Film Review: WATCHMEN

Author: Courtney Martin
March 6, 2009

OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: "A complex, multi-layered mystery adventure, WATCHMEN is set in an alternate 1985 America in which costumed superheroes are part of the fabric of everyday society, and the Doomsday Clock--which charts the USA's tension with the Soviet Union--moves closer to midnight. When one of his former colleagues is murdered, the outlawed but no less determined masked vigilante Rorschach sets out to uncover a plot to kill and discredit all past and present superheroes. As he reconnects with his former crime-fighting legion--a disbanded group of retired superheroes, only one of whom has true powers--Rorschach glimpses a wide-ranging and disturbing conspiracy with links to their shared past and catastrophic consequences for the future. Their mission is to watch over humanity...but who is watching the Watchmen?
RELEASE DATE: March 6, 2009
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder

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This is NOT the review of an avid comic book reader, that world is foreign to me. Hell, I hadn’t even heard of WATCHMEN before seeing the preview months leading up to its much-anticipated release. Nonetheless, from the get go, this flick had my attention, spellbound by the first trailer’s focus on cinematography, minimal dialogue, and yes, accompanied by that Smashing Pumpkins track. However premature, with that combination, I was hooked. This film would be badass: it knew it, and I did, too.

Panning through the decades via montage with “special appearances” by Warhol, Castro, J.F.K., and other key figures, the audience is given a quick and effective history lesson of the Minutemen turned Watchmen. Director Zach Snyder does an excellent job, providing much needed backstory in the opening credits, (a refresher course for fans, and critical for us newbies), into the transformation of superheros in this alternate universe: the shifting of public opinion, their downfall, and subsequent dismantling.

We drop off at the current year, 1985, not the one we all know (or YOU ALL know -- I wasn’t even born much less thought of), but some warped, and highly imaginative version of it. Superheroes have been outlawed and most are now in retirement. The U.S. and the Soviet Union are inching, or more appropriately, ticking towards nuclear war, as the symbolic Doomsday Clock serves as a visual reminder, indicating the increasing tension between the two countries and ultimately, the proximity of world destruction. In this parallel universe, Nixon (what is up with his pasty face?!) was never disgraced and dethroned by Watergate but remains in power, and approaching his third term—the reward of the United States decisively winning Vietnam. This feat was an easy task to accomplish with the enlisting of the omnipotent Dr. Manhattan (the scientist turned, ripped butt naked, blue being) and another government sanctioned superhero, The Comedian -- a guy who’s funny bone is more sadistic than hilarious.

That opening scene with The Comedian enduring a major beat down, only to be thrown through the plate glass window of his high rise apartment, has to be one my absolute favorites. The beginning continues to impress, but the film seemed to lose its momentum towards the middle. Agreeing with Sally Jupiter, the original Silk Spectre, “the past is getting brighter”, I enjoyed the flashbacks that occurred throughout its entirety especially those at the funeral of Edward Blake. They were done well, add to the vitality of the film, and allow further insight into this complex story. The plot, and sub-plots as presented, were not too difficult to follow, and though I felt the ending suited the movie, it seemed a bit anti-climatic and rushed, a hurry to tie up the loose ends.

WATCHEMN created such a visceral effect. Visually, it was truly something to behold. The sets are amazing and the costumes stunning and rich with color. From the realism of New York City -- gritty and dark -- to the scenes that occur literally out of this world, on the majestic, bizarre, hide-a-way of Dr. Manhattan, Mars, are all gorgeous and conveyed with the utmost preciseness. The combining of the real and surreal was fantastic. The raspy, raw quality of Rorschach’s voice, spawning this urgency and the calm, distracted, yet melancholic tonal quality of Dr. Manhattan’s, all work to create stunning contrasts.

