Monday, 21 March 2016

Watchmen (2009)

"Never compromise. Not even in the face of Armageddon.

Never have I been so favourably surprised by a film. Yes, Alan Moore refused to be associated with it for the usual (understandable) reasons and yes, Watchmen is as much about its form as its content, and form doesn't translate to other media. But that doesn't make it unfilmable, and I'd say this is the best possible cinematic version of Watchmen. The characters, the plot, the aesthetic- barring a major departure for the ending of the film it's an extremely faithful adaptation.

The cast, none of whom are huge stars, are perfect with the exception of Matthew  Goode, whose American accent is deeply unconvincing- and I'm a Brit. Jackie Earle Haley, so rubbish as Freddy Krueger in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, is a revelation as Rorschach, seemingly born to play the role.

I won't comment on the plot other than to urge people to read the original, but the film made me ponder the contrast between the Comedian and Rorschach, both dangerous Far Right borderline Nazis but very different. Not only is the Comedian a completely amoral bastard but we're further alienated from him by the fact that his place in the narrative is to be seen and understood through other characters, not on his own terms: we see his exterior actions, and subjective versions at that. It's quite a contrast from the way we are made privy, through the device of the diary, to Rirschach's interior monologue. Both are psychopaths but we are made privy to Rorschach's poor and unpleasant upbringing, while his misogyny and distrust of sex strongly imply that he is, definitely unlike Edward Blake, a virgin. And yet... both are equally reactionary and equally psychopathic. So why does Moore allow us to, if not like Rorschach, feel empathy for him, and accept him in the narrative space of the hero? I suspect it's because of the gulf in terms of social class and status between the two.

On a more prosaic note, the shifting patterns on Rorschach's face look amazing. As does the whole film, brilliantly realising Dave Gibbon's visual aesthetic. It doesn't quite have the depth of the original- that would be unfair to expect-but there's still so much to say about authoritarianism, about misogyny, about nuclear weapons, about poverty, about how superheroes in real life would be Nietzchean Supermen, not a liberal wish fulfilment figure dreamed up by two Jewish creators in the year of Kristallnacht, sadly.

This is easily the best superhero film I've ever seen, but then, the source material is sublime.

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