Zack Synder’s Watchmen lives up to expectations

Watchmen - Nightowl

Watchmen

The eagerly awaited Watchmen finally hit the screens in Hong Kong on 12 March in 2 versions – an edited cut for normal screening and a category III cut for IMAX at MegaBox. I actually did not realize that 2 different cuts were being shown as the publicity material never highlighted this and ended up seeing the shorter version at Pacific Place on Saturday morning.

Watchmen is adapted from a graphic novel largely considered to be seminal and one of the best graphic novels ever written. Created by the highly regarded UK writer Alan Moore, the graphic novel is bleak, plot-driven, and plays down standard action based heroics. Moore became disillusioned with Hollywood adaptations of his works after the disappointments of the atrocious League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V For Vendetta and disowned this project. Zack Synder’s film, however, remains close the spirit of the graphic novel and is the best cinematic version of Moore’s work to date.

Set in 1985, the film starts with imminent nuclear war between the US and USSR. Watchmen features an alternate history where Nixon won the Vietnam War with the help of superheroes and even changed the legislation to allow for his running for the presidency after his second term. After winning the Vietnam War, masked heroes are forced to retire. With the doomsday clock countdown looming in the background, former masked heroes are being assassinated and a plot to change the course of human history takes place.

As can be expected from a blockbuster movie these days, the special effects are excellent and the largely un-famous cast all seem perfectly cast for their respective roles. The use of these lesser known actors works well and we focus on the characters’ development – a crucial aspect of all of Moore’s works. An A-list star might have easily ruined the project. There really aren’t too many action set-pieces but the fist fights are brutal and violent. The soundtrack works less well in my opinion: the use for overly familiar music comes across like clichés. A few of the songs are heavily associated with other iconic films – their use here seem like afterthoughts and diminishes the impact in my eyes. I can understand the use of 80s pop music in the film, but blasting Jimi Hendrix’s version of All Along The Watchtower, a classic 60s rocker in the climatic scene, felt out of place.

I mentioned earlier that I saw an edited version of the film – the one I saw had approximately 4 minutes shaved off. It was extremely evident that the major scene that was cut was the steamy sex scene between the Night Owl and the Silk Spectre. The full frontal shots of Dr Manhattan were not cut and while his genitals were clearly visible I would say they weren’t prominently displayed. Still, I was extremely annoyed by the fact that I did not see the full cut for the movie. What’s worse is that the cuts were done haphazardly, and it was impossible to NOT notice the jumps visually and in the soundtrack. Shame of the Hong Kong distributors!

Overall, I would say that Synder’s Watchmen is an excellent addition to the recent crop of comic book adaptations. I personally prefer his previous movie, the rowdy adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300. Many people consider Watchmen un-filmable and the project did go through alot of legal wrangling; the finished product, fortunately, is a respectable film, which while not be as polished and mainstream as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, deserves to be seen.

Recommended!

Watchmen Poster

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JLA #10 : a convoluted mess

jla-10.jpgI desperately wanted to like the JLA / JSA Lightning Saga crossover, but I became disappointed after 2 issues. The artwork was generally good on both titles, but the plot was a horrible mess. Stuff with an overwhelming amount of minute detail, I found this arc really difficult to follow and for the most part rather petty. Now, I did grow up with the Legion of Super Heroes (pre-crisis version), so I was extremely excited to see Karate Kid, Wildfire, Dawnstar and their fellow legionnaires. But what a nightmare this series must be to those unfamiliar with the pre-crisis Legion. Man, even I got confused and had to use Google to clarify a few plot points. If DC wants to bring back the classic Legion line-up, they really need to get the continuity straight instead of making an already convoluted back story even more mind-boggling. [mind you, I would love to see the classic Legion on a regular basis, but not like this!]

Last week, I was hoping the final instalment of the series would deliver a explosive conclusion making the entire arc worthwhile (or at least make sense). Well, JLA #10 failed to deliver and I felt duped. What??? The Legion came back in time to bring back Wally West? But even Brainiac 5 thought it ought to have been someone else! The final chapter offers no answers and leaves plenty of questions hanging. Even the artwork on JLA #10 seems rushed and less impressive than previous issues. It feels like the writers developed more plot than they could handle. Most disappointing.

