Saturday, 15 February 2014

Watchmen: Ultimate Cut (2009)

Fresh off his major slow motion success with '300' Mr Snyder undertook this dark epic comicbook adaptation. The comics are set within an alternative history (1985) where Nixon is the President and has his hands full with the Cold War against the Soviet Union.

In a world where masked superheroes have been outlawed and are feared by the masses, many have retired, quit or just gone further undercover into the depths of the cities. The main plot surrounds the murder of one masked vigilante called 'The Comedian' and the following investigation by his former ally 'Rorschach'.

Even though the main plot is about the murder of one masked crime fighter the secondary plot about the alternative 1985 is also really intriguing and brilliant. Due to the presence of 'superheroes' in this 1985, history has been altered. The US had Dr Manhattan (due to an obligatory freak accident that usually creates these types of heroes) to help them win the Vietnam War which in turn kept Nixon in the White House and in turn gave the US a massive advantage over the USSR. All this leads to a much heightened Cold War and the background for the rest of the film. Admittedly in the end the twist isn't as clever as you'd think, its merely a case of one guy playing everyone off against each other to reach a situation where the US and USSR join together to fight another closer to home enemy.

Now I can't really compare this to the original material as I had never read it or even see it before this film was released. The main structure behind this comic is a look at the flip side of masked superheroes, very familiar looking characters and scenarios but in a very real world where actions have real consequences and where the heroes themselves could be just as bad as they are good. In fact all the characters in the 'Watchmen' team are not super powered heroes, only 'Dr Manhattan' actually has any real super powers.

This film really is the epitome of a dark comicbook flick, the main characters are suppose to be heroes but only two of them actually turn out that way. The rest tend to be sadistic ruthless merciless cynical and power crazy. We see many examples of these traits from the various characters throughout the film including attempted rape of a fellow team member!. It does actually make you feel dirty watching them at times. Of course this does lead to some quite chilling action sequences...or violent sequences I should say. This is not a comicbook flick for the younger viewers, there is plenty of blood, edgy hard hitting fights, gangs, killings and limb amputations all in the now glorious trademark Snyder slow motion.

To look at the film you'd think it was just another Batman flick, you really would. Its the classic comicbook look, dark skylines, dark seedy alleys set between towering skyscrapers, grime, grit, some very nice yet familiar looking hero outfits, a nifty flying superhero craft, a cool secret underground hideout etc...Visually its everything you'd expect to see but it does come across as an alternative universe very well. Take 'Nite Owl II' for instance, he's basically an alternative Batman really. Where as Dr Manhattan could be any number of classic characters, ditto Silk Spectre II.

The most intriguing character has to be the sadomasochistic Comedian, he has the design of an all American hero much like 'Nick Fury' but he's a bad apple. A loose cannon, a real vigilante who dislikes society and basically hurts anyone he comes into contact with, and this includes his team mates. The fact he works as a government agent after masked heroes are banned says it all really, a perfect excuse and reason to enact more violence. You wonder why he was ever allowed to continue within 'The Minutemen'.

The best character for me was easily Rorschach, a tough pint sized scruffy looking character who dresses like a 1950's detective and wears an unusual mask that has constantly changing inkblot patterns on it, hence his name. Not too sure how his mask is suppose to work as it looks like a simple balaclava, is it magic or something?. I think the fact this small scrawny guy can handle himself in a fight makes him appealing, plus the fact he looks like a regular street bum when unmasked (unlike the cheesy Nite Owl), perfectly played by Haley, the modern day Joe Pesci.

The other characters felt too common to me, just regular looking superhero types, why do female superhero characters always dress in fetish gear? why would a woman do that? running around in high heels, really?. I also don't get why Dr Manhattan would turn out like some invincible super powered alien after getting killed in some big radioactive thingy. Yeah I know its a comic but this guy is too powerful, it pushes suspension of disbelief to the limit with all that Mars crap. I did like the angle about him possibly giving everyone else cancer, another solid example of how grounded and dark the film/comic can be.

I'll be honest I can't recall the theatrical cut of this film and how it differs to this new cut. The main obvious difference is the inclusion of Tales of the Black Freighter which is in small segments throughout. I like the idea of a comic within a comic and I like the idea that in this alternative 85 people dislike superheroes so comicbooks contain other material. As an animated series of shorts I like that its again dark gritty and gory but the actual tale didn't really hit me. The pirate angle is fine but the twist and closure for the character in the tale just seems kinda bland, like it tries to be clever and eerie but it just doesn't feel it...I didn't feel it. I also felt this little tale did disrupt the flow of the film in all honesty, its better left out despite the fact it counterpoints many events and character arcs during the film.

I guess the film can be confusing to the sense that it comes across as a very real take on masked crime fighters. All these characters, whether super or not, have real problems, real issues and it doesn't beat around the bush showing us. But then when the action does kick in we are given silly childish slow motion nonsense. OK these characters can fight but we know they are just people, these are real people not supermen...yet at one point Nite Owl and Spectre take out streams of bad guys without breaking sweat!. Lots of slow motion martial arts jiggery pokery, its at this point I knew Snyder was catering for the wider audience, or should I say pandering. Had these fights been more down to earth with harsh realism the film would be perfect.

Rich lavish highly stylised and crammed full of small details that literately cover the walls of certain scenes. It has been argued that the film is too detailed, too close with the original comicbook source material and suffers. I disagree, I think the film is a great example of what can be done when you are totally faithful to the source. Yes I'll admit it can get a bit heavy in places but the good story and good characters kept me going fine. What annoyed me as said was the inclusion of modern over the top cookie cutter fight sequences which ruined the realism, yet obviously some people wanted more of that!.

I just wish many other films were as faithful to their sources as this was, if the material needs to be adult material then do it! don't water it down. This is the perfect anti-superhero flick, so many layers, such a solid story that requires some actual attention rather than constant aimless CGI action. A cerebral affair for sure, I was quite worn out by the end.