Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

At the Movies

Posted by Don MacPherson on March 10th, 2009

Monday was big day for this particular super-hero fan, as I took in not one but two DC-related movies. Obviously, I, like so many others over the past few days, hit the local movie theatre (with my wife in tow) to catch the big-screen incarnation of Watchmen. Upon our return home, there was nothing on TV and my attempts to engage my better half in conversation about the movie failed. So I booted up my computer and popped in a DVD I’d rented: Warner Bros. Animation’s latest DC Universe, direct-to-video release, Wonder Woman.

Watchmen movie
Actors: Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Goode, Billy Crudup, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan & Carla Gugino
Director: Zack Snyder
Screenwriters: David Hayter & Alex Tse
Studio: Warner Bros.
Rating: R

Long story short, this was a good film, not a great film. Actually, where Snyder goes awry with Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s classic 12-part comic-book series is his failure to make a long story shorter. The movie is definitely hindered by Snyder’s effort to stay true to the source material. Some storytelling choices don’t translate well from one medium to another, and it’s obvious when that’s true with Watchmen. For example, the structure and nature of comics works to keep the larger plot driving Watchmen forward a secret until late in the story. With the movie, it’s painfully obvious in the first half hour who the bad guy is and what motivates him. There were a number of slower moments that could have lifted out easily, and some action scenes dragged on as well.

That being said, Watchmen is very much worth seeing, especially on the big screen. It’s a visual treat, and not just for comics fans who will enjoy seeing the comic-book visuals reproduced so faithfully. Dr. Manhattan is mesmerizing in every single frame in which he appears. The computer-generated imagery is incredibly convincing; I would have sworn Doc Manhattan was real. The FX people even reproduced the freckles on Crudup’s back on his digital, blue counterpart. Furthermore, the pulsing power of Manhattan’s form combined with the soft but detached tone of Crudup’s voice made for an eerie contrast.

The only performance that stood out more than Crudup’s was Jackie Earle Haley’s, especially later in the movie when his Rorschach loses his “face.” Snyder couldn’t have found anyone better to play the role. Haley’s diminutive frame again made for a fascinating contrast with the intensity, anger and insanity he brings to the role. Some of his line deliveries also surprised me. His climactic faceoff with Dr. Manhattan was somewhat mournful, even pleading in tone, and that’s not something I read into the scene when I originally read it 20 or so years ago. Some performances were flat and disappointing. I wasn’t surprised at how little I cared about Laurie, as Malin Akerman just doesn’t have the presence required to hold my attention. She’s too young for the character as well, as is Carlo Gugino, horribly miscast as her mother. Matthew Goode’s performance as Ozymandias is bland, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who does a great job of conveying the Comedian’s perverse delight in the midst of chaos, fails to convince me in the character’s more mournful moments.

I have to give Snyder credit for one key change he made in the film version; the squid-less ending works, perhaps even better than the one we got in the comic book. The notion is an easier pill to swallow than a giant, alien, tentacled monster. Ultimately, the most interesting element of the film is the political and social setting. Snyder and his cast took me back to a time of Cold War paranoia and fear of a nuclear Armageddon, the potential for which we’re oddly blind to today. 7/10

Wonder Woman direct-to-video animated movie
Voice actors: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Rosario Dawson, Virginia Madsen, Oliver Platt, Vicki Lewis & Tara Strong
Director: Lauren Montgomery
Writers: Michael Jelenic & Gail Simone
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation/DC Universe
Rating: PG-13

Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention, but I had no attention that comics writer and current Wonder Woman scribe Gail Simone co-wrote the story for this new version of Wonder Woman’s origin story. That gives the animated a strong comics pedigree. Generally, the writers seem to take cues from George Perez’s classic WW run and from 300, given the amped-up violence in this PG-13-rated film. Still, there are glimmers of originality in the script that help to set this apart from other Wonder Woman stories as well. Overall, it’s the strong sense of personality at the heart of the film that holds the audience’s interest rather than the plot or the visuals.

The best thing the movie has going for it is the interplay between Diana and Col. Steve Trevor. This incarnation of Wonder Woman’s original romantic interest is much more of a womanizer. Nathan (Castle) Fillion turns in a strong, charming performance, and both he and the script reinvent Trevor as a rogue, reminiscent of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo (albeit with a strong do-gooder spirit). In a surprising development, Trevor even tries to get Diana drunk as a means of seducing. At first, the notion is revolting, but as we get to know Trevor better and see him interact with the heroine, the storytelling choice makes more sense.

The conflict with Ares, a god bent on nihilism and driven by his own ego, is a fairly generic one, though the character demonstrates a softer side when it comes to his thoughts about a fallen son. The plot itself jumps around too much, and showdowns become a little too convenient at times. The most perplexing and irksome element in the movie is Wonder Woman’s invisible jet. Maybe it needn’t have been explained in the 1940s when the character was created or in the Super Friends cartoons of the 1970s, but today, such technology in the hands of the Amazons requires some kind of acknowledgement and explanation.