While I felt the score meshed brilliantly with the film, creating suspense and foreboding, Snyder’s ‘Generation Hit List’ was definitely hit or miss. Nat King Cole’s tender and loving track “Unforgettable” paired up with The Comedian’s brutal attack and murder was so at odds, so eerie, that it was perfect, and strangely beautiful. The sex scene set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, however, (…really…really…?) was a little too hokey for my tastes.

Casting virtual unknowns as opposed to A-List actors was a brilliant choice as the audience won’t get distracted by a famous face, and struggle to separate the actor from the character portrayed. I was rather pleased with most of the performances, as they showcased a firm understanding of their characters, and thus despite their actions, I was invested in their fates. This rings true with Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s ruthless and unapologetic portrayal of The Comedian. Matthew Goode as Ozymandias (the dude in the Purple Rain-esque costume) gives an aloof, clever two-sided performance. Night Owl II played by Patrick Wilson had good moments but ultimately had me on the fence. Dejected and conflicted by the prospect of putting on his suit again, I thought he wasn’t as compelling as he could have been. I wasn’t feeling Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II at all. (I’m not hating!) She’s attractive though she has a limited range, displays hardly any levels, and lacks emotional intensity when it is desperately called for. Inkblot mask on or off, Jackie Earle Haley, the mentally ill, vigilante, disgusted by society’s debauchery and who is determined to solve the murder mystery threatening his former colleagues, blew me away with his versatility and conviction; he inhabited that role -- he became Rorschach. I was intrigued by the subtle nuances and affective detachment, and overall poignant portrayal of Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan.

WATCHMEN is anything but your typical superhero film. Its characters are all dysfunctional, nowhere near an idealized image of a moral crusader. Those who go against them are not subdued and left for the police to take care off. Here, justice is intertwined with a murderous vengeance; they do right by themselves, oftentimes, a twisted interpretation of what is just, never abiding by or answering to some higher moral code. They look out for humanity, but only if it confirms to their notion of what should be saved.

With Snyder’s previous work, 300, the man clearly knows how to direct and shoot action sequences, and he is more than consistent following that up with this film. As much ass kicking is doled out, the scenes are intense and heavy on the violence. Blood galore and bones being snapped mercilessly—an orthopedic surgeon’s dream if the bad guys actually stayed alive long enough. Near rape, murder, dismemberment, and pedophilia -- WATCHMEN was, at times, difficult to watch. Some scenes are beyond shocking, and to those unfamiliar with the graphic novel, those average moviegoers may find Snyder’s unwavering commitment to delve right in, no holds barred, and graphically depict the heinous side of human nature, a bit much to stomach. I cringed a few times in awe of what I witnessed on screen. Snyder may have lingered too much on the gore and overdone the violence, but nevertheless, I see the value in his tactics and appreciate that he sought to push the limits, and as a result, hopefully expand the boundaries, removing any preconceived notions of what a superhero movie should be and forever altering and striving towards newer possibilities of what a superhero movie can be.


Courtney Martein -- Texas born and raised -- is a vertically inept college student majoring in Drama at NYU.
She's a pretty chill gal who loves root beer, biking, and writing. She hopes to actually make a living at something she loves and not wind up living in a box or worse, mooching off her mother.

The Entire WATCHMEN Graphic Novel Comes to Life!

Watched any great books lately? Now you can. The most celebrated graphic novel of all time that broke the conventional mold continues to break new ground. WATCHMEN co-creator and illustrator Dave Gibbons oversees this digital version of the graphic novel that adds limited motion, voice and sound to the bookâ?Ts striking drawn panels. All 12 chapters of the story are here -- over 5 hours spanning everything from the mysterious demise of the Comedian to the crisscrossed destinies of loosely allied superheroes to their fateful impact on the world. Be in the know. Be watching. With WATCHMEN: THE COMPLETE MOTION COMIC.

To unlock clips of the film, please test your Watchmen trivia knowledge at

BATMAN ON FILM, © 1998-present William E. Ramey. All rights reserved.
WATCHMEN photos courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.