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Overall Rating

Awesome: 16.82%
Worth A Look44.86%
Average: 4.67%
Pretty Bad: 23.36%
Total Crap: 10.28%

7 reviews, 65 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Comic Fans Rejoice. Others Go Hmmmm..."
4 stars

For months and months now, I was advised specifically NOT to read Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel. And that was from the biggest fan I know of it personally. Part of him didn’t want certain aspects of the film to be prematurely exposed for me and part was possibly curious to see how someone unfamiliar with the source material would respond going in cold. Thankfully, after over a year’s worth of anticipation I was still able to walk in with nary a clue as to who these characters were and why their existence was so important to the world of comic book fans. There were elements working in its favor though. In what few incarnations there have been, I have been a great fan of Alan Moore’s other adapted works (even if he wished they’d never been made) including From Hell and, particularly, the incredible V For Vendetta. I’ve also been quite enthusiastic with Zack Snyder’s work on the Dawn of the Dead remake (which almost had no business being as good as it was) and with Frank Miller’s 300. So despite never having watched (or read) the Watchmen, just on pure association I was hoping to find something worth getting excited about it. Although excited is hardly the word I would use upon leaving the theater, there is much to like about Watchmen and I’ll be stunned to hear hardcore fans take umbridge with what’s been delivered. But its not without its flaws and, assuming the end result as is faithful as adaptations comes, they go as far back as the source material itself.

Alan Moore’s story is set in its published date of 1985. The altered reality tells us that Richard Nixon is still President (elected five times) but the Cold War still rages on. Costumed superheroes have been outlawed and are mostly in retirement. When Edward Blake aka “The Comedian” (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is viciously murdered, suspicions are raised by the investigating avenger Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) that the once prominent Watchmen have somehow become targets. Rorschach’s former partner, Dan Dreiberg “The Nite Owl” (Patrick Wilson) is dismissive of the paranoia but finds himself reacquainting with his past associates. Adrian “Ozymandias” Veidt (Matthew Goode), the proclaimed “smartest man in the world” has made a fortune out of selling his likeness and that of his fellow heroes to toy manufacturers. Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) is the buffed, blue package of energy that is really the only one with any semblance of superpowers. And the woman between them is Laurie “Silk Spectre” Jupiter (Malin Akerman) who may be turned on by Manhattan’s physique but is turned off by his lack of human feeling – and isn’t quite ready to give into Dan’s Clark Kent-ishness.

While Watchmen is certainly plot heavy enough to go into several more paragraphs of description, its best to leave the discovery for the uninitiated inside the theater walls. This is a story though that is also inherently a character-driven piece as well, with each of the Watchmen’s stories forming a piece of the puzzle that feeds into, but not off the mystery of where its headed. But as much time devoted to each of them during the 150-minute-plus running time there are still fundamental questions in the cracks that are left unanswered and leaves the story, at times, a thematic muddle – even when its telling you what its about.

It’s never made clear precisely why these heroes were ever outlawed in the first place, something that The Incredibles later did to great effect. Although I enjoyed the concept that the government’s best plan was to just ban masks, it’s made quite clear that they would use them to their advantage when the time called for it. Dr. Manhattan almost single-handedly ends the Vietnam War and the Comedian is directly responsible for JFK’s fatal head shot. So where are all the issues that have forced them into hiding? Dr. Manhattan is a national figure who does talk shows and graces the cover of Time Magazine and would be the only one (aside maybe The Comedian) who would pose any sort of threat to humankind and even though the powers that be have their mitts into them, what assurances do they have that they can be trusted to follow orders? Nite Owl and Silk Spectre are only threatening if you approach them one-on-one in fistacuffs and other then some Lex Luthor-ish self-proclamation of having the biggest brain in the room, Ozymandias/Veidt’s story may be the biggest mystery of them all.

I would need to go back and see Watchmen a second time to see how much of these questions are answered or even hinted at during one of Snyder’s finest additions to the story; an opening credits montage set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are-A-Changin’” that tracks the Watchmen through their humble beginnings to current status. It’s a sequence that skirts the borders of the sort of self-parody employed Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, but maintains an earnest dignity that puts us precisely where Alan Moore originally hoped we would be in reading that this is not your ordinary “BANG! POW!” superhero tale. The violence is extremely graphic at times, but this is by far an action-packed film. Much of the film’s first 105 minutes is drenched in exposition, taking us between the past and present and attempting to forge the emotional bonds it hopes to pay off in the end. So when the action does momentarily kick off the promise of a fast-paced final act there is indeed a charge since what we’ve seen so far (particularly in the opening face-off between The Comedian and his attacker) is as good as any action Snyder has delivered to date. There’s the hope that the re-energized nature will do the same for audiences who might feel bogged down in a story that doesn’t match their pre-ordained expectations, even for a getting’-to-know-ya type introduction.

Lack of action is far from a criticism though. I am more than willing to sacrifice just another punching match for a more psychological approach, but there are so many characters to get across and some of the film’s key figures are left just short of reaching the emotional complexity that complete their story. Ozymandias’ backstory is particularly left in the dark and leaves a quintessential hole in his motivations late in the film. Also troubling is the connection between The Comedian and the original Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino). Portrayed as one serious bastard, there’s a transition missing between the time he forcibly tries to give Silk one in the side pocket and what we later discover about their relationship. As a Vietnam vet whom we watch take out a mother and child with one shot there’s a piece of his subconscious missing when he later makes up for that crime by creating life. What led up to that moment? Was it just another alcohol-induced tryst or something deeper like the necessity to create a new generation of justice seekers? Since The Comedian displays no semblance of remorse until just before his offing, the focus must shift to Silk I’s state of mind which is as clear as her martini-soaked cells. This may sound like reading through the lines of a moot point but considering one of the film’s arcs consist of characters who come to reappreciate life at the expense of the loss of it (one character’s final admition is his decision to “create life for a change,”) this is an important subplot that is left as nothing more than a plot twist than a serious probing of what the film is about.

