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Overall Rating
3.38

Awesome: 17.14%
Worth A Look45.71%
Average: 4.76%
Pretty Bad: 22.86%
Total Crap: 9.52%

7 reviews, 63 user ratings


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Watchmen
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by Peter Sobczynski

"W For Washout"
2 stars

Ever since it was first published back in the mid-1980’s as a 12-part comic book series (later collected into a best-selling graphic novel), people have been claiming the apocalyptic superhero saga “Watchmen” as a flat-out masterpiece of the genre--one magazine went so far as to list it as one of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923. To those who haven’t read a comic since they were in short pants and who still look upon Adam West as the ideal Batman, such praise may seem a touch absurd--after all, how could something as coarse and disposable as a comic book be considered art--but in this particular case, all the fanboy huffing and puffing was right because “Watchmen” really and truly was a landmark work and remains one to this day--in merely 12 installments, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons created a work that contained an engrossing and labyrinthine plot that made you think while still soaking up all the conventional thrills, characters as compelling and psychologically complex as any you might find in a conventional novel and a narrative approach that allowed its creators to simultaneously offer a caustic satire of the genre while intelligently exploring the reasons why such seeming nonsense has resonated so strongly with successive generations ever since characters like Superman and Batman debuted decades ago. In other words, it wasn’t just a great graphic novel--it really and truly was a landmark of its particular art form as significant as “Citizen Kane” or “Revolver“ (the one from the Beatles, not the one from Guy Ritchie) were to their respective mediums.

Since its publication, many people have attempted to bring “Watchmen” to the big screen but despite their Herculean efforts, those efforts have been stymied and in hindsight, it isn’t too hard to understand why. Part of the reason that “Watchmen“ worked so beautifully is that Moore and Gibbons found the perfect format in which to spin their tale--by planning it as a mini-series instead of as either a one-shot tale or as a property with a shelf life as long as the market would bear, they were able to give their story the space that it needed to breathe and to pack in all the points that they wanted to make without being forced to stretch things out past the breaking point once the story that they wanted tell came to its natural conclusion. Alas, just because a work of art is deemed to be a genre-shaking masterpiece in one artistic medium does not automatically mean that it can transferred to a different medium without losing a lot of what made it so special in the first place. In the case of “Watchmen,” the sprawling storyline was the chief problem. To properly tell the story in a satisfactory matter that would include not only the central plot but the detailed backstories and the social commentary and the dark humor would require a running time far in excess of what even the most lenient of financiers would allow. And yet, after years of hearing that “Watchmen” was unfilmable, it is now blasting onto multiplex screens with the kind of advanced hype not seen since the wait for “The Dark Knight” and it turns out that it was pretty much unfilmable after all. Yes, it looks like “Watchmen” and it sounds like “Watchmen” but as it goes on and on and on, it becomes painfully clear that what is up there on the screen isn’t really “Watchmen” but a not-so-incredible simulation that reduces a complex examination of the dynamics of dopey superhero epics into just another dopey superhero epic.

Set in an alternative-reality 1985 in which American won the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon is in his fifth term of office as President and the U.S.A. and Russia are hurtling closer and closer to the brink of nuclear war, “Watchmen” presents us with a world in which superheroes--some with amazing powers and some who are just ordinary people who enjoy dressing up in costumes and beating up bad guys--have been a common occurrence since the 1930’s, or were until they were banned by presidential order and forced to hang up their capes. The film kicks off, literally, as a man named Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is attacked in his high-rise apartment by a mysterious assailant and, after a fight brutal enough to give even Walter Hill pause, is thrown through a plate-glass window to his slo-mo demise on the streets far below. Although not noted at the time, it turns out that Blake was none other than The Comedian, a brutal and sadistic superhero/government operative (in locales as far-flung as Dallas and Vietnam) from the old days who looked upon life as a series of sick jokes for which he enjoyed providing the bloody and bruising punch lines to anyone who happened to cross his path, be they arch-villains, ordinary citizens or a fellow superhero like Sally Jupiter, a.k.a. Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino), whose crime was to respond in a somewhat hostile fashion to his rape attempt. While others look upon his death as just another homicide, one person recognizes who Blake really was and the significance posed by his murder. This is Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), another former “hero” who went underground in order to continue punishing those who he feels deserves the full force of his wrath (a list that encompasses practically everyone) and who suspects that someone may be going around killing off former superheroes.

