Watchmen: Aside from the train wreck of an ending…

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.

More Commentary:

This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.

10 thoughts on “Watchmen: Aside from the train wreck of an ending…

  1. NTE

    “Does watching her make you feel like more, or less?” This really sums up the whole thing for me: I haven’t seen the movie or read the graphic novel, but if a character makes me feel a certain way, regardless of what the more analytical parts of my mind might say, then the feeling usually wins out.

  2. Ed

    I’m glad you didn’t completely tear apart the character or the movie like others would have done. The movie was far from perfect, and as is always the case with these things, the original was better. BUT, the movie was entertaining and a decently accurate representation of the graphic novel. It was actually good.

  3. Gillian

    This movie could have been brave and cast people of color in roles that were drawn as white people in the book.

    This would have been less brave and more insane. Zach Syder would have been ripped to sheds on every blog, forum, and well just about everywhere. The fan outcry would have crippled the movie.

    Not that I don’t agree that the movie is lacking in some color but then so was the book, which the movie follows fairly faithfully. It would be like if Sam Raimi had recast Spider-man as hispanic girl. I would love to see it but it’s as unlikely as a sequel to Daredevil.

  4. BonnieBelle

    I’m dying to read the book, but I am definitely glad I read your review. The previews have left me completely confused up to this point, as they really didn’t give a good hook, other than “Movie with People in Costume!” and “Amazing CGI Affects!”. They didn’t give a clue as to what the heck the story was about, so it was really only a teaser for those who’d read the graphic novel. Now I’m anxious to see it.

  5. laloca

    hrm. while i enjoyed Watchmen on a number of levels, malin akerman made me cringe every time she was on screen – and unfortunately, that was a lot of the movie. as an actress, she’s a one-trick pony and totally oblivious to shade and nuance.

  6. Ron

    My girlfriend and I saw this movie last weekend, and we were both struck by one thing in particular- namely that this is the first movie that either of us can remember that had a HELL of a lot more screen time devoted to full-frontal male nudity as opposed to female (mostly courtesy of Dr. Manhattan, who like to run around in nothing but his blue-hued birthday suit). Despite the latex outfit and soft-core-porn sex scene, Silk Spectre seems to be outdone in this movie in terms of flashing skin. I was wondering what your opinion of that might be, if it represents “progress” at all.

  7. Grace

    I finally saw this last night and I loved it. I agree with every word of this review, Skye.

    RE: Ron’s comment about Dr. Manhattan’s nudity, I’m not sure. For one thing, I don’t think the nudity was “real”–that wasn’t Billy Crudup’s real body, and Dr. Manhattan as a character wasn’t “real” either, in the sense that unlike the other Watchmen, he’s not a regular person of some sort. So I don’t know if it can be compared to female nudity. Reminds me more of naked Arnold in T2.

Comments are closed.