Excellent tier, cont.
9. Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup, Watchmen, 2009)
As I said in some of my earlier Watchmen entries, there have been several essays written on the character of Dr. Manhattan and his philosophies, importance and social themes from the comics, and as the movie more or less adapts them faithfully, I’m not going to discuss the larger themes brought to the table by the character here and only will only discuss how he was portrayed when adapted to the silver screen.
And, as aforementioned, the answer is pretty much perfectly. Dr. Manhattan is a very unusual character in the comics, who perceives time differently than anyone else, experiencing it all at once instead of bit by bit like the other characters do. Obviously these themes and his time dichotomy can’t quite be as adapted and felt by the reader the same way in the comics as they are on film, but the filmmakers do a fantastic job with it through the use of carefully placed flashbacks. Dr. Manhattan’s origin story is more or less portrayed onscreen word per word and scene by scene. Crudup absolutely nails the character’s growing sense of robotic detachment from humanity while still letting us know that this character, despite his powers, is still human and not quite a God and we do see some of his underlying humanity. Although much of the lines he has to say are quite mechanical, Crudup lets us feel sympathy for this very unusual, robotic, and detached character. And yet, at the same time, we still can find the character and the implications of his powers quite terrifying, and we are made uncomfortable by the possibilities of a character with powers like this who can be swayed to either protect the world, ignore it, or destroy it and yet is also human enough to be swayed by something as human as his girlfriend leaving him. A very difficult character to pull off, but is pulled off extremely well and is just as compelling in the movie as he is in the comics.
One other choice the movie should get credit for is not being afraid to show his genitalia like the comics did. It was a risky movie as it opened up a lot of “LOL blue dong” jokes from less mature viewers, but it’s an important aspect of the character, as it displays that as Manhattan becomes more detached from humanity, he shows less concern for human customs. There is no practical reason for him to ever wear clothing, he only does so because it is a custom and formality of human culture, and the moments where he isn’t wearing them display his growing lack of concern for such things. I’m sure you could argue that you could arrange the shots so that his genitalia is always obstructed and we don’t actually see it, but that would severely hamstring the blocking and angles of the scenes and could easily come off as ridiculous, and would remind people of the scene in Austin Powers where the genitalia are always being covered up by ridiculous objects.
The character is also quite visually impressive and the special effects are flawless, and some of the visual displays of his power are impressive. The scene where a giant Manhattan lumbers through Vietnam, effortlessly vaporizing Vietnamese soldiers without showing any concern, is genuinely terrifying. The scene at the end when he comes back as a giant and tells Adrian that he’s no more concern to him than the world’s smartest ant is to a human is also pulled off extremely well onscreen, displaying this character’s grandiose and power.
I’m sure most people agree with me about Crudup’s performance and the other aspects I described above…but yes, I do realize I haven’t brought up the giant elephant in the room. Or, to be more precise, the giant squid in the room.
And to be honest…I kind of liked the ending of the movie. As much as Watchmen is a classic work of literature, the fact that Adrian has convinced the countries of the world that an alien invasion is happening because of his genetic mutations could be seen as a bit hokey on screen. And, really, thematically, not much has changed – Adrian has convinced the world to unite behind a threat that destroyed New York which he based on harnessing Dr. Manhattan’s powers. Convincing them that Dr. Manhattan is the culprit behind them instead of an alien invasion makes a great deal of sense – Dr. Manhattan is something that the world has already seen and accepted and has felt some degree of unease about. The movie also earns this unease through a slight change in the comics – when Jon freaks out on the talk show thanks to the cancer accusations in the comic book, it is made quite clear that all the people around him that he makes vanish were teleported to the roof, while in the movie it’s unclear if he teleported them or vaporized them in a moment of anguish. It’s also interesting how Adrian’s plan with the talk show extend beyond just taking Manhattan out of the picture for a little while and fit into a larger scheme.
There are a few major complaints about the change in the ending, which I’ll address here. The first is that, at the end of both the book and movie, Dr. Manhattan decides to explore the universe to explore if there is any other life – as the movie has him be the big source of world-unifying danger, if he is gone they have nothing to be concerned about so the world peace will be short lived when they realized Manhattan is no longer around. My response to that is, Adrian has clearly harnessed the power of Manhattan to some extent, and so I assumed that Adrian will be the one to continue to attack places and make it seem like Manhattan was the culprit, the same way in the comics that he presumably would have continued the alien threat through his mutations. The second complaint is that the USSR and other countries wouldn’t have bought into him as a unifying factor as Osterman was an American citizen and would have blamed America for him…but I think the fact that he apparently nuked New York would have served as an adequate enough notice that he was the global threat to be united against and not someone on America’s side that America was responsible for anymore. There may be some suspicion and unease about the fact that Osterman was an American, but I think the self-preserving fear of not having their cities befall a similar fate to New York would be the foremost concern of the USSR and other countries. The third complaint is that if the genetic mutations are not addressed that it makes Bubastis completely pointless and we have no idea why Adrian has a big purple cat or why he cares about it. I don’t have an answer for that one, but that aspect doesn’t affect Manhattan as a character.
