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Watchmen

The 2009 movie directed by Zack Snyder and based upon the book by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

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Clearly wants to be visionary but falls a bit short. Intriguing nonetheless.

  • Nov 17, 2010
  • by
Rating:
+3
All I know about WATCHMEN I learned from the movies. I'd never read the graphic novel…I'd never heard of it, in fact, until buzz about the movie started. So I cannot comment on the faithfulness to the source, or whether it captures the spirit of the original work.

So for this novice, WATCHMEN was a big, often entertaining, sometimes tedious mish-mash of straight-forward action film, a tongue-in-cheek spin on the superhero genre and a sometimes interesting collection of character studies. It was clearly ambitious, and sometimes it seemed as though all the money was spent on special effects and perhaps a little more could have been spent on some better actors. Overall, I had a good time at the movies, but did have to wonder what all the fuss was about.

Perhaps we've gotten too used to movies being cynical about superheroes. I remember all those decades ago when the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN arrived. He was earnest and straightforward, with all the humor playful and none of it a knowing wink to the audience. Even Tim Burton's BATMAN films played things fairly straight. But lately, whether via the wry, isn't this all a little silly fun of IRON MAN or the "is the hero much better than the villain" cynicism of THE DARK KNIGHT, the idea of examining the genre of the superhero is not earth-shattering at all. So much of the hand-wringing and in-depth analysis I've read about how WATCHMEN reimagines, or reinvents or deconstructs the superhero movie is of little interest to me. That's all well-and-good…but it had better entertain me first.

And for much of its length, WATCHMEN succeeds. First of all, I must commend the protracted but very clever opening credits, which neatly give us all the history we really need of the Watchmen. The group essentially seemed to begin as a cadre of like-minded persons who wanted to fight crime outside of the law…and donned disguises that would make them readily identifiable to an adoring public but not so readily known by the police. They didn't really have super-powers, per se…but they did appear to have determination and exceptional fighting skills. We also see that the fame of being superheroes exacted high prices on most members of the group. As WWII passed, the Watchmen were replaced by more "modern" heroes with more high-tech weaponry and flashier costumes…and more "modern" hang-ups.

Most of the film takes place in the ‘80s…but it's a different ‘80s. Richard Nixon is still president (after having term limits repealed)…mostly because he used the Watchmen to win the Vietnam War for him. Now he's thanked them by making them illegal.

I realize that I've just begun to scratch the surface of the plot…and I don't care to reveal more and more. Hopefully this serves to give you some context.

The movie opens with the murder of The Comedian…a Watchman who is part killing-machine and part homicidal maniac. He may have helped win the war, but he's also a polluted soul, capable of extremely heinous acts because he knows that he won't be stopped or brought to account. With his death, Rorschach (a fascinating creation…a man in an old-fashioned suit and fedora, wearing a white stretchy mask with constantly changing inkblots on its face) tries to rally his fellow retirees to his side, fearful they are being targeted and determined to flush out the truth. He is in many ways the opposite of Comedian…moral to a fault and driven by an unshakeable code. He has also refused to retire.

We also meet Night Owl, who appears to be, quite frankly, a whimp…but does perk up a bit when he fires up his special flying craft and joins ranks with Silk Spectre II (her mom was Silk Spectre) to bail Rorschach out of trouble.

And then there's Ozymandias, who has become a billionaire, in part by parlaying his Watchman identity into an action-figure bonanza. He's such a neat, tidy man that one suspects he has OCD.

And the one true superhero of the bunch is Dr. Manhattan, a glowing blue "man" with virtually limitless powers over matter & time. He's become so God-like that he in only barely attached to shreds of humanity, and is sometimes disinclined to help humanity, because there's so little in it for him.

All the political and action machinations of the Watchmen makes up the heart of the film, which is also peppered with flashbacks that explain many of the characters. Visually the film is a feast, with each frame full of imagination. Director Zack Snyder used many of the same camera techniques he brought to 300 to the fight scenes in WATCHMEN, so there was a feeling of the familiar there. In fact, the action in the film is the least interesting part. If you're looking for lots of fights, explosions and over-the-top effects…you will be disappointed. (Although the rendition of the surface of Mars is pretty impressive.)

