Posts Tagged ‘zack snyder’

You’ve heard the scuttlebutt by now, of course — Justice League is a mess; Henry Cavill’s face looks ridiculous thanks to the shooting-schedule-necessitated decision to “erase” his mustache by means of CGI; the 9th-inning additional re-shoots are easy to spot; the so-called “DCEU” is doomed thanks to this film’s poor box office performance.

Some of these points are legit (the flick is certainly uneven, tonally and structurally, Cavill’s MIA ‘stache is conspicuous in its absence, the re-shoots (and brighter, “happier” color grading) undertaken by “relief” director Joss Whedon don’t fit in with Zack Snyder’s material), while others are clearly over-stated (the sub-$100 million opening weekend has been largely off-set by a stronger than expected “hold” over the five-day Thanksgiving holiday period), but at the end of the day, even after filtering out the noise (much of it generated by a certain competing comic-book-publisher-turned-movie-studio), the simple fact remains — this is obviously an up-and-down affair.

Which, believe it or not, is actually something of an achievement in and of itself — the forced departure of original director Snyder due to family tragedy definitely meant this production had to pull some kind of a rabbit out of its hat, and while Whedon (who in the end only gets a co-writer credit that he shares with Chris Terrio) clearly steered the ship into more “light-hearted” territory a la his fan-favorite Marvel Avengers flicks, it’s hard to tell how much of what he came up with originated in his own mind, and how much was dictated by WB execs who, let’s face it, were almost certain to part ways with Snyder anyway and were reportedly displeased with the “dark” tone of what he’d come up with prior to his exit.  Indeed, everything about the finished product that is Justice League feels focus-group-tested, specifically designed to appeal to as broad (and, some would argue, dumb) an audience as possible. Snyder’s visual ambition is on full display in the early going, but is completely absent by the time the credits roll; Hans Zimmer’s throbbing, rhythmic soundtrack work is gone in favor of  Danny Elfman’s nostalgia-heavy score; jokes (not all entirely successful) fly left and right; the body count is pretty damn low for a movie about an apocalyptic alien invasion. In short, this is a movie clearly trying to be as different from its predecessors, specifically Batman V. Superman : Dawn Of Justice, as possible. But that was never going to be an easy task with the same guy in the director’s chair.

Taking all that into account, then, the simple fact that Justice League succeeds in much of what it’s trying to do (like it or not) is pretty remarkable, and the DCEU definitely feels like it’s heading in a new, sunnier direction after this. The resurrection of Cavill’s Superman (achieved by means that can be described as “morally questionable” at best, seeing as how Ezra Miller’s Flash and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg actually dig his dead body out of the grave) seems as though it was designed to be the narrative catalyst for the change, and that’s all fine and dandy, but it sells Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman short (as does much much of the movie in general) given that the newly-formed team decides that she just can’t lead lead ’em even though she’s essentially carrying this fictitious “universe” on her back these days. That’s a pretty significant slap in the face right there.

Gadot’s not alone in getting the short shrift, though, by any means — supporting players J.K. Simmons, Amy Adams, Connie Nielsen, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Amber Heard, and Joe Morton all get stuck with roles that punch far beneath their respective weight classes — but by and large the main starts come out of this whole thing pretty well : Jason Momoa offers a decidedly revisionist, but altogether successful, take on Aquaman; Ben Affleck again gets the Bruce Wayne/Batman balance more or less exactly right (not so easy to do in this case since he’s saddled with a lot of decidedly-out-of-character “comic relief” material); Fisher proves to be an inspired choice to play Cyborg; Ezra Miller’s Flash starts out annoying but finishes up endearing; Gadot makes more than the most of a criminally-underwritten part. Hell, Cavill even finally appears to be enjoying this whole Superman gig. The principal cast, then, proves to be more than enough to carry this film through its not-inconsiderable story bumps, logical holes, shifting styles, and dodgy effects.

Not to mention its less-than-compelling villain. Like a lot of people, I thought we were going to get a full-on clash with the villains of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World here, but in the end all we get is Ciaran Hinds as a lackluster Steppenwolf accompanied by a horde of dully-realized Parademons. Honestly, if I want a bad guy this generic and uninspiring, I’ll see a Marvel movie.

