Even though the digitial whiz yet story-challenged Zack Snyder is very true to the source story and the visuals (the comic is more or less a faithful storyboard for the film), that may be exactly what's wrong with this thing. The whole thing feels airless and dry and also suffers from some weak casting in at least two key roles.
Watchmen is a dystopian take on post cold war America, one in which self appointed superheroes have captured the public's imagination after WWII (Minutemen), then been banned, then a resurgance in the sixties with a new group (The Watchmen), who lose the favour of the authorities and are banned once again. The U.S. has won the Vietnam war and is lording over the Soviets in the cold war (thanks to the iconic character Dr. Manhattan, a godlike victim of a radiation overdose) . As Richard Nixon is on to his fourth term, the story is a meditation on the American dream, the disillusionment of the sixties, the role of vigilantes and super heroes and how they are coopted by the powers that be, and many many other complicated themes and story points, All of them are crammed into the film and as a result, we have very superficial character development and perfunctory and cold action scenes.
I'm more and more convinced that good film versions of complex literature, even comics in this case, require the filmmaker to select one or two simple ideas and explore them rather than trying to capture every philosophical theme and minute plot point. This problem was almost identical in Moore's V for Vendetta adaptation. I know there's also a fear of the geeky fans not approving, especially with a property with armies of nerdy fans, who for some reason have the power to scuttle a film franchise.
On the plus side of performances, Jackie Earle Haley is an excellent Rorschak, an obsessive and weasly (and mostly masked) performance, Jeffery Dean Morgan is a macho and charismatic Comedian, it's a shame he doesn't get more screen time, and even with all the CG, Billy Crudup (and his digital doppelganger as Dr. Manhattan) are mezmerizing to watch. Carla Gugino, excellent in everything, ages four decades here and is wonderful as ex-superhero and mother of the Silk Spectre. Patrick Wilson does fine as the nerdy geek Night Owl.
On the down side, Malin Ackerman is incredibly wooden as the Silk Spectre (Dr. Manhattan's love interest) a shame, because I usually enjoy her in comedies and she's beautiful, Matthew Goode falls completely flat as super genius and ambiguous hero Ozymandius, which brings the film down because his role is pivotal.
Also on the down side is the too obvious on the nose choice of musical tracks from the era, Dylan's "Times They are A-changing' for the protest sixties stuff and Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' for a bad sex scene with Night Owl and Silk Specter in a rocket ship.
All that said, the film is almost three hours long but goes by quite quickly due to fun visuals, some very memorable lines, all lifted right out of Moore's orignal book, and lots of cheesy fun here and there. Okay for a rainy Sunday for something that's cool enough to watch with teens.
(If you have'nt read the comics there's a good chance you may not like its movie version)
I respect those who were not fond of the film. How did I react? My rating gives it away. I really liked this movie. The visuals are amazing, the narrative structure is brilliant and the performances are great. I'll admit that I've never read the graphic novel but two geeks told me some of the story to me. I was too busy following the story did I didn't make time to catch flaws. I usually don't do that.
The film begins with a bang showing the murder of Edward Blake alias The Comedian. That comes after the studio logos which looked like a slideshow made on Windows Movie Maker. After that, we get an opening credits scene that is probably the best in any movie. This isn't the type of opening credits sequence that you can't ignore. It sets up the film's background and universe. Plus, you get Bob Dylan's "Time's Are A-Changin'" playing in the background which is extremely perfect. You have to pay attention throughout or the movie will not be interesting to you.
Watchmen is set in an alternate and bleak 1985 New York City. One of the characters, Rorschach, explicitly describes this gloomy world filled with homosexuals and people using heroin and child pornography. The quote gave me goosebumps. There are numerous characters in Watchmen and we are given a background and origin story on each. The origin sequences are well told and paced. Especially the ones about Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach. The characters are awesome by the way. I really liked Nite Owl and Dr. Manhattan but my favorite was without a doubt was Rorschach. A creepy, gritty, and memorable sociopath. His origin is very creepy and a bit emotional. I thought the storytelling was brilliant. This is when narration comes in handy like Sin City. I loved the storytelling.
The performances range from "great" to "awesome". The great performances come from the guy who played Nite Owl, Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan, and Jeffery Dean Morgan as The Comedian. The good performances were from the supporting cast, Carla Gugino as Silk Spectre and Malin Ackerman as Silk Spectre II. The excellent performance was from Jackie Earle Haley who played Rorschach. He was so creepy and delivered his lines excellently with his deep and graspy voice. The effects and stunts were sick. Not to mention to production design and Snyder's direction. They were all great.
You guys are probably gonna say something like this in the comments:
"Great review! I thought it was (insert negative adjective here)."
I respect those who did not like the movie. While I said that I didn't pay attention to the film's flaws, I can see which aspects many geeks didn't like. I personally really enjoyed Watchmen. It is one of the best comic book movies I have ever seen and the deepest superhero ever in my opinion. I was thoroughly enthralled and blown away by this superhero epic.
"What, in life, does not deserve celebrating?"
Of all the Alan Moore adaptations, Watchmen has the longest and most troubled production history. The film was first mooted in the early-1990s when Terry Gilliam was approached by Sam Hamm, who had recently achieved success writing Tim Burton's Batman. Despite being initially interested, Gilliam concluded that the novel could only work as a TV mini-series; he left the project and Hamm's script was indefinitely shelved.