WATCHMEN comes down mostly to characters…and here is where I had the biggest problems. Some are brilliantly played…Jackie Earle Haley is totally magnetic as Rorshach. He makes this little bundle of ferocity the most relatable & sympathetic character of the bunch. He is, because of his frequent narration, our moral guide through this world. He mostly wears his mask, but fortunately for the actor, there is one extended sequence where we get to see him at work…it's great stuff. Billy Crudup plays Dr. Manhattan, and I suppose he's okay, although he's so much of a special effect that it's tough to judge. Patrick Wilson is not a favorite of mine, but he certainly effectively conveys the whimpy side of Night Owl, so to that extent, he's well cast. Jeffrey Dean Morgan cuts a striking figure as Comedian, but he plays everything on a surface level…we don't really see why he does the things he does. Even if he's just a psycho…we should then get that glimmer…but he mostly comes across as a cipher (a very unlikeable one at that). Malin Akerman barely passes muster as Silk Spectre II…she looks terrific in the costume, but she does not for one second seem like someone who spent a significant part of her life kicking butt. (Carla Guggino plays her elderly mother as a generic wino…her performance rarely rises above community theater level). But worst of all is Matthew Goode as Ozymandias…I hesitate to say he gives a performance at all. He says his lines, and mostly stands around looking like a dear in the headlights. When he's not on screen, you instantly forget about him, and when he returns you think, "oh, yeah, that guy." And this is a big flaw, because his character becomes VERY important by the end.

Part of these problems relates to the script…which relies on costuming and narration to tell us what we should be picking up from dialogue and interactions and ACTING. It's a big story, and inevitably character gets lost. But Snyder is capable of better…in his DAWN OF THE DEAD remake (a truly outstanding movie), he quickly sketched characters for us even within the confines of the genre.

But all this criticism is mostly my way of saying the film could have been even better. As it stands, though, it is still very good. If the plot sounds interesting to you, check it out. Perhaps you'll feel differently about the characterizations than I do. And since it's unlikely the film will ever be remade, we might as well enjoy the pleasures WATCHMEN does have to offer…and they are many.

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November 17, 2010
Great review! I liked this film but I agree that it could've been so much better. Haley nailed Rorschach though, I liked this movie and the director's cut made it so much better. I think I rated this a weak 4 out of 5, nearly gave it a 3.5 but I was generous. Thanks!
 
