Release Date: 2003
Director: James Mangold
Why I picked this: Recommendation
Release Date: 2009
Director: Zack Snyder
Why I picked this: It looks like a unique comic book movie
Based on the famous graphic novel, this movie takes a realistic view at the concept of a “superhero.” Having only skimmed a few parts of the novel, I can’t say I had that great of a grasp of the source material going in, but the film was very good at setting the scene, establishing characters and background, and creating a distinct atmosphere, with help from a great six-minute opening title sequence that showcases the jarring differences between this world and our reality. That being said, there were still annoying aspects of the movie. The film takes place during an alternate 1980s, where Richard Nixon is still president, the threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and Soviet Union is at its highest, and costumed vigilantes have been outlawed. The film begins with Edward Blake AKA the Comedian, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, murdered by a mysterious figure. Still-active vigilante Rorschach, played by Jackie Earle Haley, begins to investigate and theorizes that someone is looking to murder old superheroes. He warns the other “Watchmen,” the group in which the Comedian and Rorschach belonged to years ago, including Daniel Dreisburg AKA Nite Owl, played by Patrick Wilson, Laurie Jupiter AKA Silk Spectre, played by Malin Akerman, Adrian Veidt AKA Ozymandias, played by Matthew Goode, and Dr. Manhattan, formerly Jon Osterman, played by Billy Crudup. Some of these characters have their backstories revealed through their own dedicated flashback sequence, specifically the Comedian, Dr. Manhattan, and Rorschach. These flashbacks were some of my favorite parts of the movie; although they stall the plot, they are very revealing and flesh out these characters. However, the other characters receive much less attention, which I found frustrating given their large role in the movie. Jackie Earle Haley does an admirable job as the cynical and no-holds-barred Rorschach, though his noir-esque narrations were worthy of eye-rolling, especially with his Christian Bale Batman-like voice. Billy Crudup is great as Dr. Manhattan; being beyond human and having god-like powers, he does a great job portraying someone who is loosing his detachment to humanity. Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl might be my favorite character; he is certainly the most human and relatable. He comes across as Clark Kent if he were a real person. The Comedian is probably one of the less sympathetic character, but he has one of the more interesting backstories and Morgan plays the toughened character very well. But pretty much everyone else in the cast failed to make an impression on me. Director Zack Snyder is probably one of the best visual directors today, but it is evident that he tried much too hard to replicate the look of the graphic novel. He attempts to fit as many visual details in each frame, as though you were looking at a panel of a graphic novel, but a few parts feel stilted and lifeless as a result. While the story and flashbacks were intriguing, the narrative structure doesn’t fit a two and a half hour long movie as well as it does with a comic book. Staying engaged throughout the entire movie might be challenging to some. And rarely did the movie feel alive; again, it was like looking at a moving graphic novel. And as a result, some heavy scenes didn’t have as heavy of an impact as they should have. The city is vast and atmospheric, but never feels populated with real people, so a certain scene of destruction had no impact on me. I was also annoyed by music choices; the songs chosen to play during scenes were “obvious,” it that makes sense. Though they fit the scene, they were not inspired or unique choices, which put me out of the scene. In fact, this movie had the most bizarre use of the song “Hallelujah” I’ve ever seen.
The story and acting is mostly good, as are the visuals. However, it doesn’t make the best transition from graphic novel to film and feels lifeless at points.
Release Date: 2003
Director: Park Chan-wook
Why I picked this: It looks really good
This Korean film had various unexpected elements. What I thought would simply be a revenge tale became much more complex, much more thoughtful, and much more disturbing. It is certainly well made and well acted; there are various images that stick to mind and a few great memorable scenes, a highlight being a hallway fight scene done in one take. But this film took many unexpected paths, which some may find intriguing and some may find too much to handle. Oh Dae-su, played by Choi Min-sik, is a family man who has been living as a degenerate, basically. On her young daughter’s birthday, he is kidnapped and inexplicably imprisoned in what looks to be a hotel room. After fifteen years, he is inexplicably released. Hardened and a different man after his imprisonment, he seeks vengeance. Actor Choi Min-sik is great in this very physical performance. He is great in both action and drama, and can convey so much with just his face, especially in the movie’s closing shot. Oh Dae-su, after gaining his freedom, finds allies in a young woman named Mi-do and his old friend No Joo-hwan, and puts a face on his quest for revenge in Lee Woo-jin, played by Yoo Ji-tae. Woo-jin is by far the most interesting and complex character. He comes across a certain way when he is first introduced, but the audience gradually learns more about his motivation and backstory through flashbacks. It is nearly impossible to further describe his character without revealing any details, but know that Yoo Ji-tae has a great performance as an intriguing villain. The pace of the movie fluctuates, with enthralling action one minute and revealing and slower flashbacks the next. It is tough to sit through, especially due to the sexual and violent content. The movie is smoothly directed; special effects are cleverly used for transitions and for some fantasy sequences, mostly involving ants. The editing was just as good; the use of jump cuts was very fitting to show the passage of time. When you can get over the content, there is a fine-crafted movie to be found here. The soundtrack helped make the tone for the movie. Though there won’t be any themes that stick to your head, the score is very effective during both action and dramatic scenes; some dramatic scenes are much more powerful as a result.
The content may prove to be too much for few, but the movie features a compelling story with a great protagonist and antagonist, along with exciting action and thought-provoking drama.