-Those Be Warned. Spoilers Ahead-
Background: For those unaware, Watchmen was a limited series created by DC Comics, which was released from 1986-1987, with a collector’s edition in 1987. It was created by well known writer Alan Moore, famous for creating V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, developed the Swamp Thing, and collaborated in Batman’s The Killing Joke and Superman’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, with artist Dave Gibbons, who heavily contributed to the first issue of the UK anthology 2000 AD, and was colored by John Higgins. Originally meant to be a story about the MLJ Comic’s Mighty Crusaders super heroes, Moore created a story entitled Who Killed the Peacekeeper, a murder mystery plot which starts with the body of the Shield discovered in a harbour. Moore pitched the idea to the company’s managing editor Dick Giordano, who was won over by the idea, however requesting Moore to create original characters. Moore agreed to do so, and after taking inspiration from Mad Magazine’s Superduperman spoof on Superman, created the Watchmen. The comic was a big hit, which helped DC at the time beat it’s competitor Marvel, received critical acclaim both inside and outside the comic industry, and was considered one of the best comic books ever by Time Magazine. The book also lead to what we now know as Graphic Novels, when it and the Dark Knight Returns were republished in trade paperback form. So you’d think with a popular comic story, a Hollywood adaptation would be decent, right?
Enter Zack Snyder.
Zack Snyder is a director who found fame from directing the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, who had a track record of directing music videos from the 1990s. Yet when he tackled adapting Frank Miller’s 300 comic, he became even more well known to audiences and critics everywhere. Hell, it was so impressive, Warner Bros. and Paramount Studios decided to hire Snyder to direct a film adaptation, which had started back in 1986. I kid you not. The project for a Watchmen film started back all the way to when it first came out, and had gone through hell with multiple failed projects. It was only now did it seem possible with Snyder. So you’d think it would be a decent move to give a movie that had had problems getting adapted in the first place to a new director who had only two movies under his belt, right? Well, maybe not, seeing how when the film was released, it started off being the highest grossing film it’s first weekend, only to drop down to second the following weekend, leaving the top ten list by it’s fifth weekend, and the top twenty list by it’s seventh. Even more so, critics were split down the middle on what to make of it, with some praising it’s style and different take from the book, to those bashing it on the source material’s changes. Jesus. What about the film caused people to either love or hate it that much?
Overview: In an alternate universe, a group of superheroes called the Minutemen are formed in 1939, in response to an uprising of masked gangs and criminals. Decades later, a new group called the Watchmen are formed in the spirit of the Minutemen. However, their existence heavily affects the world they live in, one being Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), whose super powers not only assist in the United States victory in the Vietnam War, resulting in Richard Nixon being re-elected into the 1980s, but the escalation of the Cold War to a near Nuclear War with the Soviet Union. With this going on, the American public begins to have a negative view on costumed heroes, resulting in the Watchmen retiring. It’s now 1985, and one member of the Watchmen, the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), is murdered in his New York apartment. However, one member who has yet to give up the mask, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), believes that someone is wanting to rid the world of costumed heroes, warning other members who gave up their costumes: Daniel Dreiberg, Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Dr Manhattan and his girlfriend Laurie Juspeczyk, Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), and Adrian Veidt, Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), the sole member of the group who gave his identity public to the world. It doesn’t help that soon afterwards, Dr Manhattan is accused of giving people he knows lethal doses of cancer, resulting in his exile to Mars and humanity falling into a political turmoil with the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan to show their strength to the now weak United States, and Rorschach is imprisoned after being framed for killing an ex-superhero. It’s not long after that Nite Owl and Silk Spectre once again return to their crime fighting alter egoes, all while trying to find out who not only framed Manhattan and Rorschach, but killed the Comedian and wants the world to go to war. Will the Watchmen prevent the world from being engulfed in total destruction, or did they return to late to save everything?
I guess I should bring up my history with the film. I remember seeing the advertisement back when The Dark Knight was in theaters, and really hoping I would see it the following year. However, my folks turned me down due to the film’s R Rating, and I only got little information about it from another classmate, Brent, and a movie review by some guy called Doug Walker who dressed up as a bum and did a slightly accurate overview of the plot, all while yelling about random shit in the process (I’m pretty sure that Walker guy never went anywhere). It was after that I nearly forgot the film ever existed. Sure, I was aware it was still widely loved, but I never saw much interest after that. That was until a friend of mine was reading V for Vendetta, who told me the overview of the plot. Curious, I asked who the author was, which she replied was behind League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the Watchmen. Well, I purchased the graphic novel yesterday, and immediately afterwards watched the movie. So, how was it?
Um… Well, I can at least say it was not what I was expecting.
I mean… Wow. Talk about a weird experience. Both the comic and movie.
