Watchmen

Watchmen was never going to be an easy project for the person who was brave enough to finally adapt it to the screen. For years it had been tackled by director after director, each time ultimately shelved. How would you adapt the bible, in all its entirety, and succeed? It’s impossible. How then would you adapt what is revered as the greatest piece of graphic fiction ever published? The Citizen Kane of comics? Something so glued to its medium that no one would have faulted the notion it could never be done at all.

A story that is essentially a murder mystery while also serving as social commentary. A deconstruction of the super-hero genre. A parable of the human condition. Not just what it is to be a super-human. But what it is to be simply human.

How would you adapt the story of a team of superheroes who were shut down by a government act? Decommissioned by the country and the laws they served. Who shed retirement to reveal the truth behind the death of one of their own and to save a world that doesn’t want to be saved along the way?

Zack Snyder gave it his best shot.

Zack Snyder cast this movie almost perfectly. From the principal cast, it’s too hard to pick a stand out between them. Billy Crudup’s tragically human portrayal of an omnipotent being who has lost his faith in humanity and his actual humanity along with it. Patrick Wilson as the idealist crime-fighter whose life is an empty shell, without a sense of self or purpose. Jackie Earle Haley’s unhinged vigilante who may be the only sane person in a world gone insane. Even Matthew Goode who seems unconvincing as the world’s smartest man, the perennial overachiever, peels back that layer to reveal his removal from a realistic portrayal is necessary for a character who is ten steps ahead of the rest of the film.

Zack Snyder picked the perfect soundtrack to carry this film through time. From the ingenious opening credits that move thematically to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-changing” to the hollow echo of “The Sounds of Silence” to “All Along the Watchtower”. This soundtrack is on the cutting edge of relevance. Think of the great compilation soundtracks at the forefront of movies that are identified by them. From Easy Rider to Saturday Night Fever, to Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction to Trainspotting. This soundtrack belongs rightfully among them.

Zack Snyder captured the look and feel of the comic perfectly. He gets the balance right with the costume design. That perfect point in between ridiculous and realistic. Functional and silly. He gets the tones and colours spot on, grim when it needs to be, bright when it has to be. Initially, you’ll think this is a dark film, and you can’t argue, given the subject matter, it is. But the colours, the costumes, the settings of this film are all perfectly placed. Even the black and white in this movie has a visual flair.

So why hasn’t Zack Snyder made a perfect film?

Was it written too “in its time”, that the cultural events that lay the framework for the plot points have been done to death?

Was it not what an audience, that is ever growing attached to its big screen comic book movie adaptations, want from its comic book films?

Is it too smart for its own good? Is the subject matter too dense? Are there too many stories happening at once?

Surely it isn’t the one glaring difference that Zack Snyder made in the story from book to film… That change was a necessary one.

Why didn’t Watchmen succeed when there is so much to enjoy and appreciate in this film?

It all goes back to the question of how do you do it?

How do you adapt watchmen for the screen?

The answer’s simple.

You’re not supposed to.

You don’t.

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises closes out director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Batman returns eight years after the events of ‘The Dark Knight’ to combat Bane, who has seized control of Gotham City and threatens to destroy it completely. Batman is joined in this movie by thief Selina Kyle (don’t call her Catwoman, nobody else in this film does) and John Blake, a GCPD officer who reminds Batman why Gotham City needs its heroes.

The story borrows key plot points from the ‘Knightfall’ story arc, where Batman must return from crippling injuries, after suffering defeat at the hands of Bane.

A large part of the second and third acts are also based on the ‘No Man’s Land’ storyline, where Gotham city is declared a disaster zone after an earthquake, isolating it from the rest of America.

At just under three hours long this is a huge movie to take in. The pace of this film carries it well and manages to resolve character arcs and plot points that reach as far back as ‘Batman Begins’, without feeling as if there’s too much going on in this movie. It also does well at making new characters matter. Not a single scene or plot point is filler in this film; everything ties back or reaches forward with purpose and good reason. The scale and scope of events are epic without losing any realism, and although stylistic, it looks very different to the first two movies, and it feels like it belongs securely as the final piece of a near-perfect comic book movie saga.

As with most Batman films, the villain is the showpiece. Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane is menacing, beastly, animalistic and powerful. But it is also carefully nuanced and thoughtful. If Heath Ledger deserved his Oscar for his portrayal of the Joker in the last installment, then it is a great injustice that Hardy isn’t seen as deserved for what he does for this rendition of Bane. It could just as easily be his movie as it is Christian Bale’s, and he uses every inch of his acting ability in an attempt to break each finger of Batman’s grip on the film.

The fight scenes are bone-crunchingly brutal and the action is visceral. The truest parts about this film are the ones where these scenes break free of the writing and acting and emit pure primal force.

The comic book version of ‘Knightfall’ was a year-long journey into innovative storytelling when it was published. On the heels of killing Superman, DC comics came up with a way to replace Batman that would renew interest in a flagging comic book industry. For its time it was tightly written. Its logical progression of cause and effect that lead to the wearing down and breaking of a hero was gripping. It introduced new characters that have lasted in the almost thirty years since, and have rightly taken their place in the Batman rogues gallery, alongside icons such as the Joker and Catwoman.

Nine years after ‘Knightfall’ was published, ‘No Man’s Land’ would serve to reinvigorate the Batman character once again. Its sprawling, far-reaching story was even more ambitious an event than ‘Knightfall’. Its gritty artwork perfectly encapsulated a mood of dire hopelessness and ruin. Its writing was an unflinching look into even the deepest and darkest places society will go to when the world has given up. It added new layers, and new motivations to every character in the Batman mythology while never deviating from the core of who these sixty-year-old masterworks of American fiction are.

The Dark Knight Rises does well to take the central points of both ‘Knightfall’ and ‘No Man’s Land’ and refashion them into the concluding chapter of a rare cinematic experience.

A journey through the power of an ideal.

The birth of that ideal.

Standing resilient when that ideal is tested.

And rising from the rubble so that the ideal becomes everlasting.