World War Hulk #1 gets event off to a great start

world-war-hulk-1.jpgMost summer comics events don’t really live up to the hype. Over the last few year, on Marvel’s side we’ve had House Of M, Decimation, and last year’s Civil War; on DC’s side, Identity Crisis, Infinite Crisis and it’s VERY convoluted aftermath. The only one I consider a success is DC’s Identity Crisis – this miniseries didn’t involved a ridiculous number of crossovers, the plot was tight, self-contained as well as touching and the art truly dazzled. So I was indeed quite sceptical when Marvel decided to launch World War Hulk this summer, as I found Marvel’s recent crossover events lacklustre. I was, however, pleasantly surprised with World War Hulk #1.

First off, I really liked John Romita Jr.’s pencils. Next, this issue packed a whooping 48 pages of great action, from Hulk’s brief confrontation with Black Bolt to the issue climax battle with Iron Man. Loads of characters pop up but it never feels messy (like the recent JLA JSA crossover). Very promising and by far the best Marvel comic I’ve read in quite a while. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this doesn’t become a crossover and continuity mess as the event progresses over the summer.

Ultimates 2 and All Star Batman worth the wait?

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Last week, two much talked about comics with a long history of delays finally made it to the stores – DC’s All Star Batman & Robin The Boy Wonder #5 and Marvel’s Ultimates 2 #13. I can’t even remember when the last issues of these comics came out, but I know it is over half a year ago. The only reason for such ridiculous delays seems to be to allow the artists time to complete the work with some sort of guarantee of quality. So do these two comics warrant their delays? Not really. Both issues were underwhelming. The art looked OK, but not out-of-the-ordinary. The plots fared worse.

Issue #5 of All Star Batman seemed pedestrian, and I have no idea why the issue took so long. Jim Lee’s artwork has its throwaway fanboy moments with Wonder Woman, but nothing here is shockingly creative. Frank Miller’s story for this issue doesn’t seem to go anywhere – are we witnessing the birth of the JLA or Dick Grayson’s first step towards becoming Robin? The issue doesn’t develop the arc as a whole nor is it a self-contained story. Disappointing.

As for of Ultimates 2, the supposed climax to the arc falls totally flat. Most readers won’t be able to remember the details of the story from memory and there really isn’t a payoff for all the build-up from previous issues. Suddenly Loki is exposed for what he is and everyone believes Thor after a prolonged period of doubt. How convenient. And very unsatisfying for readers. Bryan Hitch’s artwork remains solid and there is a widescreen gatefold that doesn’t really dazzle as much as the Marvel wants it to. The issue left me wondering why I bother with the title. Well, at least we have a different creative team for the next arc.

Marvel scores a winner with Stephen King adaptation

I have not read anything by Stephen King since the 1980s. But two weeks ago, Marvel’s much touted comic book adaptation of King’s Dark Tower series finally became available. Both Variety’s comic blog Bags and Boards and The Savage Critic(s) gave it very positive reviews, so I gave the first issue I shot.

Set in a futuristic world where gunslingers collide with magicians and other sci-fi /fantasy elements, Marvel’s The Dark Tower is indeed a strong title. King’s novels follow the titular gunslinger’s mythic journey to The Dark Tower, but this comic is more concerned with the origin of the character. This first issue successfully introduces the characters without dragging down the pace with backstory. I really liked the artwork by Jae Lee, though I agree with The Savage Critic(s)’ comments that the colouring is abit monotonous and reduces the overall impact of issue. I felt the book offers the type of thrills similar to DC’s Vertigo line of more mature titles.

Based on this issue, I have gone out and bought the novel!

Verdict : highly recommended. A very nice break from Marvel’s usage fare.

The Avengers are turned into M.O.D.O.C.s

The Marvel Adventures titles might be targeted at kids, but it actually manages to be a very fun read, actually more so than many blockbuster titles that carry alot of baggage these days. The self-contained single issue story sees the Avengers turned into M.O.D.O.Cs (Mental Organism Designed Only for Conquest) and take an agressive stance towards crime.

Verdict: with non-stop action and loads of juvenile humor, I found it very entertaining.