First off, the book is a wonderful creation. It has a brilliant collaboration of writing, art design, and use of colors that makes it stand out from other works. It has characters that are both original yet familiar to what you have seen before. I do admit, it’s not something I would constantly read time and time again, but more of look at for inspiration in writing or illustrating.
Now for the film, there’s a different story. And I’m just going to come out and say it… I liked the movie, but it was full of issues I can’t dismiss. After all, this film has Zack Snyder’s presence all over it, which is the soundtrack choices, slow motion, and making women looking hot in scampy clothing or tightly fitted outfits. (this doesn't bother me with most movies, but does with Snyder, for some odd reason)
First off, the dialogue is somewhat clumsy. Now I know it’s based on the comic’s dialogue, but just because it worked in one medium, it doesn’t in another. Sure, it works in some spots, like Rorschach's monologue about the Comedian’s death at the beginning of the film, but is clumsy at other spots.
Second, the slow motion. This irritated me. Now, someone told me to not think of it as slow motion, but as an artistic movie created for art. Yeah, no. I’m sorry, I’m not buying that. First off, Snyder used the effect to death in 300, and I didn’t like it. I thought it was his way of saying “I’m artistic, look at things moving slow and speeding up quickly!”, but I let it slide. Yet it got on my nerves in the first fight scene that’s at the beginning of the film and sets up what the rest of the film is going to be. Seriously, just because you slow a scene down to show a woman’s finger and leg getting shot by a bullet to “look cool” won’t make it cool, it will take away time and frustrate the viewer.
My third problem was, what a shock, the squid. Believe it or not, this pissed people off. For those unaware, at the end of the comic, the character of Ozymandias wants to usher in an age of peace, where the world finally gets along. He does this by fooling the entire planet that an alien invasion occurred, and attacked major metropolitan cities, killing millions of lives. How? Well earlier in the book, it’s hinted he has learned to genetically alter eugenics. This is shown with a creature called Bubastis, an altered lynx. In the movie, the squid was dropped. This didn’t bother me and I was on board with it, except the film left in Bubastis. Wait, what? Here’s the best part: the film never explains what it is, and just expects you to buy it. If only I was joking. Why would the movie drop the idea of a fake squid, but throw in a genetically altered lynx that the audience is never told what it is, never shown it’s origin, and only is there to trick one of the main characters?
And for the fourth, the script rewriting the squid into making Dr Manhattan the villain. Why this doesn’t work is that with the squid, the world unites because if the squid ever did come back, the citizens of the world would fight together against the squid. In the movie, this doesn’t work because of one big problem: Dr Manhattan IS A GOD. I’m not kidding. He does everything Godlike in the movie. Hell, he KILLS people at a certain point, and nobody calls bullshit on him. I find it really odd when people decide to turn away from war to unite against a fucking God who could flat out eradicate them in a second.
For fifth, this is more of a nitpick. Back when the book was released, Moore came across an episode from a 1960 TV series called The Outer Limits, which had an episode that shared a similar ending to the one in the final issue. Moore attempted to rewrite it, but it was too late to fix. Moore later made a reference to the episode in the comic when it was released, and the film does have a nice reference to it. Here’s the problem: gone are the aliens. So why would you reference something that doesn’t play a major role in the movie, but did in the graphic novel?
Sixth would have to be the soundtrack. Now this was fine for the opening montage at the beginning of the movie, but it had a lot of misses in the movie than hits. What I mean was that the music distracted from the movie, taking you out of the story to a song that didn’t work. I wasn’t bothered by this at first, until the Vietnam scene where the movie plays Fight of the Valkyries. Gee, I wonder what OTHER movie had a scene that played that music, which was also Vietnam. Also is the song All Alone in the Watchtower, which isn’t a bad song, but it’s placement was terrible.
Last has to be the world itself. Now the film is able to nail the look of the comic, which I really pleased to see in live action form. Yet, it felt unrealistic. At certain moments the world felt just like a CGI rendering, not at all organic. Now I don’t want it to be like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series, which was meant to be in a real world setting with little to no CGI due to the world’s tone. But when you spotted something fake, it looked fake. Adding to that is the world’s color. Everything thing in the film looks dark and grey, while in the comics it actually has an oddly bright color scheme. The colors helped make the comic stand out, while others at the time relied on greys, blacks, whites, and light blues. I guess had they kept the color scheme accurate it would have made the film look weird, so I guess it’s a good move. It just feels odd seeing the Watchmen world looking different after reading the book. So, you think I hate the film right? Well, no. I actually like a lot of stuff from the film.