While investigating the crime in his inimitable manner (lots of broken fingers and spurting blood), he visits the former colleagues with whom he used to team up with as a superhero super group known as the Watchmen to warn them that they may be in danger. They include Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson), who used his immense wealth and facility with gadgetry to fight crime as the Nite Owl; Adrien Veidt (Matthew Goode), who publicly unmasked himself as Ozmandias, “the smartest man in the world,” and now runs a multi-billion dollar corporation while licensing merchandise based on his former identity; Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman), who was pushed into the business by mother Sally to take on the mantle of Silk Spectre II; and Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup), a former scientist who was transformed by a lab accident into Dr. Manhattan, a jumbo-sized and blue-colored being with powers so awe-inspiring that he has been kept at a secret military facility (with lover Laurie at his side) as a key part of the U.S. government’s Cold War military defense.

At first, none of the other Watchmen believe Rorschach’s theories that someone is deliberately killing off former heroes and that it may tie in with the nuclear war that is becoming more and more imminent. However, after a series of other events--an attempted assassination of Veidt, Rorschach being framed for the murder of a former super-villain (Matt Frewer) and a shocking revelation about Dr. Manhattan that causes him to instantly abandon Earth for the solitude of Mars--Laurie and Dan gradually become convinced that something is up and eventually finds themselves climbing back into their costumes and taking off into the sky in Dan’s flying machine one night to rescue a bunch of people from a burning building and spring Rorschach from prison, where his treatment of a fellow inmate who tried to kill him has inspired a massive riot. After getting him out, he and Dan try to get to the bottom of the mysteries while Laurie finds herself up on Mars trying desperately to convince Jon to return to Earth and help prevent the upcoming apocalypse by appealing to the humanity that he lost decades ago in the accident that transformed him into what he is now. Eventually, they all come together to face off against their common enemy, only to discover that nothing--not their opponent nor the specifics of said opponent’s diabolical plan--are as black and white as they would like them to be.

While watching “Watchmen,” I found myself thinking, of all things, David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of “Dune.” Like “Watchmen,” it was based on a landmark work of literature (Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel) that was considered to be a masterpiece of the sci-fi/fantasy genre almost from the moment it was published. Like “Watchmen,” it was so densely plotted, so heavily populated and so filled to the brim with the minutest details about the universe that it was dealing with that many assumed that it could never be brought to the screen because to do it justice would require both a massive budget and a mammoth running time. And like “Watchmen,” when it finally did make it to the big screen, it was in a version that recounted the basic storyline--which was arguably its least interesting aspect--but which stripped out so many of the subplots and other details--the stuff that stuck in your mind and sparked your imagination--that newcomers to the fold found themselves wondering what all the fuss could have possibly been about. The difference between the two is that while both of them were directed by young filmmakers who were labeled as being “visionary” even though each had only previously helmed two earlier films, “Dune” was directed by an authentic visionary--David Lynch--and while that film is not exactly a masterpiece (although it is certainly better than its reputation would suggest, it is Lynch’s weakest work to date by far), he brought enough of a personal stamp to the material (at least as much as he could) so that even as he was plodding through the particulars of the plot, there was always something else going on (an eccentric performance or a gloriously ghastly visual) to keep things interesting.

