No confirmation on how exactly this will be released to streaming, but at almost 4 hours length, with heaps of new footage, and a darker tone in line with DC's MO, this version will hopefully live up to the deafening hype.
Only four episodes into the first season, HBO’s Watchmen series could very well be the best comic book adaptation of 2019… that’s saying a lot in a year that’s given us The Boys, Avengers: Endgame, Joker and Preacher.
This isn’t a traditional sequel or spin-off, yet it feels closer to the source material than Zack Snyder’s almost-honourable 2009 feature, which basically recreated Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ beloved graphic novel panel-by-panel. What Snyder made up for in visual styling, he lost with some of the bigger ideas that hit home previously.
Watchmen (the series) is helmed by Damon Lindelof, the brilliant/frustrating mind behind Lost, which makes sense with the many disconnected events that occur within the first episode alone. Thankfully, as with The Leftovers, the grand design here seems much more intentional, so viewers are encouraged to take the leap of faith that it’ll all make sense eventually.
Much like Amazon Prime’s The Boys, the casting is what differentiates this from your average silver-screen adaptation. Regina King remains one of the most exciting faces in Hollywood; believably coordinated and violent as the masked vigilante Sister Night, but equally protective and vulnerable as a loving wife/mother.
The supporting cast is bang-on too, from Don Johnson’s smirking police chief to Tim Blake Nelson as the genius redneck known as Looking Glass, and most importantly, the aptly-buff Jeremy Irons in a role that’s hard to describe (even though the producers let slip who he’ll be playing prior to release).
While on the topic of source-related Easter Eggs, the always-magnetic Jean Smart pops up in the third episode as FBI agent and vigilante hunter Laurie Blake – who fans of the comic may know as an ex-vigilante herself, Silk Spectre. Laurie was one of the major players in the original comics, most notably for her love triangle between Dr. Manhattan and Night Owl, so comic fans will salivate knowing she’s playing such a pivotal role once again.
Production-wise this is exceptionally structured & shot. Close to the source, it cuts seamlessly from past to present, with gimmicky interludes of fictional shows that make clear parallels with the current environment, and climactic episodes that will have viewers anticipating each weekly release.
Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross expertly tackle the score, using a diverse mix of trappy bass and old-school soul to full effect, with clear influences from Fight Club to Twin Peaks. Fans will be able to get their hands on three different vinyl releases, with volume 1 available November 4.
Needless to say, whether you know everything or nothing about the original comic or previous film adaptation, this is quality television that deserves patience and multiple viewings. Hopefully it might even inspire a few people to go back and read the comic – there’s a reason it’s the only graphic novel on Time Magazine’s Top 100 Books.
Who will watch the Watchmen? You, that’s who.
Episode 5 will air Monday 19th November 2019 on Foxtel.
The superhero genre, while often entertaining and crowd-pleasing, can feel a little unambitious at times. Even hardcore fans will likely agree that once a formula is set, it’s adhered to, with very little room for inspiration or subversion. However, every now and then a superhero flick comes along with a little more on its mind. Notable examples include The Dark Knight (2008) and Logan (2017), and now we can add Joker to that list, although not without a couple of qualifications.
Joker tells the tragic tale of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a spindly, twitchy loner who lives with his sick mum, Penny (Frances Conroy) and is attempting to break into the world of standup comedy. Naturally nothing much goes according to plan for Arthur, and the film traces a dark downward spiral showcasing how an ordinary, unassuming man eventually becomes the Crown Prince of Crime aka The Joker.
To be clear, Joker is an origin story only in the broadest terms. Director Todd Phillips has already gone on record telling media outlets that this incarnation of the iconic baddie is a one-off and we’ll never see them battling Batman while attempting to poison Gotham’s water supply. Consequently, the script is much more focused on the slowburn breakdown of an unfortunate who has fallen through the cracks and seeks solace in delusion. Honestly, the script, co-written by Phillips and Scott Silver, is a tad blunt which might be more of a problem if not for the film’s clear selling point: Joaquin Phoenix’s stunning turn in the titular role.
To say Joaquin nails the role is an outrageous understatement, because he delivers a pitch perfect turn, at times vulnerable, manic, tortured and afraid, his body twisting and contorting in a bony dance that’s all elbows, bruised skin and teeth. The sheer sense of discomfort and unease that Phoenix manages to convey, particularly in a relatively mainstream comic book movie, is staggering. Every second he’s on screen is fascinating to watch, so much so that you’ll likely forgive the occasionally by-the-numbers nature of the script.
Todd Phillips’ direction is slick and effective, with numerous visual references and homages to the early works of Scorcese, in particular Taxi Driver (1976) and The King of Comedy (1982), the latter of which is further reinforced by the casting of Robert De Niro as talk show host Murray Franklin. Gotham, also, looks and sounds like New York during the garbage strike of the 1970s, lending the piece a grimy, abandoned feel, seething with vermin and potential violence.
On the downside, Joker does pull some of its punches. Sure, it may reference Taxi Driver, but ultimately this is a property from DC Films and Warner Bros, so if you’re expecting something truly transgressive, you’ve come to the wrong place. And hey, if you want Taxi Driver, go watch Taxi Driver! It’s a great flick and you can probably pick it up for under a tenner these days.
Joker works within the rigid framework of a superhero (or in this case supervillain) movie, because while it may not push the boundaries of cinema in general, it certainly widens the barriers inherent to this specific genre. Paired with a performance that should have the Academy hurling handfuls of Oscars at Joaquin like mad bastards, Joker delivers one of the more haunting and unique comic book movie experiences in years.