And yet, this still ends up being a somewhat pleasing — uhmmmm — crowd-pleaser. The character designs are cool, the pacing is brisk enough that you don’t need to think about the film’s flaws until it’s over, the action sequences (particularly those obviously overseen by Snyder) are stirring and dynamic, the “fist-pump” quotient is reasonably high. Yes, it’s clear that DC is trying to “Marvel-ize” their movies from here on out, but given the absurd amount of critical and financial pressure on them (Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad both being successfully tarred with the “disappointment” label despite taking in about $900 million each at the worldwide box office, roughly triple their budgets) maybe “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” was the only option they were left with.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. I realize I’m in the distinct minority in finding Snyder’s vision for these flicks to be inherently more compelling than your typical brain-dead blockbuster fare, but the people have apparently spoken, and while Justice League doesn’t quite hit all its marks — there’s no way it could —  for folks who felt the DCEU had gotten off on the wrong foot, it shows that WB is more than willing to adjust course “on the fly” in order to, as the Brits say, keep the punters happy. I’m a bit pessimistic going forward, to say the least, but there was enough of the DCEU that almost was on display here to have me leaving the theater reasonably happy. For now, at any rate.

batman-vs-superman-poster

One thing about being paranoid — sometimes it can actually give you a little bit of, believe it or not, clarity.

Take, for instance, the advance reviews for Zack Snyder’s heavily-anticipated Batman V Superman : Dawn Of Justice that have been appearing online over the last few days. After literally years of hype, the movie itself is finally here and so, it would seem, is the moment of truth — not only for it, but for the entire nascent DC cinematic universe. Only truth seems to be pretty hard to come by, at least as far as this flick is concerned, among the self-appointed arbiters of public opinion working the digital plantation.

To be sure, the vast majority of critics out there seem to either mildly dislike or actively loathe it (for proof of this look no further than its current 32% score on Rotten Tomatoes), and most for the same nebulous-at-best reasons : it’s “too dark,” they say, or “not much fun” (complaints which seem to have resonated with the “suits” at Warner Brothers, who are already busily assuring the masses that the forthcoming Justice League film will have a “lighter tone” to it — despite the fact that it will be overseen by the same director). But a little bit of legwork shows that many — shit, maybe even most — of these same self-appointed judges of artistic merit (hey! Kinda like me!) were only last week lauding to high heaven the sadistically grim, pessimistic, joyless, 13-hour bloodbath that was season two of Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix, and a few months back were equally effusive in their praise of the just-as-dour (and frankly sexually, racially, and politically repugnant) Jessica Jones, another product of the so-called “House Of Ideas.” Dis/Mar have been called out on their “whisper campaigns” against competing “product” (and let’s face it, that’s what super-hero movies are) before — most notably those directed against studios that held the cinematic rights to their own characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men — and it doesn’t take any great genius to see that the same thing could easily be going on here. Film critics, by and large, are an even cheaper investment than politicians, and for the price of a free pass to your next blockbuster or, better yet, the promise of a set tour should they ever happen to be in Hollywood, most of ’em will say just about anything.

On the other side of the coin, though, a scant few minutes of “assignment prep” reveals that some of the (admittedly few) voices of support for Batman V Superman, particularly in the comics press, are coming from people who give positive write-ups to even the most blatantly and obviously lousy DC comics (in other words, most of them). I won’t name any names, but when I found that one of the most glowing reviews of BvS I came across online was written by someone who also had nothing but terrific things to say about the painfully creatively bankrupt Dark Knight III : The Master Race, I was hardly surprised.

And so that aforementioned paranoia of mine has, I think, paid off, since it allowed (or forced, take your pick) me to actually go into this movie today trusting no one’s opinion,  and with absolutely nothing in terms of expectations one way or another. I have to say — it felt kinda good. The “good vibes” didn’t last, though — but maybe that’s not necessarily such a bad thing?  Bear with me as I attempt to explain —

batman-v-superman-poster-ben-affleck

Plenty of movies can leave you feeling emotionally drained, psychologically confused, or even a scarred, blubbering wreck, but with Batman V Superman : Dawn Of Justice, Zack Snyder has crafted something that may very well be the first of its kind — a film that leaves you feeling physically exhausted. You have no real reason to be, of course, since all you’ve been doing for the previous two and a half hours is sitting on your ass, but seriously — this isn’t so much a movie as it is a full-scale sensory assault that just so happens to use celluloid as its weapon of choice. Snyder knocks you flat on the mat within the first few minutes and never lets you catch your breath, much less get up. There are points where one is tempted to do their best Roberto Duran impersonation and simply say “no mas,” but truth be told there isn’t even time for that. Between DP Larry Fong’s almost-overly-arresting visuals, Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL’s insistent, percussive musical score, David Brenner’s breakneck-paced editing, and a script by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer that clearly suffers from an acute case of ADD, the word we’re looking for here is relentless.