The project re-emerged in 2001 with a new script by David Hayter, which lay around for three years before Darren Aronofsky was attached to direct. He subsequently dropped out to make pet project The Fountain, and his replacement Paul Greengrass did the same a few months later, in order to make United 93. Snyder was first offered the project in late-2005, shortly after his success with the remake of Dawn of the Dead. The project was formally green-lit in 2007 after shooting wrapped on 300.
There is no doubt that Snyder and everyone involved in Watchmen wanted this to be the best possible adaptation of the novel. This is in spite of the fact that Alan Moore has disowned it, along with all other adaptations of his work (and looking at The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it's not hard to see why). Various stories have circulated about the cast having copies of the novel on set, so that it could be referred to directly whenever there were questions over plot or characters. The film was clearly made for the fans and not for the money: with an 18 certificate and a budget of $130m, no expense or effort has been spared to replicate the comics as closely as possible.
But in spite of this obvious affection, there are a number of big problems with Watchmen which render it at least a partial failure. The first and biggest problem is that Snyder is a fanboy. He loves the comic to such an obsessive degree that either he can't explain it to the rest of us, or he isn't willing to explain it.
As a result the story of Watchmen is largely impenetrable to anyone who didn't spend their teenage years immersed in comic books. Snyder is focussed so much on meeting fans' expectations that the backstories or reasoning of the characters gets buried or lost, not to mention the mechanics of the alternative universe they inhabit. This is particularly the case with Doctor Manhattan, whose origins are only touched upon about halfway through the film.
The second, deeper problem is with Snyder as a director. He is not the "visionary" that he is made out to be, being visually stylish but a very poor storyteller. While the novel is purported to have substance coming out of its ears, the film gives the impression that it is all surface and no depth, amounting to little more than people in latex hitting each other. One could say on these grounds that Snyder is the new Joel Schumacher - and for all its disinterest in the comics, Batman Forever is a better film.
On top of his irritating use of slow-motion, most of Snyder's visual decisions smack of impatience, incompetence or showing off. His impatience is seen in the constant cutting between multiple, similar angles in scenes which would flow much better with longer, simpler takes. His incompetence is found in beginner's-level mistakes: he shoots several scenes through windows, resulting in lens flare or distracting reflections. And his showing-off is evident in Veidt's interview being reflected through a lens of another camera, or a sex scene being captured through the glasses on the table. In each example the visual decisions are an unnecessary indulgence which contribute little, and in many cases detract from and undermine the story.
Regardless of how complex or multi-layered the story of Watchmen is, it does not require two-and-a-half-hours to be told. On the one hand, it feels like the film always wants more time to develop the characters, and Gilliam was probably right that it would have worked better as a miniseries. On the other hand, if Snyder was determined to make a manageable film, he would have accepted the necessary compressions and moved the character development forward. But he doesn't do this, at least not as much or as well as he should. We have to wait nearly two hours for things to come together with the twist involving Ozymandias and Doctor Manhattan, by which time most of us will have given up.
So much of Watchmen is window-dressing, confirming Snyder's pursuit of style over everything else. Rorschach's film noir narration might work in the comics, but it serves little to no purpose here: the end point involving the discovery of his journal is silly, and it does nothing to move the plot forward other than stating the obvious. Snyder's choice of pop songs on the soundtrack is lazy, particularly in the opening montage: he settles for Bob Dylan's 'The Times They Are A-Changin' where Quentin Tarantino would have put on something more entertainingly esoteric.
This feeling of superficiality, coupled with the unrelenting pursuit of style, causes all of the arresting themes of Watchmen to get buried. In fact, the story raises a number of interesting issues about the ethics of nuclear war and peace, the workings of mutually assured destruction, and in particular the role of "costumed heroes" and how they could be controlled or policed. The slogan "Who Watches the Watchmen?" recurs as graffiti throughout the film but is barely addressed in a constructive way.
The tone of Watchmen keeps flipping between flippant and portentous, with Snyder being unable to balance the dark or forbidding elements with the inherent silliness of a naked floating blue man. This is perfectly demonstrated by a scene halfway through on Night Owl's ship: Silk Spectre II makes a comment about impending nuclear war, which then cuts to her and Night Owl making love in their costumes. Such lurches in tone are akin to erotic fan fiction and threaten to drag the whole film into parody.
Because the flippant aspects of Watchmen are so prominent, scenes which are meant to be more thought-provoking lose much of their impact. During the scenes involving Richard Nixon, what sticks in your mind is not the threat of global destruction but his comedy rubber nose, which makes the war room scenes feel less like Dr. Strangelove than Spitting Image. More problematically, when the film has a near-rape sequence, or a child abduction, or any number of brutally gruesome deaths, Snyder can't pull himself together: he can't deliver the emotion punch that such scenes require to prevent them from seeming inexcusably adolescent.
Watchmen is a deeply flawed, over-long and often boring attempt to bring Alan Moore's vision to the big screen. Whatever the merits of the graphic novel, and regardless of his good intentions, Snyder was the wrong director and this adaptation will put many newcomers off the source material. It pales in comparison to both V for Vendetta and Christopher Nolan's Batman films, both as a comic adaptation and an attempt to explore serious political issues. Fanboys will leap to its defence, but everyone else will be bored, annoyed or confused.