One way or another, the characters all form a contrast with Dr. Manhattan, the story’s all-powerful God-like figure hovering over us all. He is the film’s cold emotional center and everyone reminds him how his powers have isolated him from the human race which he was once a part of. Literally stripped naked much of the time, he is a specimen of perfection that counters Wilson’s Dan Dreiberg who is a shell of the self he was when he used to don his owl suit. During a crucial scene with Akerman’s Silk II, they finally get down to business only to see him unable to seal the deal. I read this scene one way while others suggest Dan just finished early. If such is the case it’s a mistake since this should be a guy who has been emasculated since his days as a costumed hero. If he goes off early it’s funny ha-ha. If he can’t even get it up, it’s sad. So when Dan is standing there naked himself staring at his costume afterward, it becomes a more powerful moment that should have led to something greater than a poorly lit sex scene after the afrodesiac of pulling people from a burning building. If ever there was a moment to literally make sparks shoot out of someone’s ass, even metaphorically, this was it.

Watchmen is full of such contradicting distractions, along with more shots of Manhattan’s shlong than we need and an insistance on inserting any number of pop culture figures as not just background props but walking, talking figures in bad makeup by even worse actors. Particularly in the case of Richard Nixon who could have been used as a shadowy figure, shot from behind or off-camera as just a voice. Except Snyder gives us so many close-ups of the guy that you can’t help question the earlier idea of the alternate universe’s logic and in witnessing Robert Wisden’s pathetic performance of the man (even as a bad parody), some may owe an apology to Frank Langella for criticism that he was just doing an impression. The rest of the performances are also a hit and miss affair. Billy Crudup is asked to hit one monotone note as Doctor Manhattan and hit it he does over and over. Patrick Wilson has played a flake much of his career, which actually makes him a fine choice for Dreiberg and he fits just right. Malin Akerman shows off such awkward outrage in her first major scene in the film that its hard to brush off the rest of the way and you start to realize that she was likely cast not just because she’s a tall looker, but she was probably one of the few willing to do the nude scenes (as she’s done in literally every role I’ve ever seen her in.) Also extremely awkward is Matthew Goode’s performance as Veidt. While perhaps un-P.C. to even suggest such a thing, Goode’s interpretation comes off less the brand of pomposity and self-confidence that springs from the territory of being smarter than everyone else, but more of a cultured homosexual with more than just his orientation in his closet. The one performances that is, unquestionably, beyond reproach is that of Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. In a different kind of way than Heath Ledger was as the Joker, Haley is the one character that is impossible to keep your eyes and ears away from. Tough and disturbed, Rorschach is the film’s only complete creation and for as miniscule as Haley may seem without his mask, he manages to tower over everyone and everything in the film including Dr. Manhattan in Jolly Blue Giant mode.

And yet with all my complaints (including a moment where I imagined this is my worst nightmare where Terrence Malick made a comic book movie), I am still recommending Watchmen for the many things it does get right. The action, when it arrives, is tight and exciting. Every shot has the kind of perfect, detailed look that you can appreciate even with the film on mute. The visual effects are pretty flawless. Jackie Earle Haley’s performance is almost worth your ticket alone. And I think die hard fans of the comic book will be pleased with the transition since it seems to rarely stray from the source material (save for the absence of the climactic squid attack, which is actually a good switch.) Of course if all fans wanted was to see Alan Moore’s precious panels in motion they could just buy WB’s new Motion Comic DVD. Hopefully many of them aren’t so fickle enough to take criticism of Watchmen as a springboard to mount their own backlash of the miles superior, The Dark Knight, which in a very similar length managed to focus its moral complexities between more than just Batman, Joker and Harvey Dent and deliver thrills in a fashion that transcends the label of epic from that of just an extended running time. Even V For Vendetta, which mines some of the same nihilistic attitudes on saving society through distruction (containing the immortal line "these people need more than a building"), should be given a second look to show how to tip the scales towards its ideas and flesh them out in a fashion that earns the goosebumps experienced in its final images. I am interested in seeing Watchmen again, certainly on the big screen and definitely in Snyder’s proposed director’s cut DVD. But after all this time, even as a self-contained story that never had aspirations to be just another franchise, Watchmen may have been best served as a two-part film or the kind of Hanks/Spielberg miniseries treatment on HBO. Maybe Snyder’s treatment (with no help from screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse, who apparently just transferred word balloons to script format) needs to be criticized, torn down and destroyed so it can one day live again. But as I don’t see that as part of our future, perhaps we should just be happy with what we have today.

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originally posted: 03/06/09 16:00:00
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User Comments

10/30/16 morris campbell DONT believe the hype its a dull overlong piece of shit 1 stars
6/19/16 Ken Despite Malin Akerman being hot, this film is not that good. 2 stars
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 "" 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
3/07/09 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
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  06-Mar-2009 (R)
  DVD: 21-Jul-2009


  DVD: 21-Jul-2009

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