And yet, believe it or not, I say that with a certain degree of admiration. Snyder has always been about spectacle over substance, and in many ways is the perfect blockbuster director for the overly-media-saturated “information” (insert loud snorting sound here) age we live in. His film adaptations of 300 and Watchmen were essentially straight-up visual Cliff’s Notes translations of their comic book antecedents and the sophisticated sleight-of-hand he developed working on those projects to conceal the fact that he literally had nothing (or at least nothing new) up his sleeve actually serves him quite well here. That’s because the story for BvS is a paper-thin affair — although even at that there are still plot holes large and obvious enough to plow the new, muscled-up Batmobile through — that is, at its core, a confused mash-up of the classic Batman story The Dark Knight Returns and the 1990s-speculator-market-driven Superman storyline Doomsday (or The Death And Return Of Superman, if you prefer) that sees an older, more world-weary, decidedly more brutal Batman/Bruce Wayne (played by Ben Affleck) conclude that Superman (Henry Cavill) is an existential threat to the human race that he’s going to end, until the two of them realize that they’re both, to one degree or another, being played for suckers by ruthless billionaire Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who resorts to “Plan B” — a standard-issue CGI monster, wouldn’t ya know — when his “Plan A” of getting ’em to kill each other off doesn’t work out. Fortunately, at the hour of our heroes’ greatest need, a new and unexpected ally turns up in the form of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), and the day is saved — but at a decidedly heavy cost. There are a handful of nods thrown in the direction of purported “real-world issues” like, I dunno, what we’d do if there actually were a super-being, but they’re not examined with anything like genuine depth since Snyder and his screenwriters clearly have a firm opinion on the matter, anyway. And why not?  Said super-being is one of the stars of their movie, after all.

12363083_1033132330040956_8425434038535267224_o

That’s probably about as deep into “spoiler” territory as I care to get, but I will say this much: Snyder-bashers can take heart — the same shortcomings he’s exhibited in previous efforts are on full display here, as well. His actors are left largely to “do their own thing” while he concentrates on assembling his frenetic, hyper-stylized symphony for the eyes. With a veteran cast such as the one assembled for this production that’s really not much of a problem — Affleck doesn’t deliver a performance anywhere near as good as Michael Keaton’s definitive turns under the cowl from nearly 30 years ago (goddamn but I suddenly feel really old) but is probably the best Batman and Bruce Wayne we’ve seen since, Eisenberg is a frenzied whirlwind of tech-billionaire menace as Luthor (think of an even more ruthless, amoral, and mentally unbalanced version of his take on Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network),  Amy Adams radiates quiet confidence and capability as Lois Lane, Jeremy Irons uses Michael Caine’s portrayal of Alfred as a jumping-off point for his “Q from James Bond” interpretation of the character, and solid pros like Laurence Fishburne and Diane Lane turn in, well — sold pro work as Daily Planet editor Perry White and Martha Kent, respectively.  Both Scoot McNairy and, especially, Holly Hunter knock it out of the park in supporting roles clearly beneath their talents, though, and while that, sure, is a good thing on paper (and on screen), when each of them is so obviously better than the material they’re given, it shines a bit of a light on how lackluster that material actually is.

The two names missing from that laundry list of actors, though, offer stark evidence of both the pluses and minuses of Snyder’s “spectacle above all” approach : Henry Cavill just doesn’t seem to be asked to do much as Superman other than show up and look perfect and he responds accordingly, while Gal Gadot, whose directives were probably more or less the same, doesn’t just steal, but robs, beats, and runs away with her scant few minutes’ of screen time. It’s the most stark difference between “just doing your job” and “doing your job to the very best of your ability” that I’ve seen in recent memory. Bring on 2017’s Wonder Woman already! No rush on that Man Of Steel sequel, though — and funny enough, there’s not one currently planned, either.

08d16d4567f303c46f16a66041eca2f620352f4b

As I’m sure the previous paragraphs have no doubt ably demonstrated (and if not, my bad) Batman V Superman : Dawn Of Justice is a mixed bag. But at least it’s an exhilarating, breathtaking one. Nowhere near the trainwreck its probably-purchased detractors would have you believe and nowhere near the triumph its probably-purchased cheerleaders are fighting against the tide to convince you it is, at the end of the day it’s a brutally operatic demonstration of the best and worst of modern Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking (particularly Zack Snyder’s version of modern Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking) duking it out right in front of your pinned-open eyes : as cinema it leaves a lot to be desired, but as pure spectacle it’s hard to imagine how it can be topped.

 

Zack Snyder is the closest thing we’re likely to find to an answer to the question “what would happen if you gave a 12-year-old kid $100 million and a movie camera?” And that’s not really meant as an insult. Read on and I’ll explain —

First off, let’s state the obvious here —Sucker Punch looks great. It might be the single-most impressive CGI spectacle Hollywood has produced to date. It’s quite the feast for the eyes, as are most of the young starlets who populate the cast.  This marks Snyder’s first non-adaptation cinematic work (and he co-wrote the screenplay, as well), but that doesn’t mean it’s anything like being what could even loosely be called “original.” Instead, it rips off anything and everything in sight rather than just sticking with one source. The most obvious influences are Tarantino’s Kill Bill films, but our guy Zack borrows freely from a whole smorgasbord of material that runs the gamut from Moulin Rouge to Argento’s Suspiria to his own previous work (there’s a funeral scene highly reminiscent of Watchmen, for instance). Mostly Sucker Punch is just concerned with looking cool, and it could care less about breaking new ground.

