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 Richard Nixon is still president (after having term limits repealed)…mostly because he used the Watchmen to win the Vietnam War for him.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.
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 … more
Not being a big follower of the endless slew of comic book conversions, I was refreshingly surprised with how good this film is. Directed by Zack Snyder, who previously made 300, apparently the movie has been stuck in development hell for years with one director after another bailing out, since the original graphic novel is a rich and complex environment that has a Lord of The Rings unfilmability (though of course, Peter Jackson proved everyone one on that one). There … more
Let's just say that I should have stuck with my gut and not have seen this movie. I knew it was going to be bad and it was. A stupid trailer that was better then the first one made me go see this movie and I dragged other people with me including my fiance who had to be up early the next day. What was so terrible about this movie? For one thing the blue dangling penis that happened to be waving for most of the move. I mean really, it should have had a line in the credits because it was … more
Pros: Wow. Just...whoa. Cons: Not for everyone, definitely. The Bottom Line: A movie that takes time to absorb - even a carload of friends may be silent for a bit on the way home before launching into typical after-movie conversation. I just got home from watching Watchmen. It is currently 12:07 AM. The movie began at 9:00 and ended around 11:45 PM, so be ready for a picture that's long and involved. &nbs … more
Fanboys rejoice! Director Zack Snyder, of "300" fame, has faithfully adapted Alan Moore's acclaimed graphic novel "Watchmen" with intensity, style and passion. The film has a few minor flaws in its narrative, as it crams an epic story into 2 hours and 43 minutes, however the end result will entertain casual moviegoers looking for an action movie with a brain. "Watchmen" revolves around the lives of estranged heroes who have devoted their lives to protecting a world that has … more
I was not impressed by director Zack Snyder's efforts in "300." While it was a visual feast with impressive special effects, I felt that Snyder used those visuals as a crutch to support a rather dull plot. The actual historical account of the battle at Thermopylae was, to me, a much better story than Snyder's film or Frank Miller's graphic novel. With that said, I wasn't expecting much from Snyder's "Watchmen." Based on the comic series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, I thought … more
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.