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
OFFICIAL SITE: WATCHMENMOVIE.COM
Before you continue reading my review of WATCHMEN, please indulge me a brief personal story.
I can remember distinctly my introduction to the graphic novel WATCHMEN. While in college, I kept the fact that a was a comic book fan a secret -- it wasn’t “cool” to read them back then. Since I wouldn’t be caught dead in a comic shop, I’d go to a book store at my local mall and read them right off the rack.
That’s how I kept up with Batman in comics back in the 80s.
It was at this bookstore that I discovered the “graphic novel.” Being a Batman fan, I stumbled upon this book featuring Batman titled THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. As I read it, I can remember thinking…
“Why is Batman old?”
“Why is Robin a girl?”
“Why is Batman and Superman fighting?”
“What in the hell are Ronald Reagan and David Letterman doing in this story?”
Like TDKR, I also discovered WATCHMEN at this bookstore. I can clearly recall picking it out because of the “DC” logo. But upon flipping through it, I discovered a bunch of superheroes that I’d never before encountered. As I read it, I can remember thinking…
“If this is a DC comic, where’s Batman and Superman?”
“Why is Richard Nixon still president in the 1980s?”
“Cursing, sex, and blood…in a comic book?!”
“Who is this big blue dude running around naked?”
After reading both THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and WATCHMEN, I began to question myself. Why exactly wasn’t I buying comics anymore?
This DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and WATCHMEN. Not only were they good, but they were written for grownups…and me.
A year or so later, I saw BATMAN (1989) and it was over. To hell with peer pressure! I like comic books, I am a geek, and I’m damn proud of it!
And now, some 20 years later, comic books and the films that are based on them are “cool.” Hell, we’ve even had an actor (the late Heath Ledger) win an Oscar for playing a comic book character (The Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT). Comic book movie are now an established form of film here to stay.
As comic book movie legend Michael Uslan told me recently, the Golden Age of comic book movies is upon us.
I’ve been excited to see a WATCHMEN film for several years. As I’m sure you all know, this project was in development hell for years.
I first started following it when director Darren Aronofsky was still attached and it was over at Paramount. Then Darren left and Paul Greengrass was set to direct. Next thing you know, the thing went into turnaround.
Eventually, WATCHMEN found it’s way home to Warner Bros. who put director Zack Snyder (300) on it, and here we are.
WATCHMEN is a film that comic book fans should be very proud of. It further proves that the genre has come a LONG way since the days of STEEL, CATWOMAN, and BATMAN AND ROBIN. BUT…
I’ve got to wonder how this film is going to resonate with a mainstream audience. More on that in a a bit.
Any worries that WATCHMEN wouldn’t be faithful to the graphic novel can be put to rest. Amazingly, the filmmakers were able to incorporate the core theme and message of the book into an almost three hour film. Honestly, Zack Snyder has absolutely nailed it as far being loyal to the comic book. It’s almost like he went out of his way to install images and scenes into the film exactly as they appear in the source material. I’ve got to tip my hat to Snyder and company because I did not think WATCHMEN the book could be turned into WATCHMEN the film.
Alan Moore will be pleased!
Um, probably not.
Are there things from the book omitted? Sure, and that’s to be expected when any book is adapted to film.
Did Synder and the writers make some changes? Yep. I’m sure that this will come off as blasphemy to some, but sometimes changes that filmmakers make can be viewed as improvements to the comics on which they’re based.
Like The Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT…
The organic web shooters in SPIDER-MAN…
And making changes to the end of WATCHMEN.
I thought the change (which I won’t reveal) made was actually better. Trust me, it has the same effect and serves the same purpose as the squid in the book.
As far as performances, not a bad one to be had. I particular enjoyed Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl II -- who is the “hero” of the film if there is one. Malin Akerman made for a good Silk Spectre II -- and she’s smoking hot. Mathew Goode as Ozymandia made me hate him -- and I think you were supposed to. I thought Billy Crudup was fine as Dr. Manhattan -- although he’s blue, naked, and CGI for the most part. Jeffery Dean Morgan as The Comedian, what an A-hole -- and that’s a good thing! And…
Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach…
This guy simply owned the role -- that’s about all I can say. Of all the Watchmen in the film (Yes, they are referred to by that name), Haley’s portrayal of Rorschach/Walter Kovacs was by far the closest to being exactly like his comic book counterpart. Yet, he brought some humanity to the character that I frankly missed when reading the book. In my opinion, Haley’s Rorschach ranks right up there with the great performances in comic book movie history -- Christopher Reeve's Superman, Christian Bale’s Batman, Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man, and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine to name a few.
A couple other positives I took away from WATCHMEN. The cinematography and look of the film -- this alternate 1985 New York City -- was outstanding. Also, I thought the very 1980s-sounding score from Tyler Bates meshed well the story and the setting. And on a related note, the film certainly had a nice soundtrack with each song included being appropriate to the events of WATCHMEN.
Negatives? Yep, I’ve got a few.
I expected the film to be violent and needed to be at times. Case in point, The Comedian’s murder that opens the movie. With that said, I thought there were some very violent and bloody scenes that Snyder didn’t have use. It seems to me that these brutal images were incorporated for shock value -- simply to say “Look how bloody and gross a ‘comic book movie’ can be!”
Previously I mentioned that it appeared as if Snyder went the extra mile to tremendously loyal to the comic. While that’s certainly a good thing, I felt it was overdone a bit as well. The film’s dialogue being ripped word for word from the graphic novel was annoying at times. Ditto for recreating classic panels from the book as visuals in the film.
Another nitpick is Snyder’s overuse at times of slow motion. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. I wish he had limited the use of the effect to the times it worked the best -- like Nite Owl and Silk Spectre taking on inmates while breaking Rorschach out of prison.
What is Cyrano de Bergerac doing in this film? My gosh! That makeup job on the President Nixon character was horrid.
And isn’t Dr. Manhattan the only superpowered being in WATCHMEN? Then how in the heck can Ozymandias, Rorschach and the other human Watchmen do things that would require some sort of superhuman ability?
I now hold every comic book film up against what I believe to be the very best -- THE DARK KNIGHT. No, WATCHMEN isn’t on the level of TDK. It’s a couple of notches below it, thus the grade you’ll see at the conclusion of this review. However, it is a marvelous film -- emphasis on film. WATCHMEN is yet another example of how we can now drop the term “comic book” prior to “film.”
Earlier, I said that I do indeed wonder how people who have never read WATCHMEN -- the “mainstream” if you will -- will take to this film. As someone who has read the book several times, the movie’s complicated storyline was easy to follow. Will it be too much for those unfamiliar with the book?
Will the fact that it is a very different type of comic book film than previously seen -- THE DARK KNIGHT included -- turn off those folks? Let’s face it, the Watchmen are certainly not the Fantastic 4.
On the other hand, maybe these non-fans will embrace this movie and make it a success. And in turn, studios will be willing to take more chances on other comic book movies that are similar to WATCHMEN, further expanding the genre.
Here’s hoping the Golden Age of comic book movies becomes even more golden in the future.