The story, on some level, wants desperately to be a mind-fuck, but it’s not fooling anyone. When our erstwhile heroine Baby Doll (Emily Browning) is committed to a suitably wretched-looking mental institution by her physically-and sexually-abusive stepfather (who wants her late mother’s chunk of the will for himself, naturally), she is immediately plunged into some sort of ill-defined “alternative therapy” program run by mysterious Eastern European matron Dr. Vera Gorski (the always-gorgeous but frankly supremely untalented Carla Gugino) that just doesn’t work out for her and it’s quickly decided she needs a lobotomy. As she’s restrained in the psychosurgical chair and facing the needle and spike, she completely disassociates from the situation and we’re plunged into a dreamworld scenario where she and fellow mental patients Blondie  (Vanessa Hudgens), Rocket (Jena Malone), Amber (Jamie Chung) and Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish) are part of a dance troupe/brothel in some undefined locale at some equally- undefined period in time. Baby Doll’s dancing, though, takes us into a dream-within-a-dream level that triggers her escape into all kinds of hyper-fantastic scenarios that form part of a five-part quest to locate the items she and her fellow detainees will need to make their escape from either the bordello or the bughouse (take your pick). Scott Glenn serves as the David Carradine stand-in who sends them on their quest and pops up in each of the double-imaginary scenarios to share such nuggets of corn-pone wisdom as “never write a check with your mouth you can’t cash with your ass” and “to those who have to struggle for it, life has a flavor that the contented will never know.” These dream-within-a-dream set-ups provide thereal visual “meat” of the film, as the girls are sent on missions ranging from slaying a baby dragon while trying to avoid its mother to confronting zombie Nazis re-animated by the pwoer of steam. Each is a supreme exercise in lush eye-candy excess, and Snyder obviously has a blast topping himself as the film goes along.

The big event all the girls are being prepped for is the appearance at the club of a mysterious figure known only as “The High Roller,” who just happens to look exactly like the guy giving Baby Doll her lobotomy (it’s Jon Hamm of TV’s Mad Men, in case you were wondering), and so we’re heading towards some sort of full-circle resolution whereby the dreamworld of the bordello, the double-dreamworld of the quest, and the real world of the House on the Hill all come together. Will the girls escape? How will they do it? And will all of them make it?

Look, I haven’t had time to dig through all the reviews out there pertaining to this flick yet, but I can just imagine how both traditional and more “revisionist” feminists are going to react to this one. The former camp will decry the flick’s perceived obvious sexism while the latter will “celebrate” its story of female “empowerment.” In truth, both camps are wrong in my view, because I honestly don’t get the feeling that Snyder is trying to make much of any political point here at all. He just wants to make a movie that looks really cool, has some good-looking babes kicking all kinds of ass, and ends on some sort of “you can do it no matter what if you really try” standard-issue self-help-ism.

And that’s why, goofy as it may sound, I can’t help but respect the guy for what he’s done here. First off, he points out, albeit unwittingly, the double-standard that exists in Hollywood — when Tarantino rips off everything in sight, it’s called an “homage,” yet when Snyder does it, then it’s “unoriginal” and “derivative.” And while the pretentious cineastes out there argue over what he’s supposedly trying to say, those of who know the score can kick back and laugh just like Snyder himself is probably doing.

Don’t get me wrong — this is actually one of the most personal multi-million-dollar blockbusters you’re likely to see. It’s just that Snyder’s personal vision doesn’t extend beyond making a movie that looks really fucking awesome. In a way, Sucker Punch reminds me of Jack Kirby’s seminal Fourth World comics opus, minus the social and political commentary that Kirby’s work was infused with (in other words, this ain’t nearly as deep by any stretch) — both are examples of what happens when a grown adult with a pubescent boy’s imagination is given free reign to just tell the kind of story they want, and providing the audience with visual spectacles galore is first on their agenda (I know, I know — Kirby eventually had his nuts cut off by DC as the Fourth World saga unfolded, but that’s another matter for another time). The sheer, unbridled glee Snyder goes about his business here is a joy to behold, and makes for one hell of a good time.

A reviewer on the IMDB recently stated that Sucker Punch is the cinematic equivalent of giving a 12-year-old kid the keys to his dad’s liquor cabinet. I fully agree.The reviewer’s point, though, is that’s why Sucker Punch, well, sucks — and that’s where he and I part company. Rather, I think that’s why it’s so unpretentiously, jubilantly awesome. Hollywood gave Zack Snyder $100 million and he took it and pissed in their face. He may not have a lot to say, but the way in which he says it takes real guts and the whole flick oozes devil-may-care brashness. Snyder just plain doesn’t seem to give a damn about doing anything but making the coolest-looking CGI extravaganza possible, and if that’s not your cup of tea, he’s not shy about telling you to fuck off.  That kind of self-assured bravado is something I’ll always respect. What Sucker Punch lacks in brains, it more than makes up for in sheer balls.

