My Watchmen Five

One day I'll stop writing about Watchmen. Today is not that day. Today, with some SPOILERS, my fives will focus on my five favorite characters/performers from the film:

1) Rorschach(Jackie Earle Haley):
The minute Haley starts narrating, reading from Rorschach's journal, that's when I knew for certain that the film got at least one character right, perhaps the most important one. Rorschach doesn't have any glorious origin. He had a horrible childhood. At one point, while entertaining a “gentleman” caller, his mother slams the door in his face and regrets aloud not having an abortion. In another, bullies call his mother a whore and push the abused runt too far, at which point something inside finally snaps and he fights back. As in the comics, there's no secret lair, no gadgets beyond a grappling hook and a mask that shifts along with his mood. He lives on the street and he may genuinely be more psychotic and broken than any other hero. In a twisted way, he's probably the only one who knows what's right. That homeless guy on the street, that forgotten soul is the disguise, while his mask is his true face. I've never seen The Bad News Bears, but I imagine this former child actor may be on the verge of a renewed career if he wants it.

2) Doctor Manhattan(Billy Crudup):
You might know Crudup best as the “golden god” rock star in Almost Famous, or perhaps as the skeptical son coming to terms with his dying father's tall tales in Big Fish. After Watchmen, some might think of him as “Blue Wang”, although Rey's review caught on to the fact that clothes and humility meant nothing to Manhattan after his particles were disassembled and reassembled, and he became the most powerful being on the planet if not the universe. Where Crudup really shines isn't in his CGI enhanced junk, but the subtleties of playing an aloof character while still showing emotion. I thought this Newsarama review said it best: ”Crudup does a masterful job making a walking special effect into a real character without even the benefit of being able to use his eyes—when Veidt, at the end, mentions being able to read Manhattan's facial expressions, you realize that you too have been able to.”

3) The Comedian(Jeffrey Dean Morgan):
The Comedian is a complex character. Is he a hero or just a gun-toting vigilante, a commentary on the likes of the Punisher? How can anyone sympathize with a cigar-chomping brute who takes pleasure in the pain of his enemies, mocks his most idealistic colleagues, and demonstrates blatant misogynism time and again ranging from attempted rape to the most horrific of murders? He's irredeemable, and perhaps only in his last days starts to feel remorse and realize the larger joke. Morgan was not given an easy character to play, someone throughout the course of both the novel and the film you despise, pity, or mourn depending on which facet of his life you're seeing, but he captures all of it.

4) Nite Owl(Patrick Wilson):
I see Nite Owl as kind of a wannabe. Sure, he has a ship and gadgets and costumes and a lair, and he did bust some heads with Rorschach back in the day, but he seems to have a lot more in common with geeks who dress up like superheroes at conventions that a superhero himself. He leads a sad existence, alone in an apartment over his old lair that's a museum to his past, and spends his Friday night's with the old man who was Nite Owl before him, listening to old stories like a ravenous fanboy. He's the idealist who woke up one day to see what the world had become, and in the shadow of the government cracking down on costumed types, retreated into the past. He's let himself go, a gut more noticeable in the comic book incarnation of the character, and it takes the death of a former colleague, harsh rebukes from an old partner, and the inspiration of a beautiful new partner to breath new life into the Aykroydesque disconsolate nerd Wilson portrays in the first half of the film and transform him into some semblance of the hero he wants--NEEDS--to be. His journey was all about becoming someone who tries to do the right thing and have a purpose, not necessarily someone who will succeed every time, but who won't give up regardless. More than any other character in the film, he was especially well served being played by a relative unknown so there were no preconceptions with the actor.

5) Silk Spectre II(Malin Akerman):
The lovely Ms. Akerman has certainly taken some harsh, perhaps even unfair criticism. Richard Roeper described her as “one of the worst actresses in the world”. Hyperbole, much? He also likens Wilson's Nite Owl to Adam West's Batman, perhaps missing that that was sort of the point. But as for Akerman's Spectre, she's the emotional core of the film, a young girl following in her mother's footsteps while trying to define herself in the shadow of her male counterparts. She initially has that ‘60s ”Janet Van Dyne flavor, there in the role of the girlfriend of a hero and not a hero in her own right. She's not comfortable in that role, and finds Doctor Manhattan more and more alienating, whether adjusting to the disorienting effects of his teleporting her, or feeling neglected when he splits himself into duplicates so one can continue working while others please her. Nite Owl seems like more of a stable choice, someone who won't ignore her and who's been through the same things she has. To quote Rey, “...the characters finally saw each other in a way that the world (or past lovers) had never seen them”. They inspire each other to suit up once more and “do something stupid at 3 AM”. By the end of the film she's on Mars making a case for humanity with Manhattan, and we see her newfound strength as she no longer gets nauseous teleporting from Earth to Mars back to New York and finally the Antarctic. She learns to define herself, saving lives along the way, and was certainly a bright point in the film for me. It's possible I was biased by the sight of her jumping and rolling around in skintight yellow spandex and high heels, but I can't be sure...



Blogger Darrell said...

But as for Akerman's Spectre, she's the emotional core of the film

Dude, that's the most ominous warning about the film that I've read yet.

3/10/2009 5:41 PM  
Blogger MCF said...

What I mean is that, together with Nite Owl, she's the most human of the bunch. They've all been scarred emotionally by their experiences, but while Rorschach becomes an animal to fight the animals, Manhattan ascends beyond humanity, Ozy's ego isolates him and makes him see the rest of the world as pawns on a chessboard, and Comedian sinks into a bitter old blubbering shell of jerk he'd been throughout his career, we still see hope for the other two, which was pretty much the same vibe I got from the comic. She's the one that has a childlike fascination with Owl's gadgets and lair while he's all but turned it into a dusty museum, and she's the one that has to appeal to Manhattan on Mars. In that regard, as in the comics, I see her as the emotional one.

For me the overall core is still Haley's Rorschach, but as in the novels everyone gets time in the spotlight. You really need to see it soon for yourself before all the split reviews tint your expectations one way or the other.

3/10/2009 9:49 PM  

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