, Snyder’s slavish recreation comes at a cost, with its central casualties being the film’s underdeveloped narrative and neglected thematic development. Snyder is less the film’s director and more Gibbons’ aesthetic steward. By its first hour, the film fritters into a disjointed jumble of visual ideas, rather than a cohesive Cold War parable regarding the hazards of hero worship.
In tandem with the film’s glorious opening credits, Snyder’s finest manoeuvre is found in his incorporation of individual back stories for his heroes. The film’s forsaken demigods come in the form of a rag-tag group headlined by the giant, fluorescent blue-hued Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup). A former atomic physicist, who mutates into a powerful emotionally detached being in a freak accident, Dr. Manhattan is the only member of the Watchmen with true superhuman abilities.
The rest rely on strength and intellect, presumably to compensate for the woefully bland personalities accorded to them. Even Crudup’s melancholy, monotone character feels insufferably dreary and wooden. Only Jackie Earle Haley’s astringent Rorschach, all Noirish jargon and sociopathic malaise, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s The Comedian truly accord personas fitting their character’s savage inclinations. The less said about Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl II), Matthew Goode (Ozymandias) and Malin Akerman (Silk Spectre II) the better.
Snyder’s continual celebration of the image undercuts much of the tenets emphasized in Moore’s source material. His fastidious regard for Gibbons’ artistry and overt fascination with the violence contained within the graphic novel’s pages produces a numbing, disconnection from Moore’s thematic intents. Snyder’s sprawling methodology, including his now overly familiar over-utilization of slow-motion cinematography, constructs a drawn out film that fails to locate much of Moore’s pop-mythology subversions and socio-cultural critiques in favour of digitized blood splattered imagery.
The cultural precepts of the era housed in Moore’s graphic novel are glibly reduced to spoken references to Marxism,  Lee Iacocca and Nena’s “99 Luftballons,” while Snyder’s sleazy and crass incorporation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as the mood music to a ridiculously puerile, latex clad sex scene proves to be the nadir of Snyder’s repeated failure throughout Watchmen to select music contextually and rhythmically in sync with the film’s imagery. Equally problematic, the film’s campy final thirty minutes feel rushed in Snyder’s urgency to connect the long-abandoned, flailing strands of plot before the arrival of the film’s closing credits.  
Crushingly slick and artificial in its demeanour, Snyder’s Watchmen cascades into lifelessness by its elongated final moments. After an intriguing opening hour, Snyder's film loses its vigor and intent. The film's corresponding "cutting edge" is ultimately too closely aligned to sadistic violence, rather than the type of  boundary-pushing social commentary and deconstruction of the appeal of superheroes in modern culture represented in the graphic novel. Zack Snyder's visual comprehensiveness may be his central virtue, but as evident in Watchmen it is equally his Achilles heel.