Watchmen is the adaptation of the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (Here’s my review of that), directed by Zack Snyder and starring Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffery Dean Morgan and Patrick Wilson.
In a parallel world, it’s 1985 and Nixon is still president of the United States. In the 40s, actual masked vigilantes appeared, which led to a ban in the 70s. Now, most of the vigilantes are retired. The story follows several of these more or less retired figures, namely Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
The Comedian is murdered and Rorschach, the only vigilante left, who is not retired and doesn’t work for the government is convinced that someone is killing off their old group. His investigations lead him deeper and deeper into the problematic world of the “superheroes”.
I was afraid that movie would suck because the original material is just so complex and layered and it’s hard to get this into one movie that still makes sense. But Snyder and his writers (David Hayter and Alex Tse) did a very good job, changing the right things, while still sticking close to the original. Though there are weaknesses in writing where they deviate from the original material. Despite some cringe-worthy scenes, it’s definitely a movie that I enjoyed.
[SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS]
The movie follows the plot of the graphic novel closely, but changed the ending. In this case I have to say that I thought it actually changed for the better. I didn’t understand the need for the huge fake alien in the first place in the graphic novel and I think that blaming Dr. Manhattan was a very logical step and one that works better than the original ending. [Don't hit me!]
I was a bit disappointed that the Black Freighter stories didn’t make it into the movie because I was wondering how they would go about it [but they did make a Black Freighter movie with Gerard Butler, which will be released at least on the DVD]. But I understand of course that there wasn’t enough time to include that. I liked the hat-tip, showing the news stand and the guy reading the comic in a short scene.
All in all, I did like the cuts made, in the sense that I thought they were the right cuts. It would have been interesting to see more about the Minute Men of course and get more back story, but you can’t have everything. Not unless you want a 9 hour movie.
Most of the performances were amazingly good – Billy Crudup, Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson and Jeffrey Dean Morgan especially. Matthew Goode wasn’t bad but seemed a little misplaced. [And I have to admit I was distracted by his hair. It looked like a bad wig. I don't know if it was one or if his hair just looks that way when it's bleached, but everytime it came into view I wanted to rip it off his head.] Malin Akerman was rather expressionless.
But let me revel a little longer in the good acting: Billy Crudup, though his face remained calm, as it should for Dr. Manhattan, could convey whole worlds with his voice alone. Jackie Earle Haley really, really freaked me out. And I thought that his growling voice [of the Dark Knight school of voice distortion] was very good for his role. Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl gave the character a very nice longing touch. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan was absofuckinglutely incredible. [Probably something to do with still remembering him from such action hits as P.S. I Love You and The Accidental Husband.] It really made me want to see more of the Comedian.
I have to mention one more acting performance: Nixon was really bad… the nose, the voice: it just didn’t fit the rest of the movie. And after Frank Langella, the actor was a disappointment. Couldn’t they have asked Frank Langella to do it?
Let’s talk about the really bad stuff now:
The soundtrack. I know that some of the songs were quoted in the comic, giving the chapters their titles. I know where they’re coming from and where they wanted to get at, but unfortunately they didn’t arrive there. Hearing “99 Luftballons” made me laugh out loud (did they even check the lyrics?) and the Nite Owl/Silk Spectre love scene in Archie set to Cohen’s Halleluja? While I thought it a character building, if not enlightening scene in the comic, in the movie that combination just made me laugh, again… Especially because he zoomed out of the shot and just showed that Silk Spectre wasn’t riding Nite Owl’s dick, but more his knees. [Which is particularly sad because Snyder knows how to shoot sex scenes. See 300. See the earlier Nite Owl/Silk Spectre scene.]
And while I did like the ending, what was absolutely ridiculous about it was the clichéd drop-to-the-knees-screaming-nooooooooooooooo Nite Owl does, when Rorschach dies.
Plus, Hollis was really wasted. Why include him at all? In the end, he just gets dropped like a hot potato. You don’t even get the info anymore that he’s killed because of Nite Owl’s actions. [Well, not directly. But you know what I mean. If you've read the graphic novel.]
Returning to the good things.
Visually, I thought it another stunning movie by Snyder. I also thought 300 beautiful. And I might be the only person alive who actually likes it when he uses Slo-Mo. But whether you like Slo-Mo or not, the fight scenes were beautifully choreographed and shot. Especially the scene seen above in the prison, where I wanted to scream and shout and watch it again and again. This is also one of the two situations were the soundtrack was really good.
The other moment where the soundtrack was perfect was the opening with “The Times They Are A-Changing”. Brilliant.
Oh, and Rorschach’s mask was a thing of beauty, constantly shifting and changing and somehow it sometimes even manages to convey a certain facial expression. Wonderful. Makes me want to have something like it.
I’m not sure what to think about the hints planted in the movie. I mean, I’m all for hints and making me go “ahhh!” is something I will love a movie maker for. But Snyder gave us so many hints early on that it felt like he gave too much away. The Comedian being Silk Spectre’s father, was pretty obvious, right? Or Rorschach’s identity? I mean, maybe I’m just saying that because I knew already and for people who haven’t read the graphic novel, this would still come as a surprise. But I don’t think so.
On the other hand, I loved the other small things – like all the watches shown in the movie, just like in the comic, were at shortly before 12. [And that he included the Doomsday Clock itself is of course very cool.]
So, I guess I should come to an end here. Summarising, I’d say that although not a perfect movie or adaptation of the comic, I thought it did very well. And it definitely is a movie I’d have no problems with watching again and again. [Best in a super special edition, including the Tales of the Black Freighter.] Though it doesn’t surpass the original, it makes something interesting and new, which sometimes fails but mostly works really well.
As the blogosphere is of course buzzing with reviews, here are some other people’s responses:
The Mute Oracle, who liked it more than he thought he would.
Prestidigitator, who thought it the right amount of disappointing.
Michael Reaves, who didn’t like it a whole lot.
Overthinking It takes on early reviews.
On Tor, Bridget McGovern thought the movie epic and Genevieve Valentine thought it a mixed bag of beans, while John Klima has more problems with the source material.
The Guardian on the women in the movie and here’s their review which thought the movie a spectacle.
Scorecard Review with one guy who has read the comic and one who hasn’t.
Pharyngula has to fight off Alan Moore for writing a good review.