Unfortunately, “Watchmen”--a property that was once circled by the likes of Terry Gilliam and Darren Aronofsky--wound up in the hands of Zack Snyder, who earned his “visionary” bona-fides by directing a remake of a classic that was notable only for not being as awful as many assumed it would be (the 2004 version of “Dawn of the Dead”) and an adaptation of a graphic novel that hewed so closely to the look and feel of what was set down on the page so as to be virtually interchangeable (“300”). While I am not certain that Gilliam or Aronofsky could have licked the problems of bringing “Watchmen” down to a manageable size (though I would have loved to have seen Aronofsky’s take on it), it is a virtual certainty that either one of them would have brought more individual personality to it than Snyder has. Essentially, Snyder has taken the same approach that he used with “300” and devotes all of his time, energy and money to replicate as many of the panels of the original comics as possible, with the exception of a few changes to the ending. For the first few minutes, this is kind of interesting but once the novelty of seeing the book come to life wears out, it becomes depressingly obvious that he has nothing more on his mind than slavishly imitating what Moore and Gibbons had already achieved so memorably on the page. After a while, Snyder’s overt reverence to the material--you‘ll find more genuine spontaneity at a Hannah Montana concert--becomes so suffocating that even the greatest devotees of the comics may find themselves wishing for something new and lively to come along. In essence, Snyder has given us a massively scaled version of the kind of lockstep film that you might expect a couple of “Watchmen” freaks with a camcorder and a lot of spare time to shoot in their backyard.

Trying to cram the entire “Watchmen” saga into the space allotted for a conventional feature film running time (even one pushing the three-hour mark like this one) is pretty much a thankless job and co-writers David Hayter and Alex Tse have given us just that. The screenplay replicates most of the key moments from the book but in its desire to cram as many of them in as possible, very few of them are allowed to have the time to breathe and play out--there is such a rush from scene to scene that even those who are familiar with the story may get confused at some points. At the same time, they have left out or streamlined so much of the sideline material that really brought the story to life (especially the ephemera that was collected at the end of each chapter that helped fill in many of the details) that virtually every fan of the original story is going to go home raging about some seemingly important detail that has been callously cast aside. The other thing that has been lost in the translation from the page to the screen is the tone that More and Gibbons brought to the material. In its print version, “Watchmen” offered up enough thrills and action to work as a straightforward comic book story but it did so in a fairly heady and cerebral manner that offered up smart psychological and philosophical notions that stuck in one’s mind long after it came to an end and also displayed a wicked sense of humor towards the clichés and tropes of the medium. That added layer of observation is nowhere to be seen here--it was apparently dismissed in order to make room for more slo-mo fistfights--and as a result, a film that might have once served as a wicked and ironic self-parody of dumb movies featuring people in tights whomping the hell out of each other turns into a decidedly unironic movie featuring people in tights whomping the hell out of each other.

Of course, for those of you who have never read “Watchmen” before, most of my complaints regarding its failure as an adaptation will seem meaningless. Unfortunately, taken simply on its own merits, “Watchmen” is still a failure for the most part. With one exception, the acting is pretty miserable--Malin Akerman appears to have been cast solely for the figure she cut in her costume but after a while, even the biggest horndogs in the audience will find themselves willing to trade some pulchritude for a competent line reading or two. The special effects, while big and loud and expensive as all get out, accurately replicate what was seen on the page but never come close to replicating the wonder that those pen-and-ink creations inspired--seen on the big screen, the massive crystal construction that Dr. Manhattan devises for himself on Mars comes across as particularly puny in comparison to its initial conception. The music cues--a selection of well-known songs spanning the eras covered in the story--are so painfully on the nose that I almost thought they were jokes until I realized that the film had no sense of humor. (This film’s idea of subtlety is to have a group of incredibly powerful business tycoons meeting while “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” plays in the background.) Worst of all, the big action scenes have no sense of style, aside from Snyder’s mistaken belief that switching in and out of slo-mo mode seemingly at random is a true stylistic flourish, and simply descend into one endless scene after another in which costumed people punch each other in the head. As anyone who saw “The Dark Knight” can attest, it is possible to do this in a richly cinematic matter but Snyder doesn’t seem to realize that--he has instead given us fight scenes that are so crudely assaultive that I walked out of the screening feeling as if I had taken every single punch that had been delivered.