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More Watchmen (2009 film) reviews
review by . July 20, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Careful what you ask for, you just might get it.  I always wanted to see the Watchmen made into a movie.  At the same time I knew it would be a train wreck.  It had to be.  How can you get everything from the graphic novel into one movie?  You can't.  it's just that simple.  Still they tried.  Problem is I don't give credit for effort.  Only for success.      The biggest problem for me is how they changed the ending.  …
Quick Tip by . November 26, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
I'm a firm believer in that you shouldn't review something if you don't know the full story (or at least the background), like a person who doesn't play video games reviewing a video game movie or criticizing a Sci-fi film because you don't understand something or a better example me reviewing the Watchmen Movie.      See i never read the graphic novel so I went into the theater (opening day might I add) expecting a classic Superhero movie, (Spiderman, …
review by . March 06, 2009
Logo- Smiley Face Button with Blood
WARNING: This review may contain spoilers!   For the past decade Hollywood has been scrambling over the rights to adapt comic book characters to the big screen. This year one of the most celebrated graphic novels is being brought to theatres in a cinematic adaptation that may very well be the most highly anticipated film of 2009. But can director Zack Snyder's film adaptation of Alan Moore's masterpiece Watchmen satisfy legions of rabid comic book fans and still succeed commercially …
review by . September 25, 2010
If there's one thing that I lament about the film-going experience as I get older, it's that I move further and further away from the boy who used to watch movies with unquestioning wide-eyed amazement.  When I turned thirteen I started looking at film with a slightly more critical and as the years packed on with an increasingly cynical eye.   It's a very rare experience for me to walk into a film without the baggage of 20 odd years of cinema watching experience, comparing …
review by . June 11, 2009
I'll Watch something else, thank you.
I never read the old Watchmen book.  Called by many the greatest graphic novel ever and read by millions,  I was going to consider reading it after I saw the film maybe catching what they changed and get more insight but now, I think I'll pass. The film is about an alternate 1985 where Nixon has remained in office and the world is constantly facing a doomsday clock where Russia could launch it's weapons in a moments notice.  A once proud group of masked crime fighters have …
review by . March 07, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
movie poster
Comic book adaptations are all the rage these days and they are a dime-a-dozen. To prepare for the film and to write this review, I re-read the graphic novel so I can give a more detailed viewpoint. "Watchmen" is adapted from the award-winning 12-issue mini-series in the 80's which in turn became a popular graphic novel. The graphic novel was written by Alan Moore (From Hell, V for Vendetta) and illustrated by Dave Gibbons (Green Lantern) and adapted to the big screen by Zack Snyder (300). …
Quick Tip by . July 19, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
It's really a mixed bag. A lot of what worked for the graphic novel doesn't translate well to the big screen. But it comes alive enough to keep you entertained, even if it doesn't fully satisfy. A few cheesy liners and a few moments where the movie takes itself a little too seriously is nothing to deter anyone from going to see it. And for what it's worth it's a decent movie. The problem isn't so much the movie, but more that what they had to work with was very complicated. I would say they did …
Quick Tip by . July 24, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Zach Snyder does his best to adapt the "unfilmable" graphic novel magnum opus from Alan Moore, and comes up short from either fans who wanted more, or didn't think it stuck close enough to the source, not to mention the general public who the story went over they're heads due to almost requiring the audience to come in knowing whats going on. Uneven performances and loss of narrative hurt what could have been a pretty good adaption.
review by . November 07, 2009
The movie was a little bit dark (the superheroes in this parallel universe literally kill their enemies) but I found it entertaining throughout. The movie starts with the murder of The Comedian, a sometimes hero, most times a nasty bully acting as a hero. He was part of a group of masked adventurers called the Watchmen. Most of the Watchmen were retired but they get together at the funeral and each has their memories of the group that go back to the 1940's.       There is also …
Quick Tip by . July 20, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
I can see where the film was TRYING to go, but it never quite got there. Visually appealing but it dragged on just too long.
About the reviewer
I've got my own site, www.afilmcritic.com, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … more
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Wiki

Production Overview

There have been numerous attempts to adapt the superlative graphic novel Watchmen, which was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, into a feature film. The first serious proposal to do so came in the late 1980s and for a long time director Terry Gilliam (director of Brazil and 12 Monkeys) showed interest in making the film. However, after numerous attempts to create a script, Gilliam was quoted as saying that the graphic novel was too complex and too amorphous for even him to adapt. Later acclaimed director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain) was reported as a possible director, but this never came into fruition. Initially set to direct the film  was Paul Greengrass (director of The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum). However he was sacked during budget disputes at Paramount Studios, who were at the time meant to release the film. Since then Zack Snyder (director of the remake of Dawn of the Dead and of the film adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel 300) has been assigned the role of director and the film has been moved from Paramount to Warner Bros. Studios.



The film was released on March 6 of 2009.
On July 21 of 2009 the film was released in both theatrical and director's cut editions on DVD.
On November 10 of 2009 the film was released in an Ultimate Edition containing Tales of the Black Freighter animated sequences and linking scenes.


Cast / Crew and ...
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Details

Director: Zack Snyder
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Film-Noir, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Release Date: March 6, 2009
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: David Hayter, Alex Tse
DVD Release Date: July 21, 2009
Runtime: 162 minutes
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Legendary Pictures
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