Furthermore, I was extremely pleasantly surprised that even after knowing everything that was going to happen up until that point, the movie was able to surprise book readers with a variation on the ending in a way that still made sense thematically.
And the ending also made Manhattan and his story arc much more integral to the story as a whole. There is a bit of fear and unease about Manhattan throughout the entire story amongst the other characters and the general public, obviously playing upon the fears that would be natural if a character with tremendous powers like Superman was real. We’re happy he’s on our side, but the lingering knowledge that he could decide to conquer or destroy at any moment would give anyone some degree of unease. This is touched upon and is kind of important in the comic, but in the movie, it becomes one of the most critical and important themes, as the ending now plays upon and relies on it.
Thus, Dr. Manhattan is actually more important in the movie than he is in the comics, so it becomes even more critical for the film to make us sympathize with him but also understand his growing detachment, as well as feel unease about him at times and genuine terror at others. Balancing all of those elements is a tough job, but I thought the movie and Crudup knocked it out of the park.
8. Captain America/Steve Rogers (Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011; The Avengers, 2012)
Similar to Thor, Captain America is another property that people were incredibly suspicious of. This was a character and movie concept that could easily turn out incredibly hokey or cheesy, and also seemed like a risk given the fact that overseas gross has become absolutely critical for movie studios.
With Thor, we were given some relief when Branagh was announced as the director. We didn’t get that with Captain America, as Joe Johnston (despite making the Rocketeer and other films that seemed like a fit) has a much shakier track record, what with Jurassic Park III and whatnot.
The biggest misgivings about the film, however, came about when Chris Evans was cast as the lead. This seemed like an odd choice at the time, as most people were thinking of the guy from Not Another Teen Movie and Johnny Storm and (since most people haven’t seen Sunshine) hadn’t really seen him in a serious role. There were definitely fears that he would bring an unfitting cockiness to the character.
Luckily, our fears were completely assuaged when seeing the film, and Chris Evans really gets his chance to shine.
One thing I will note is that I liked the Captain America movie a great deal (mostly because of Evans) but not as much as some of the other Marvel movies. In all fairness it’s the only one I saw on DVD and didn’t see in theaters so maybe I wasn’t getting the full experience. Some of the pacing of the film seemed a bit uneven and Red Skull didn’t really do it for me. My biggest complaint with the film (which seems minor, but it really took me out of a lot of it) is the fact that so many futuristic weapons and vehicles - it just seemed a little ridiculous that everyone was shooting lasers instead of guns by the end. Furthermore it makes it so Captain America’s eventual revival in the present day won’t be quite as jarring towards him, as he’s already used to being around futuristic and high level technology. I still thought it was really good and enjoyed it, but it did have a few issues for me. Overall, I think I enjoyed the Thor movie more, although that was largely because the Asgardian world was so cool.
Despite that, between Cap and Thor as characters, there’s no doubt which one was better. None of the problems I had with the film had much of anything to do with the character himself or Evan’s portrayal, which were both excellent.
To start off the film, obviously the character can only work if the audience connects with pre-serum Rogers. Obviously the movie accomplishes this in spades, as we see and connect with Steve and the movie makes him extremely likable. It would have been easy to make Skinny Steve some sort of outcast or timid nerd of some type, but the movie avoids this, and Steve actually has a certain confidence and belief in himself and isn’t timid despite his small stature (put most on display when he takes down the flagpole that the other troops were trying to climb up and wins the free ride back smugly. A great little moment showing us the character’s ingenuity.)
When he transforms into the strong Captain America that we are more familiar with, he never loses his likability and charisma. The romantic relationship is pretty good and his friendship with Bucky seems natural despite not much screen time between the two.
This character doesn’t have too much of a character arc in the film in so far in that he doesn’t have any character flaws that become corrected or anything. His arc is more of a coming of age, developing into a hero story, but the time period between him getting the serum and becoming a hero is pretty short. One of the hardest things to pull off about the character is the fact that he really doesn’t have many character flaws and is more noble than the people around him, which could have easily led to a situation where we saw him as a Mary Sue or lost interest in him. Evans makes the character so extremely likable, however, that we never have those feelings at all.
In the Avengers, the character is still given a chance to shine. There isn’t too much time to show the serious aspects of him adapting to the modern world, but that plot point is used to great comedic effect (“I got that one! I got that reference.”) without diminishing our respect for the character. Even though he doesn’t have special powers or a suit, the movie does him a ton of justice in showing why he is a major and critical asset. He is able to hold his own physically, but more importantly, it demonstrates his value by showing us his leadership skills and ability to make tactical decisions. The scene where he makes determinations of what each member of the team should be doing and where they should be during the invasion (and everyone, including the arrogant Stark and Thor, know to shut up and listen to him) does a ton of justice towards the character. While watching I thought it was a perfect way to demonstrate the character's leadership and it was exactly the type of scene I’ve always wanted to see Cyclops have in one of the X-Men movies.
And throughout that movie as well, the character is totally sold by Chris Evans’ performance, creating an extremely likable character that is also relatable despite the fact that he has no real character flaws, which is no easy task.