Although I have been pretty negative towards “Watchmen,” it is not without its virtues. For one, Jackie Earle Haley is pretty much perfect as Rorschach--he comes the closest to representing the kind of complex characterization that Moore and Gibbons created in the first place and he gets most of the better moments. The sequence in which we see how Jon Osterman became Dr. Manhattan is a lovely bit of subtle filmmaking (aided immeasurably by some music cues from Phillip Glass’ magnificent score for “Koyannsqatsi”) that stands out beautifully against all the noise and our first glimpse of Dr. Manhattan on Mars is genuinely awe-inspiring. As for the rest, it is little more than a walking, talking and punching version of the graphic novel that contains the broad outlines and little else. If that is all that you are looking for in a film version of “Watchmen,” then you will probably get some kind of kick out of it. As for those who are hoping that their long wait has been rewarded with something as transformative as it was on the page 20-odd years ago, “Watchmen” will prove to be a joke too crude and cruel for even The Comedian to bear.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17536&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/06/09 16:00:00
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User Comments

2/11/13 Langano Pure crap, one of the worst films I've seen. 1 stars
9/17/12 roscoe overlong shit. only haley's rorschach is great, and that's not enough to sustain this shit. 1 stars
8/11/11 larsen Graphic Novel was ahead of its time as was this film. Some just need to catch up. 5 stars
7/24/10 bagwell5 I was a big fan of the comic & the movie is pretty faithful. Extended DVD cut is better. 5 stars
4/22/10 millersxing The unfilmable becomes the unwatchable. 1 stars
3/29/10 Charles Tatum Too long a film to sit through for such an awkward payoff 3 stars
1/27/10 Jerome C. OK movie great effects. pins right too much peter indeed. 4 stars
1/12/10 mr.mike It just wasn't my cup of poison. 2 stars
12/29/09 matt what happened is this is the best movie of 2009. 5 stars
12/13/09 mwilde What happened to sucks all ass? 1 stars
12/01/09 Silkworm Hard work - A film trying to be stylish but failing 2 stars
11/16/09 matt great story, great performances, great style. the new animated stuff is great too 5 stars
9/17/09 TreeTiger Let's cut it short - this is a good movie! 4 stars
9/06/09 Black Leather Rain Huge fan of the comic, Lukewarm fan of the movie. Disappointed in the changed ending. 4 stars
8/27/09 Laurey Martin I was surprised by how much I liked this movie. Loved the look of it! 4 stars
7/27/09 vesta brilliant 5 stars
7/15/09 michael mann eww. Like being hit with a sledgehammer for its atrocious running time 1 stars
7/04/09 Gristle Has its moments, fairly blah overall though 3 stars
7/02/09 pantera overlong, boring , bad acting from that hot chick. Pretentious 1 stars
6/22/09 Rorschach Hrrnnh 4 stars
4/25/09 matt I've never read the comic but I liked the movie 4 stars
4/17/09 Total Crap Very unintelligible if you haven't read the graphic novel. The acting was crap IMO. 3 stars
4/10/09 farrow please a terrible disjointed incoherent movie. Only Jackie Earke Haley was good 1 stars
3/22/09 james obrien a fantastic movie long time coming 5 stars
3/20/09 The Comedian Jeez, can you give more of the movie away? Why don't you buy "spoileralert.com" 4 stars
3/19/09 Craig D. Replaces "The Dark Knight" as the best comic book movie ever made. Simply fantastic. 5 stars
3/18/09 jim knew nothing of the graphic novel, loved the art direction, the retro styles and the jokes 4 stars