Free Advetising For "Watchmen : The Ultimate Cut" On DVD And Blu-Ray. Warner Brothers Can Thank Me Later.

I’ve already reviewed Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen, ” specifically the director’s cut, in my typically way-too-verbose style at https://trashfilmguru.wordpress.com/2009/07/19/oh-what-a-lucky-geek-i-am-i-got-to-see-the-directors-cut-of-zack-synders-watchmen-in-the-theater/ , so I’ll refrain from going into heavy depth about it here again to save both your sanity and mine. Suffice to say, I was all over this new 5-disc DVD (your host hasn’t made the Blu-Ray leap yet) box set the day it came out, and while I find it a mixed package and even something of a missed opportunity, I’m generally pretty pleased with it.

First off, the “book-style” packaging is great, and it looks sharp on your shelf. Does that matter? Ultimately, no, but whatever. It’s a cool-looking product. It also can be had for a pretty reasonable price. I got it off Amazon brand new for $26.99. So that’s another plus. But what of the content of this impressive-looking, reasonably-priced box? If you’ve already got the director’s cut on DVD, is it worth a “double-dip,” as the industry lingo goes?

Well, that depends on how big a “Watchmen” fan you are. The only major difference here is that you get about 15 more minutes of film, with the animated (and very cool) “Tales of the Black Freighter” material added in, as well as some establishing footage around each animated sequence involving the newsvendor and the kid reading the comic. If you’re a hardcore “Watchmen” fan you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about and if you’re clueless as to what it is my blathering here is exactly in reference to, then honestly you don’t need this “Ultimate Cut” box set at all.

There’s been some criticism that the “Black Freighter” stuff kind of slows down the pace of the film and doesn’t mesh in too terribly well, but I don’t buy that. It seems like a perfectly worth addition to me. The flick honestly never lags, even at the just-over-three-and-a-half-hour running time of the “ultimate cut.”  Plus, you get two full feature-length commentaries, one from directory Snyder and the other from Dave Gibbons, co-creator and illustrator of the original comic (as usual, Alan Moore is nowhere to be found, having washed his hands of all Hollywood adaptations of his work). Snyder’s commentary is highly informative, moves along at a good clip, and is a pleasure to listen to. Gibbons is a little more subdued and his commentary lags in spots as it’s clear he’s just sort of watching it and taking it all in. It’s still a worthwhile enough way to spend over three and a half hours of your time, but it’s definitely the less essential of the two commentaries to check out, and probably only of interest to serious devotees and/or completists.

And speaking of serious devotees and/or completists, that’s kind of where this set falls short. The second disc is a nice selection of extras totaling over two hours, but there are some things missing. We get the same behind-the-scenes featurettes “ported over” from the previous director’s cut release, plus a nice lengthy new one, and the faux-documentary “Under the Hood” that was originally issued as part of the “Tales of the Black Freighter” single-disc release, but we don’t get the full “Black Freighter” story by itself without interruption that we got with that earlier stand-alone disc. This isn’t the end of the world as “Black Freighter” works best when cut into small segments and watching the whole thing in one go makes a person realize that it is, in actuality, a rather flimsy little story. It has much more impact in “pseudo-serialized,” if you will, format. But the full, uninterrupted version is about a minute or so longer than the segmented version that’s in  the “ultimate cut”  of the film. Again, probably only if interest to the anal retentive completist (who? me?), but still worth a mention.

Another item die-hard will probably regret Warner Brothers not including is the interactive video commentary from Snyder that’s on the Blu-Ray version of the director’s cut. I haven’t seen this myself yet, but i hear it’s pretty awesome and he goes into great depth while delivering essentially an annotated visual guide to the film. Warners could quite easily have found a way to include this material in stand-alone fashion on both the DVD and Blu-Ray versions of the “ultimate cut,” but have chosen, for whatever reason, not to do so. Something tells me that a “Super-Duper, Seriously Ultimate Cut,” or a “Complete Watchmen,” might be in the works for next Christmas.

The third disc is yet another digital copy  of the theatrical cut, which was already included with the Director’s Cut, and is totally superfluous. Why they bothered with it I have no idea.

Finally, the fourth and fifth discs comprise the “Watchmen Complete Motion Comic,” a pretty cool little semi-animated, full-length “video book” of all twelve issues of the comic itself. I rather like it, but again, it was issued as a stand-alone release some time ago, and here they haven’t even repackaged it to fit in with the overall visual look of the box or anything, it’s the same release as before in the same packaging. Nice to have if you don’t already, but absolutely redundant if you do, and good luck getting more than a couple bucks for your now-unnecessary stand-alone “Motion Comic” release on eBay.

