When I got married, we had to decide what to do with our THREE copies of Watchmen. We pared it down to two. With as much love as I have for the book, Watchmen the movie could have broken my heart. It did not. I will need time to get over how the ending was executed, but I am still so glad I saw this movie.
Watchmen takes place in alternate 1985. Nixon is still President, and the world is on the brink of nuclear war. Costumed heroes had come forward to protect the citizenry in the 1940s, and again in the 1960s, but now they have been outlawed. Former heroes now live quiet pedestrian lives for the most part, reminiscing about the old days, until someone starts killing them.
The movie itself is layered, haunting, and true to the spirit of the book. The casting was superb, as if the characters had gotten up off the page and walked onto the screen. The soundtrack is impeccable, often conveying as much content as the images. History shared in the book as long chunks of prose is communicated effectively in a series of still images and short clips. The film can’t spend as much time constructing the framework of clues to the horrible truth as the book did, but the plot and pacing are sound. It begins with the same feeling of sadness, of people who have lost their way, and I was completely swept up into the two questions I find most interesting in this story. First, what the heck is going on? Second, how do we find our way back to who we really are?
I didn’t like Laurie Jupiter, a.k.a. The Silk Spectre (the second one, her mother had the alias before her), in the book. Her costume was ridiculous and she seemed to function mostly as arm candy. Malin Akerman‘s Silk Spectre is entirely different. Watchmen is partly a movie about people being their true selves, for good or for ill, and this woman’s true self craves adventure. She’s the woman who pushes the button marked “fire” in the ship with a gleam in her eye, the one who doesn’t back up when thugs in the alleyway think they have her surrounded.
Also, her outfit is upgraded significantly. While it’s the traditional form-fitting sexualized latex with high heels, that beats the book’s two strips of duct tape and a gauzy silk pillowcase.
Akerman trained for two months with an ex-Navy Seal for the role, though she did have a stunt double as well. That was followed by a month of fight training, which continued during the six months of shooting (as per Q&A: Malin Akerman). I couldn’t believe when I saw her resume that she had not previously done any action roles.
[Update 9/19/12: Having seen the film again, I have to conclude that Malin Akerman really can’t act, though. Or she chose not to for most of this film.]
I’m sitting here looking at the book, of course, and noting Rorschach’s contemptuous treatment of Silk Spectre when he first encounters her. In the movie that’s been cleaned up. Unlike so many other films we’ve reviewed (Johnny Mnemonic, The Bourne Ultimatum), the film adaptation actually seems to give her a promotion. She’s given equal time during her fight scenes, and she avoids the usual plot traps. No kidnapping, being held hostage, used as bait, strategic wounding, threatened with rape, or having her presence used to distract the hero. [There is an attempted rape scene that involves the former Silk Spectre, Laurie’s mother.] At one point a man threatens another man on her behalf, but that reads as more about him than about her need for protection. I fully expected that in another minute she’d be back up, just like the men who were getting thrown about, and I was right.
This movie could have been brave and cast people of color in roles that were drawn as white people in the book. It did not. Secondary roles that were people of color in the book were cast as such, though greatly reduced in scope as they tried to fold over 300 pages of intricately detailed graphic novel into a 2 hour and 43 minute movie. It doesn’t do anything to exacerbate the situation, but it doesn’t take steps to improve it.
So I’m basically left with deciding how to rate Silk Spectre. I fully expect that other people will dislike her. They will point to her outfit, the promo posters and photographs that emphasize her sexuality rather than her power, and the fact that she’s the only major female character, and they will write off Watchmen.
It’s one of the interesting things about cultural critique. You can use all the critical and analytical tools in the book, but there’s always going to be an element of how you feel. Does this woman give you hope? Do you enjoy watching her move, kick, punch, run, and jump? Does watching her make you feel like more, or less? Akerman’s Silk Spectre made my heart glad. Her presence was refreshing given the disappointing movies I’ve been reviewing lately, and I felt better about the state of action films when I left the theater. Others may feel differently, and that’s okay, but I give her three stars.
- Movie review: Watchmen at WriteBlack.
- I will not die for your amusement by Yonmei over at Feminist SF – The Blog
- Who Will Watch the Watchmen? by Monte Williams at Pop Matters
This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.