3/16/09 Brian Mckay Better than the source material. More action, less meandering, better ending (yes ,fanboys) 4 stars
3/16/09 Honolulu Bitchslap Only 2 groups will be disappointed- 1, the 'uninitiated' & 2, fans of the graphic novel. 2 stars
3/15/09 Gil Carlson A monumental work. Read the book. THEN see the movie. If you like the book, you'll love it. 5 stars
3/14/09 geetus Too many unfinished subplots.Good, but left too much unanswered.Another hour wouldve helped 4 stars
3/12/09 Brandon Allin Beautiful visuals. Wonderful movie. 5 stars
3/12/09 Grandmaster T A flawed though impressive endevour. Good bashings. 4 stars
3/12/09 aliceinwonderland I was bored at times but I think it is worth a look. Good characters, good conversations. 4 stars
3/11/09 Jonathan I really wanted to like this film. But I didn't. Too convoluted. 1 stars
3/11/09 Ayrie Keep to the story 5 stars
3/10/09 karamashi Just Awful and Souless. 2 stars
3/10/09 Raul Valdez Jr another blockbuster year 4 stars
3/10/09 Nessus A lot better than the haters are willing to admit 5 stars
3/09/09 ES Impressive highs dampened by disappointing lows, Rorschach was excellent throughout 3 stars
3/09/09 Aesop After the fanboy filmgasms die down, what you're left with is a really mediocre flick. 2 stars
3/09/09 Mishyana ending robbed of a lot of punch due to a lack of bodies, but still good stuff. 4 stars
3/09/09 Jedimasta Never read the novel, but smart enough to 'get' the subtext AND have fun with the action. 5 stars
3/09/09 jason unfortunately i think the ending in the movie was better than the books 5 stars
3/09/09 KingNeutron Very enjoyable and complex, even for a complete newbie that doesnt know the backstory 4 stars
3/09/09 Pokejedservo A somewhat flawed but very interesting movie based on the famous graphic novel. 4 stars
3/09/09 Alan Moore It sucks ass. 1 stars
3/09/09 Jeff Light flawed, ambitious...probably best enjoyed by intellectuals not familiar with the comic 4 stars
3/08/09 Sn0wCrash Unbelievable! A Milestone for comic book movies! 5 stars
3/08/09 cpbjr very unsatisfying 2 stars
3/08/09 M Had people walking out throughout the movie and found story messy but still worth a look. 4 stars
3/08/09 Chris Actually, it's determinist nihilism vs. existentialism, Shortt. Nihilism loses mostly. 4 stars
3/08/09 belike Compared to most superhero films it was really good. 4 stars
3/08/09 Ickabod 13 If you're thinking about seeing this movie, DO IT! You will not be displeased! 4 stars
3/08/09 bubastis619 better than I thought it could be 4 stars
3/08/09 Darkstar Amazing! Never seen anything like it. As close to the graphic novel as you can get. Awesome 5 stars
3/08/09 blah blah amazing paul shortt die of cancer cunt! 5 stars
3/08/09 Adrian I was never bored. Stylish execution. Story still worked. Hopefully people will read it now 5 stars
3/08/09 ACTION MOVIE FAN SLIGHTLY FLAWED BUT A GREAT ACTION FILM, RORSCACH AND NIGHT OWL KICK MAJOR BUTT 4 stars
3/08/09 PAUL SHORTT A BRUTAL, GRAPHIC, NIHILISTIC, ANTIHEROIC FILM FOR BRUTALISED, IMMATURE MEN OF ALL AGES 1 stars
3/07/09 malcolm would've been much better as a cable mini-series 3 stars
3/07/09 pin good stuff, not the "regular," and not perfect either. also, too much peter. 4 stars
3/06/09 Raul Valdez Jr its up to your own personal taste guys i think you should give it a look. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  06-Mar-2009 (R)
  DVD: 21-Jul-2009

UK
  N/A

Australia
  06-Mar-2009
  DVD: 21-Jul-2009




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