So there you have it, the “Watchmen Ultimate Cut” box set in a nutshell. A little bit of extremely worthwhile new material, plenty of stuff that’s already been released previously, and some stuff they just plain missed out on ilcuding, probably quite intentionally. I don’t think this will be the final “Watchmen” DVD/Blu-Ray release, as it’s in no way absolutely comprehensive, so look for a set containing the Ultimate Cut, the director’s cut, another frigging digital copy disc of the theatrical cut, and all the bonus material that’s out there at some point in the future. Like I said, next Christmas is probably a pretty safe bet.

You do get more than enough bang for your buck, though, provided you’re a die-hard completist and want to see as close an adapatation of the comic itself as is probably humanly possible. In short, it’s a must-have for hardcore “Watchmen” devotees, but anyone and everyone else can safely take a pass.

Movie Poster for Zack Snyder's "Watchmen"

Movie Poster for Zack Snyder's "Watchmen"

Your humble host admits it : I’m a geek. A die-hard comic book, sci-fi nerd. Always have been. Always will be. But I flatter myself that I’m a geek with taste. While my friend and loved ones may debate that, I steadfastly believe it to be true. As such, while I love comics, I pride myself on the fact that I only like good comics, and only like good movies based on comics. And the reason I like good comics is down to one guy : Alan Moore. Before Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing” blew my mind around age 12, I read garbage like “Spider-Man” and “Fantastic Four.” After “Swamp Thing” and, especially, “Watchmen,” I was more interested in Crumb, Clowes, Los Bros. Hernandez, Kurtzman, Krigstein, Deitch, Miller (back when he was good) and Wolverton than I was costumed heroes in tights. That’s because Moore and artist Dave Gibbons made the ultimate statement about the entire superhero genre with “Watchmen, ” and if there are any profound questions left to be asked about costumed adventurers, they’re just reiterations of questions already asked—and answered—by this absolutely seminal work. Nothing truly new is left to be touched on. The superhero archetype has been mined for all it’s worth. “Watchmen” was at the time, and remains to this day, the final word on the subject. Anything and everything since is an echo, an aftershock. “Watchmen” is the earthquake, and it’s a 10 on the Richter scale.

So yeah. The prevailing wisdom is that “Watchmen” is the “holy grail” of superhero “graphic novels” (God, how I hate that term), and for once the prevailing wisdom is absolutely correct. With that in mind, please understand that I can’t be impartial about this film because I love the book so much. I’ve dreamed about seeing this story adapted to the silver screen since I was an early teen. And only now that it’s come and gone, and I’ve seen it four times, do I actually feel like I’ve absorbed what this means to me sufficiently enough to be able to sit down and actually review it. Sometimes I still have to literally pinch myself to make sure that yes, it’s all real and I’m still here, living in a world where there has been a “Watchmen” movie.

The twists and turns this project went through over the years have already been documented to death elsewhere, suffice to say that Terry Gilliam couldn’t do it, Paul Greengrass couldn’t do it, at least two studios couldn’t do it, and no less an authority than Moore himself declared that it was probably unfilmable. I thought so, too. I’ll take the man’s word for anything.

Enter Zack Synder. The least promising name attached to this project over the years is the guy who got it done. The guy who made an absolute hashed-up mockery of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.” The guy who gave us “300,” the least-inspired adaptation of a comic ever committed to celluloid—and considering how dire most comic adaptations have been, that’s saying something. And now he toughest comic ever to adapt to the screen was in the hands of a guy who had produced nothing but drivel? Needless to say, I was underwhelmed at the prospect, but when he did what Gilliam and Greengrass couldn’t and actually finished the thing, I knew I’d see it anyway. On opening day. It’s not like I even had a choice. This was a seminal moment in my life, pathetic as that sounds (okay, and is).

I went that first night with my best friend, a fellow “Watchmen” geek and we sat there in silent awe for 2 hours and 45 minutes, just taking in the spectacle. Here it was, finally. In and of itself, that was enough. We were seeing “Watchmen” on the big screen and we weren’t dreaming.

Still photo of the Minutemen, the original 1940s superhero group in "Watchmen"

Still photo of the Minutemen, the original 1940s superhero group in "Watchmen"

Confession time : the first time around I was too awestruck at the very idea of seeing a “Watchmen” movie at long last to even form a concrete opinion about what I’d just witnessed. There were some vague impressions floating in my mind, though, not all of them terribly positive : it was perhaps too literal. Snyder fell back too often on the easy way out he took with “300” of just using the panels from the comic as storyboards and committing the pre-existing images to film. The performances were uneven. The whole thing felt like a condensed “Cliff’s Notes” version of the book on film. It felt too dense and impenetrable, I imagined, for someone who hadn’t read it to possibly enjoy it.

