There's already a rampaging war of words careening to and fro on the Internet because of Watchmen, and I don't plan for this short review to add fuel to either side. If you want that, please, by all means read the screeds at Ain’t It Cool News or Wired or Yahoo Movies or Rotten Tomatoes. Those places cover every single molecular aspect of the comic to film transmogrification with every spittle-flecked syllable available in human language.
I saw Watchmen and it was okay.
There, that's the only review I can possibly write that's both completely honest and doesn't rely on me siding with the comic camp or the movie camp. I read the 12 issue comic run before seeing the film. My brain did not explode.
It was okay.
Maybe it's because I didn't really have any emotional investment in the property, I wasn't someone who read these back in 1985/86 and reread them and bought graphic novels of them, or used them as a benchmark against which all "serious" comics would be measured. The truth is, I turned 16 right around the time that Watchmen was originally released, and I wanted a car so I stopped buying comics. I still have virtually every single one I purchased in the preceding years, but none of them are Watchmen. I don't have the car though, I wrecked that.
Where was I? Right, emotional investment and my lack of one.
Watchmen follows the exploits of several retired (and one non-retired) costumed adventurers as one of them, Rorschach (Jackie Earl Haley), attempts to solve the murder of The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
But, that is only part of the narrative. The films delves into the past experiences and relationships between the principle characters, Nite Owl 2, Silk Specter 2, Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, and Ozymandias. For example, Silk Specter 2, Laurie Jupiter (Malin Ackerman), is the daughter of the original Silk Specter, Sally Jupiter (Carla Gugino), but never wanted to be a costumed vigilante. She's hooked up with Dr. Manhattan (the voice of Billy Crudup), a physicist turned God whose connection with the reality of life on Earth grows more tenuous every day. Dr. Manhattan is working with Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) a former hero turned captain of industry who is working on revolutionary power sources for the masses and managing a line of toys based on his past exploits. Finally, Nite Owl 2, Dan Drieberg (Patrick Wilson) is living quietly above his cellar full of crime fighting gear.
Meanwhile, tensions between the Russians and United States are growing more pronounced as the Soviets invade Afghanistan and threaten Pakistan. Until now they haven't made such overt threats because Dr. Manhattan, as an agent of the government, is a one-man, Blue Man Group of Deterrence.
Everything sort of falls apart at once for these characters, and the event that puts it all into motion is the murder of The Comedian. He is more than a costumed adventurer, he's a near 70 year old US government agent who is more mercenary than vigilante. He no doubt has many enemies who would like to bump him off. But that isn't enough information for Rorschach, a psychotic Philip Marlowe who prowls the New York underworld like a brutal little tornado and beats information out of people. It is he that discovers The Comedian's death, and he who brings the information to the other characters. His theory is that someone is systematically knocking off masked vigilantes.
But, similar to the multi-layered plot of the comic, there's a hell of a lot more going on beneath the surface provided by the overall plot.
Watchmen is less a traditional comic book movie than it is a dark rumination on what it means to be the shepherd of a crumbing dystopia. The world of 1985 in Watchmen is certainly bleak, society hasn't completely broken down but it's damn close. International tensions aren't helping, nor is the constant news coverage of the doomsday clock showing only 5 minutes. Nixon has been president for 5 terms, and the economy is in the crapper
Director Zach Snyder, who hasn't yet made a film that I've enjoyed, does a fine job of capturing the look of the comic panels, and by virtue of shooting a script by David Haster and Alex Tse — The older Haster script was leaked onto the Internet a couple of years ago and met with faint praise for its adherence to the source material — manages to contain most of the overall plot elements and events of the comic.
And that's, okay.
There's some stuff missing though, and some changes. But, you know, I look at Watchmen the film and Watchmen the comic sort of the same way I look at Moby Dick the book and Moby Dick the John Huston film with a script by Ray Bradbury. They are two different things, the film distills Melville's narrative down to an adventure story that gently massages the biblical analogy of Ahab's obsession whereas those elements are very small parts of a much larger and richer tapestry as written in the book. But, you have to pick your medium and your time budget. You can get a good jolt of Watchmen in the 2 hour 43 minute running time of the film, or read through the comics in about 6 hours. How much time you have will determine what you get out of either experience.
And that's okay, it's perfectly okay.
Watchman also has a few things that irked me— Malin Ackerman is a wooden actress, Nite Owl 2 wasn't paunchy enough, The Crimebusters were changed to The Watchmen in a completely pointless and idiotic narrative change, the film also infers that they all worked together for a time where in the book it made clear that they never did. There is no Captain Metropolis. The Comedian's back story was missing and toned down, as was Laurie Jupiter's, Rorschach's, and Nite Owl's. I also didn't like the ending of the film, not so much for the changes in event, but for the changes in dialogue and who says what. Finally, there are a whole lot of little storylines, character traits, and good pieces of dialogue that are completely missing in some cases the very line of dialogue that makes a passage memorable is gone while all the other sentences in that passage remain. It's almost like someone when putting the script together didn't really understand what they were reading in the source material.
But you know, that's okay.
Zach Snyder works in/expands a couple of action fight scenes and extends a sex scene, all of which ads to the insane running time at the expense of probably better, richer story elements or events from the comics. But that's okay because the DVD will be something even more insane like 4 hours long.
That's great! That's okay!
Snyder uses his trademark fast motion/slow motion to emphasize the "super" strength and speed of his heroes, (NONE of which have these powers) and lingers on gore and the consequences of violence, but not in the same reproachful way as the comic does. It's almost as if Snyder didn't really understand the social commentary inherent in Moore's narrative. He works in some music choices that apparently inflamed other viewers who post to other movie boards. Me, I didn't care. Ride of the Valkyries for the scenes of Dr. Manhattan attacking North Vietnam while flanked by Huey choppers, Apocalypse Now, I got it. Many, many other people did not. The other choices like All Along the Watchtower and Halleluiah and The Times They Are A Changing were blunt force hammers to pound the narrative through the skulls of audience members who may not have read the comic. It's heavy handed and if you waste any thought on it, eye-rollingly annoying. It didn't really bother me though.
I was okay with it.
So, as the graffiti in the film constantly asked, "Who Watches The Watchmen?" I answer, "I did, and it was okay."