First off, while I didn’t like any slow motion in the film, it worked for one part, which wasn’t in the graphic novel: the opening credits montage. This helped set up the alternate history, which I found a nice tribute to the golden age of superhero comics and how they changed and were reinvented in comics, a reflection of our country’s reshaping due to the Cold War, Vietnam War, Korean War, our negative views on our political leaders, and so forth. There’s a scene where a female superhero falls in love with another woman (which spoofs the famous sailor kissing the woman photograph from the end of WW2), yet later shows they end up killed to someones beliefs that the idea of two people from the same sex loving one another is wrong. It’s a topic that hasn’t gone away, and was a bold move to add to an already dark setting. Later on is an addition of the recreation of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. The sequence shows that the Comedian was behind the plot, a reference to the hundreds of conspiracy theories that Kennedy was killed either by the government or by someone’s views against Kennedy. Even more so, the superhero’s being hated by the public can easily represent our countries negative look at Nixon during the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal, which is different in this universe. I thought it was good move by Snyder.
Second, I liked how the imagery from the comic was incorporated into the film. Sure, every time I saw the smiley face with the bloodstain I wanted to scream “Stop showing it!”, but the way they added the doomsday clock and such was really clever and nice nods to the comic.
Third, the missing edition of the pirate story. In the comic, there’s a bit on a pirate story that’s read from a kid reading a comic book. I would have liked it to be in the film, but watching the film, I didn’t notice the absence.
Fourth would have to be Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach. Good god, this man was brilliant in the role. Everytime he was on screen, I knew things were going to get good. The voice, the actions, the performance, spot on and well done. I do admit it was odd that Rorschach’s face constantly moved, which did that in the comics, but not too often. It was a cool effect, but constantly took you out of the scene to watch his face. Despite that, I’m willing to let that go.
Cast: This film has an excellent cast in my opinion, with only three that were sort of unbalanced.
Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley)- I honestly can’t say anything else after what I said before. I love Jackie Earle Haley's performance. It was a perfect casting choice and it paid off.
Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup)- This role had good and bad moments. For start, Billy Crudup was able to capture the voice of Dr Manhattan. However, it did sometimes feel like he was sad, which contradicts the character to having no emotions whatsoever. When you think of an emotionless being, you think of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. Also, his appearance was spot on, however the glowing effect made it look unrealistic. The only time I bought Dr Manhattan was real when he literally stopped glowing for a TV interview.
Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson)- This was another good choice for the cast. Patrick Wilson not only looks the part, but performs it in strides. It was at points I thought Wilson would be perfect for the role of Superman. However, the costume did bother me a little. In the comic, Nite Owl’s costume is based on Batman. It has similar color schemes and a similar appearance. In the comics, Nite Owl is meant to show Daniel is no longer in shape to fight crime, which showed this with a potbelly everytime he was in the costume. In the movie, the costume has followed in the path of Batman film adaptations, in which it makes the costume look like armor.
Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman)- This was the weakest cast choice in my opinion. She just didn’t emote at all. Everytime she says a line sounds like William Shatner speaking. Also, why was her costume made to be skin tight? Seriously, the original was fine. What, did you think if she didn’t look hot it would lose your male audience?
Ozymandias (Matthew Goode)- I thought he was good in the role. Sometimes I had a hard time understanding him, but he did his performance well. As for the costume, I was knowing there weren’t going to adapt the look from the comic. However, as for why it looked like he borrowed a costume from Joel Schumacher’s Batman films is beyond me.
The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan)- I actually liked the character in the film more than the comic. Sure, he’s a raving psychopath still, but is shown as being a human being. My favorite scene has to be when he confesses his past crimes to a retired supervillain. It’s well shot, isn't played over the top, and works as a really serious moment. Like Rorschach, his costume stayed the same like in the comics, though they did drop the mask, which I didn’t really miss.
Production: The film, like many other adaptations of Moore’s work, gets the world’s appearance down. However, like I said before, it definitely shows its CGI, and doesn’t help it’s mostly dark throughout the film. However, it looked well done and is still really cool to see this time period recreated.
Final Conclusion: I don’t want an honest to god adaptation of the Watchmen. I’m happy with what the film gave us. I enjoyed the movie. Yes, I had problems with the film, but I still liked what else it had to give. Everytime I think of the film, I want to pick up the book and reread it. Hell, I’m now interested in picking up more graphic novels. No, Snyder isn’t a director I like, but this is the one film I do like he directed. Yet, while I did like it, I will still say that Snyder’s Watchmen will never live up to Moore’s Watchmen. It had a bigger impact on comics and reinventing what they stand for, with the film being an adaptation on a movie that went through years and years of failed attempts to get to the big screen.
Final Rating: 2.5/5
If you want to see a fun superhero movie in the spirit of the Watchmen, watch The Incredibles. If people disagree with my views, please don't go apeshit over it. If you love or hate the movie, good for you. I don't want to change your views of it, and that wasn't my intention at all.