Keri Russell’s voice strikes me as being just a little too soft for that of a skilled woman warrior, but she definitely captures Diana’s emotional side. Fillion is perfect for the Trevor role, and Rosario Dawson and Virginia Madsen turn in solid performances as Wonder Woman’s Amazonian sister and mother, respectively. Longtime voice actor Tara Strong has perhaps one of the most interesting roles as Alexa, the bookish, reflective Amazon who serves a key role several scenes. The notion of an Amazon who’s really not that good at being an Amazon is a novel one. I’d love to see Simone explore a similar concept in greater depth in the Wonder Woman ongoing series. 7/10

8 Responses to “At the Movies”

  1. fanbla72 Says:

    i saw Watchmen on Sunday night.. visually: spectacular. the opening credits were absolutely beautiful and affected me greatly. dunno why, perhaps the nostalgic vibe, fallen heroes.

    i was looking forward to seeing how the uber-emo squid would be portrayed, but i’m not surprised that it was dropped from the film.

    and Goode playing the cliche comic-book villain was a damn shame. so unnecessary, too. or was it an unintentional result of shoddy acting? i doubt it. all up, the Ozymandias character was a complete miss, made all the more stranger by the fact that they got the others so spot on.

    i’ve got a pile of half-price vouchers so i’m going back for seconds.

  2. Erik Says:

    Saw it on Imax Saturday. Even on Imax, it was just ok. I would have given it a 6/10; I was expecting something equivalent to Dark Knight or even Iron Man. I thought the music/songs did not match the scenes, some of the acting was bad and all those flashbacks during the funeral should have been sparsed throughout the movie to add more mistique. Also, I am one who loves a nice pair of breasts in a movie, and they were nice ones, but that love scene was just cheezy as hell. Although, I did enjoy the opening credits and I preferred the movie ending to the comic’s.

    As for the Wonder Woman movie, Wonder Woman did not sound like a wonder woman but like a child and after 30 minutes of play, I turned it off and watched Flight of the Conchords instead.

  3. Don MacPherson Says:

    Erik wrote:
    As for the Wonder Woman movie, Wonder Woman did not sound like a wonder woman but like a child…

    I think that’s a valid comment. Mind you, given my fondness for Perez’s Wonder Woman in the 1980s (in which Diana is portrayed very much like an innocent child at first), it didn’t bother me as much.

  4. s1rude Says:

    I liked the Wonder Woman movie, and I think 7 out of 10 is a fair assessment. While the animation is solid and the action strong, the story was a little too rote. There is very little in the way of innovation going on with the story here. Perhaps that’s fine, and probably in line with delivering what the suits at WB want, but it does keep this from being a more standout film.

    Nathan Fillian’s Steve Trevor makes the whole movie for me. Witty, brave and ultimately human, we couldn’t have asked for a better performance for a P.O.V. character. I didn’t have an issue with Keri Russell as Diana; I thought she put some steel in her voice when needed and otherwise conveyed a strong, heartful young woman throughout. This isn’t the Lucy Lawless Diana of New Frontier, after all. Fillian and Russell have good chemistry as well – I wonder if voice director Andrea Romano brought this pair together based on the strong Waitress of a couple years back?

    The DVD extras are pretty disappointing, and confirm my suspicions that the Marketing execs keep a close eye on this stuff. The “examination” of Diana’s creator, William Moulten Marston, glances over the use of bondage as plot device and ignores Marston’s unconventional relationship with his wife and their “secretary”. The vignette on mythological influences on Wonder Woman was okay, but mostly fluff.

  5. Don MacPherson Says:

    S1rude wrote:
    Fillian and Russell have good chemistry as well – I wonder if voice director Andrea Romano brought this pair together based on the strong Waitress of a couple years back?

    Since I haven’t seen Waitress (though I heard it was good), I had no idea Fillion was in that movie as well. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  6. Martin Says:

    While I still wish the squid would have been in the Watchmen movie (and contrary to so many people, think it could have fit in with very little additional time spent, if you just replace all the speeches about free energy with genetic engineering and hint that Ozymandias was creating something big), I don’t mind the new ending and even appreciate the effectiveness it brings to the plot. I think it’s a legitimate alternate ending for the book.

    I’m not going to go ahead and say it’s better, since I don’t believe that at all and think the outrageousness of the squid was such an effective payoff to all the buildup, plus it continued in Watchmen‘s general style of sliding Silver Age story elements through a sinister “how it would have worked in the real world” mirror to great effect. But that’s a whole ‘nuther discussion, and down completely to personal opinion :)

  7. Paul Says:

    I actually loved the Wonder Woman animated film. I’ve been real pleased with Superman Doomsday, Gotham Knights, and now this. They are interesting takes on interesting characters that both kids and adults can enjoy at once. These animated films have certainly been more interesting than some of the titles DC has been churning out lately, in my humble opinion.

  8. vernon wiley Says:

    Although I agree there was little new in her story in the Wonder Woman film, I enjoyed it quite a bit. A little heavy for younger kids, with the decapitation, rise of the undead, etc., but found it very entertaining and much more accessible than the comic itself.

    After viewing, I thought, why isn’t there a kids comic for Wonder Woman, and why can’t the regular DC one go edgy enough to excite the older fans. The current one on the racks I find is a pretty dull trod.