We Love… Superheroes: Watchmen

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  Illustration: Adeline Pericart

Bam! Pow! Thwack! From masked avengers to caped crusaders, what would we do without spandex-wearing superheroes fighting crime and righting wrongs? While we mere mortals go about our daily business and sleep soundly in our beds at night, an army of superheroes are working tirelessly around the globe – but mostly in America – fighting to bring peace, justice and outside-underpants to the world.

And so, in honour of their efforts, our own band of Film Ireland superheroes assemble to dish out their own critical form of justice and wreak havok on those villians who long for a world without heroes.

Eat dust evil! Superheroes are here to stay.

We Love…

Superheroes:

 

Watchmen

‘… the motion picture remains an ambitious and sharply crafted companion piece to Moore’s game changing graphic novel…’

Anthony Assad

 

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Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen was originally released as a 12 issue mini-series by DC Comics between 1986 and 1987. In it Moore weaves an alternate history where ordinary men and women donning costumes to seek justice in the ’40s and ’60s heralds a culture of superheroes. Their deeds, among them turning the tide of the Vietnam War, inspires another generation of misfits culminating in an assembly of vigilantes calling themselves the Watchmen.

Despite noble endeavours their methods are outlawed and the group disbands into an early retirement to watch helplessly as the powers that be of the U.S. and Soviet Union prepare for nuclear war. When one of their own is murdered however it sparks a series of events leading them to assume their alter egos once more to protect a world that condemns them.

Although termed ‘superheroes’, all but one of the Watchmen have superpowers and the league consists of vagrants and sociopaths among the other well-meaning but essentially flawed characters. As the narrative unfolds, across various perspectives and timelines, Moore subverts our notions of the superhero and successfully reinvents the format of storytelling they were attributed to cementing the status of the ‘graphic novel’ as a serious means of literary expression.

Critical and commercial success meant a live-action adaptation was inevitable but not without its challenges. As soon as the ink was dry studios began to trade turns across two decades to develop the project drawing talented directors as diverse as Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass and Darren Aronofsky only to hit a dead-end effort after effort. During a second run of studio interventions coupled with the encouraging rise of comic-book adaptations in the ’00s the project finally found its home at Warner Bros. and its director with comic-book movie veteran Zack Snyder.

The world of Snyder’s Watchmen is expertly rendered with costume and set design often taking precedence over the screen. Fans of the source material will notice that every detail has been meticulously recreated for the film and the few liberties the filmmakers do take compliment without dumbing down the elaborate narrative.

Each of the Watchmen harbour their own reasons for suiting up and fighting crime but years of social and political duress have left them feeling disillusioned, discarded and defeated as the world counts down to its own annihilation. The performances on show do manage to convey the gravity of this grim reality with Jackie Earle Haley and Patrick Wilson (as Rorschach and Nite Owl II respectively) inhabiting their roles with particular aplomb, in addition their scenes are the most credible as they have the most to lose. The Travis Bickle-like Rorschach needs to hide behind a mask, it binds him and defines him from hellish thoughts as an inhuman product of an inhuman upbringing, crime fighting offers the only semblance of meaning in his life and his sometime partner Drieberg / Nite Owl II seems only to live for the past until the love for another forces him into harm’s way once more.

If this wasn’t drama enough, the omnipresent Dr. Manhattan, the result of a freak experiment and one-time Watchman is now Earth’s greatest defence but humanity is proving meaningless in it’s time of need and only a miracle could alter it’s fate while The Comedian appears to have given up years ago and accepted the puppetry of their lives. This is where Snyder’s Watchmen really succeeds, latex and heroics aside, the characters and their trials and tribulations take centre stage and the show is a compelling experience aided by the lack of recognisable stars.

Despite the best of intentions howeve,r the film ultimately falls short of its expectations. While credits are due to the writers for their exorbitant task of adapting Moore’s celebrated material into a cohesive if somewhat bloated two and a half hours, one can’t help thinking some extended sequences may have merited and perhaps better suited a mini-series for TV. While Snyder does exhibit a competent style his recurrent use of slow motion, used to embellish iconic images from the graphic novel, disrupts the momentum of some scenes already plagued by overemphasised music cues.

Notwithstanding these faults, Watchmen the motion picture remains an ambitious and sharply crafted companion piece to Moore’s game changing graphic novel, the visuals are often sumptuous with the material adding some much needed substance to Snyder’s debated but undeniable style. If you prefer anti-heroes over superheroes steeped in philosophical angst then there’s much to be enjoyed watching the Watchmen.

Stay tuned. Next time on ‘We Love… Superheroes’ – David Neary on The Hulk

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