And you know what? Three subsequent viewings later, I still think all those criticisms are valid. It is almost painfully  literal. There are tons of images lifted directly from page to screen. The performances are an incredibly   mixed bag, with Jackie Earle Haley as the psychopathic Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the sadistic anti-hero The Comedian hitting the ball out of the park, Billy Crudup delivering the goods when the god-like Dr. Manhattan is delivering his lines in a detached and dispassionate monotone but struggling when his living blue deity has to show any sort of emotion, Patrick Wilson delivering an absolutely average performance as Night Owl (which may be the point since his “everyman” character is supposed to be the very definition of bland mid-life failure), and both the original (Carla Gugino) and new (Malin Akerman)  Silk Spectres, the only female characters of any significance in the film, giving absolutely stilted and wooden performances that do nothing to explore the richness of the material available to them that, at least on paper, explores the strained relationship between a washed-up ex-superhero mother who never got over leaving the limelight and forced her daughter into the same line of work to live vicariously through her even though she clearly wanted nothing to do with such a lifestyle, and Matthew Goode completely missing the boa tin his turn as Ozymandias, the world’s smartest man and wealthiest business tycoon who comes off as completely listless and uninterested in everything, even his “master plan” that the entire film hinges on . And yes,  I do think it’s probably well-nigh impossible for someone who doesn’t speak the language of the book to really understand, much less enjoy, the film.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian

And we can add more gripes to the list while we’re at it. Snyder’s selection of musical cues ranges from the inspired (“The Times They Are A-Changin'” during the film’s marvelous opening credits montage, one of Synder’s few truly original sequences and the best couple of  minutes in the film as we see the entire history of superheroes in the “Watchmen” universe  unfold in flashback from) to the overly-obvious (“The Sounds Of Silence” during The Comedian’s funeral sequence) to the what-the-fuck-was-he-thinking? (Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” during the poorly-staged and-shot softcore porn sequence that passes for a “love scene” between Night Owl and Silk Spectre).  The pacing that works so wonderfully in the comic as we go from flashbacks of past sequences of significance in all the characters’  lives to the action in their world-on-the-brink-of-nuclear-annihilation alternative 1985 is disjointed and jarring on the screen. The scenes of still-President (he’s in his fifth term after Dr. Manhattan wins the Viet Nam war for him) Richard Nixon and his cabinet, including Henry Kissinger, are both unnecessary and not terribly well-executed.

But the movie soars in points, too. The previously-mentioned credit sequence montage is a true thing of beauty, and between this and the other completely original piece of —ahem! —auteurship on Snyder’s part, the drastically-changed (and quite effective) ending, it’s obvious that he should have taken more creative initiative to really make this thing his own rather than try so hard to stay almost overly-true to the source material (another term I hate, but just used anyway). Visually, it’s a feast of riches. The bleak color palette Snyder and cinematographer Larry Fong use is absolutely perfect in conveying a society on the brink of apocalypse. The CGI effects, which I normally despise just on principle alone, are amazing, especially the sequences that take place on Mars in Dr. Manhattan’s constructed “crystal ship.”  The action sequences, particularly the fight scenes,  are incredibly well-staged and timed, with dramatic ultraviolence punctuated by slow-mo shots and freeze-frames seamlessly and with genuine panache. The costumes are inspired and absolutely believable both functionally and stylistically (Rorschach’s “floating ink-blot” mask, in particular, is just plain awesome). And while there are parts any lover the book will wish were in there but aren’t, everything that needs to be in there is. This is “Watchmen,” for the most part, as opposed to somebody’s take on “Watchmen,” and Snyder quite clearly shows with every frame that he knows this book, he gets it, he understand what makes it tick and why it’s so revered by so many. He understands it all too well, in fact, to the point where he blinks when given the opportunity to truly make this project his own and instead chooses to remain absolutely faithful to Moore and Gibbons’ story. So if there are things about “Watchmen” that don’t work on film, well—that’s because it was made to be a comic story, and in his quest to translate it as near-to-verbatim (visually speaking, as self-contradictory as that, I’m sure, sounds) as possible, Snyder has missed the opportunity to well and truly make a “Watchmen” movie and has made, instead, more a moving comic book (not to be confused with the “Watchmen Complete Motion Comic” DVD release, which is pretty damn cool but another subject for another time).

Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach

Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach

After three viewings on the theater, though, I must say that each time I liked it better than the last. Those parts that grated seemed smaller and of less significance. Those parts that stood out began to soar. My qualms never fully went away, but each time I was able to appreciate just what Synder was able to achieve here all the more. And flaws and all, this is still a remarkable work, and certainly one of the most visually arresting and accomplished films you’ll ever see. Sure, I wish Snyder had chosen—or been able, as such the case may be—to really bring this rich and complex work to full life in a new medium rather than just settle for translating it. But a partly-realized “Watchmen” is still so far superior to a fully-realized any-other-superhero story that I don’t want to quibble too much. Snyder gets it right on the surface, and hits and misses when he tries to probe beneath it. The hits outweigh the misses, though,  and while it’s maybe not exactly the “Watchmen” movie I would have wanted, it’s plenty close enough, and feels more and more “right” every time I see it.

Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II

Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II

In the months since “Watchmen” hit theaters to middling box office numbers (when a movie that takes in around $110 million domestically is said to have “underperformed,” that tells you it must have been pretty damn expensive) fan circles have been abuzz about just what would be included in the “director’s cut”  DVD/ Blu-Ray release. Well, I’m pleased to say I know.

When word got out that there was going to be an extremely limited theatrical release of Snyder’s director’s cut in just four cities and that Minneapolis was going to be one of them, I was pinching myself all over again. This just seemed too damn good to be true. But true it was. And despite an unfortunate change of venue from the downtown theater just a few blocks from my office to a lifeless, warehouse-style multiplex in the far-flung,  most distant and, frankly, depressing reaches of the south suburbs due to unspecified “scheduling conflicts,” I was still all over this like flies on—well, you get the idea.  So, what do we “Watchmen” geeks get in the director’s cut that wasn’t already there in the two hours and 45 minutes of the original? I’m glad you asked (or I asked for you, if you want to be technical).

Patrick Wilson as Night Owl

Patrick Wilson as Night Owl

First off, it’s longer. Not by a tremendous amount, but the 24 extra minutes make a big difference. Mostly it’s just an extra minute (or less) at the end of a scene, but it flows much more smoothly. The pace of the story feels more natural and less “choppy.” The scene-to-scene transitions flow more seamlessly and naturally. It nearly negates my criticism of how “disjointed” the original theatrical cut feels. There are some completely new scenes, too, but not too many. We get the younger Silk Spectre chaining her government handlers and going “on the run.” We get the shocking and brutal murder of Hollis Mason, the original Nite Owl, in a tragic case of mistaken identity, and we get to see the inconsolable rage of his successor when he hears the news a few minutes later, followed by an explosive frenzy of brutality on his part (a shame this was ever cut because it’s Patrick Wilson’s finest minute or two of screen time).  We get a brief exchange between a newspaper vendor and a comic-book reading kid that formed a popular running subplot in the comic but was completely excised from the original film version (as well as a way-too-quick glimpse at the comic the kid is reading, “Tales Of The Black Freighter,” the full animated version of which has been released as a stand-alone DVD and will be woven into the main body of the film in the “Ultimate Edition” DVD/Blu-Ray due for December release).

Matthew Goode as Ozymandias

Matthew Goode as Ozymandias

In short, we get more. And in this case, at least, more makes it better. Sure, there’s still some stuff hard-core fans like myself will wish was in there that’s not there–yet. But rumor has it that Snyder shot something like six hours or so worth of material. With the director’s cut hopefully doing well when it hits the store shelves on Tuesday, and the “Ultimate Edition” hopefully being a popular Christmas-time purchase, maybe it’s not too much to hope that a “super-ultimate edition” will be in the offing someday. The theatrical cut runs two hours and 45 minutes. The director’s cut runs about three hours and eight minutes. The “ultimate edition,” rumor has it, is slated to run around three hours and 31 minutes. Much as I despise the multiple-purchases-of-the-same-movie scam the studios run known as “double-dipping,” in this case I’m more than prepared to do it if the success of these multiple releases means we might—just might—get four, or even six, hours of “Watchmen” somewhere down the line.

Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan

Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan

So is the “Watchmen” director’s cut perfect? No. Is it an improvement? Most definitely. The previously-cut material not only fleshes the film out, it breathes more life into it, creating a more fully-realized, and truly cinematic, adaptation. It feels more like an honest-to-goodness film and negates, or at least greatly lessens, some of my earlier criticism of the original cut’s  “comic-book-that-happens-to-be-moving” nature. It provides a more satisfying viewing experience while still leaving you hungry for more.  And it’ll be out on DVD and Blu-Ray on Tuesday. I’ll be first in line, with my wallet open. Because I’m a sucker for all things “Watchmen,” and it hasn’t disappointed me yet — even if the film took some warming up to at first.

I still can’t imagine what a newcomer to this story would think of Snyder’s film. I’d really love to know — I’d even be willing to have my memory erased for a day to see it with a fresh set of eyes for the first time (as long as I got it back the next day). But I can’t change what I am, and what I am is a guy who has loved “Watchmen” since he was 14 years old.  For someone like me, this movie is almost everything I could ever have hoped for. It may not have seemed that way at first, but the more I see it, the more certain of it I become. This magnificent director’s cut solidifies that view all the more.