Watchmen 2009

This is a very close adaptation of one of the most revered and acclaimed comic book that I have never read. For the longest time, it was thought that an adaptation could never do the original source material justice without cutting out a lot of the good stuff, or making compromises to make the film more marketable to the mainstream. I can’t say for certain, but I believe Zack Snyder did neither. And on top of that, he made a damn entertaining movie for those of us who have never read the comics. It is by no means a perfect movie, there are still some flaws to it, but every time I’ve watched this, I’ve remained almost transfixed by the combination of striking visuals, complex characters, and interesting storylines.

The entire concept of the Watchmen is an interesting one with a lot of backstory to get through just to get to the main characters. The world is set in an alternate version of US history where masked vigilantes actually came into existence in the 1940’s, and an actual superpowered individual named Dr. Manhattan came into being in the 60’s where he was later used to win the Vietnam war, and brought such popularity to Richard Nixon that he was elected for an unheard of third term and is still the president where the majority of the movie is set during 1985. Dr. Manhattan was part of a group of heroes that were inspired by the original group of heroes from the 40’s called the Minutemen. This group is called the Watchmen and includes several members including a member of the original Minutemen, the Comedian. The movie itself starts out with the murder of the Comedian by an unknown assailant, and follows more or less with Rorschach’s investigation of the murder and overlying conspiracy.

As complicated as the story is to try and explain, it mostly flows logically. But at the same time it is very densely packed with foreshadowed sequences and delayed explanations. The movie early on introduces the original Minutemen, but does it in sepia toned mini-scenes and photographs, many of which you don’t understand the full meaning of until much later in the movie, including scenes with a young Silk Spectre and Rorschach. Because of the density, I have to admit that even though I was completely engrossed with most of the movie, I tuned out before the end during my first viewing. And my more recent viewings of this movie were broken up. I do feel that the more information that I’ve learned from early viewings of the movie as well as the extra material I’ve seen on it made me enjoy it much more on repeat views.

Not sure if this is a metaphor for their relationship or the kiss.

Not sure if this is a metaphor for their relationship or the kiss.

If you’ve watched a lot of Zack Snyder movies, it’s easy to recognize his visual style of hyper-stylized violence with lots of close ups of flying objects combined with many instances of speed-up/slo-mo. I’m personally not tired of it yet, and still think it looks unique and creates an intense look and feel to the fight scenes, of which there are many. It did create a little bit of unbelievability in my opinion with the fighting prowess of all the surviving heroes. They claim that Dr. Manhattan was really the first “super” hero with superhuman powers, yet practically all of the Watchmen exhibit superhuman strength and reflexes beyond mere martial arts training. It wasn’t overly distracting, but it did seem a little odd.

One of Watchmen’s greatest strengths is the questions of morality brought up throughout the entire movie. There is not a single character that is purely good or purely evil, except maybe some of the minor villains. Moloch was a supervillain who has served his time and now lives a lowly existence in a small one bedroom apartment just trying to get by. The Comedian stayed in the game the longest, spanning both the Minutemen and the Watchmen, though he practically relished the violence he caused and spread beyond mere criminals. Dan, the second Nite Owl can be seen as the most moral out of all of them, yet he gets together with the Silk Spectre almost immediately after she breaks up with Dr. Manhattan. And of course, there’s the ultimate moral question at the end of the movie, something that’s been brought up many times in Star Trek “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. But at what scale does it no longer make a difference? There are no answers in the movie, but we do get to see how the different characters handle the question itself. Rorshach becomes lost in his own sense of black and white justice and can’t cope with becoming a shade of grey himself. The others handle it in their own ways.

The Watchmen comic was ambitious and groundbreaking at the time combining such dark storylines with graphic content alongside strong literary themes and elaborate storytelling. The film captures most of that feel, but also adds some intense action scenes and gorgeous visuals. My biggest problem with it is really just the length. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but when comparing this film to the Dark Knight Rises, it was easier for me to sit through Batman without a break than it was for me to do the same with Watchmen. That said, I’ve watched it a little over one and a half times, and am interested in watching it again soon. While I enjoyed it the first time I watched it, it’s grown on me even more on repeat viewings. It might not have broken into my top 10 just yet, but it’s definitely in my top 20. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.


About Bubbawheat

I'm a comic book movie enthusiast who has watched and reviewed over 500 superhero and comic book movies in the past seven years, my goal is to continue to find and watch and review every superhero movie ever made.

Posted on January 8, 2013, in 00's movies, DC and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Watchmen is a tough film to watch. It’s not like any other comic book film adaptation. I only watched it for the first time last year and I admit that I was close to switching it off within the first 20 minutes. But determined to stick it out.

    Glad I did. Agree with everything you’ve said about the film. It’s an epic comic book film. Extremely dense. Zach Snyder’s style fits perfectly in this film. Really adds to the storytelling.

    Great review!

    • I had kind of the opposite reaction. My eyes were glued to the screen for the first hour or so, but I think I just got fatigued by the density of the first viewing and only made it to just over 2 hours before tuning out and never even caught the last 20 minutes or so until watching it again now. I would have been curious to see what Terry Gilliam could have done with it as he had been attached to the film at one point.

  2. Watchmen definitely is tough to get through — I think it’s just that it’s so unrelentingly bleak. The Batman films are often dark, but the whole concept of Batman is that he’s cutting down on the darkness. That’s not really present in Watchmen.

    I agree that Snyder’s style is just a little distracting, but that it overall suits the film. Still has me pretty concerned for Man of Steel though, since the same style wouldn’t suit Superman at all.

    I liked the fact that the film changes the ending a little bit… in the book, the villain’s plan has the devastation blamed on an extra-dimensional squid. Besides being just a bit on the weird side, it didn’t seem like a good plan to me — it’s not a persistent threat, so it wouldn’t take long for WWIII to start rolling around again (if one buys his theory that WWIII is coming in the first place). And it can’t be made a persistent threat without repeating it — and killing off millions of people repeatedly to avoid a war is counter-productive, to say the least. It’s something of a moot point, given Rorschach’s journal, but it was a bad plan to start with, unbefitting someone who is supposed to be a super-genius. But with the movie having him blame it on Dr. Manhattan, it becomes much more plausible — he’s a known, already-existing threat, and even if he leaves, people know he can come back. It looks like a better plan.

    • I know I’ve vaguely heard about the squid, though I thought the sentiment was negative toward the movie’s ending. Hearing it your way, I can’t imagine someone arguing for the comic book’s ending. The only argument against it is that he wouldn’t sell out his friend like that, but at least the way he’s portrayed in the film, it makes total sense that he would do it this way.

      You’re right about Snyder and Man of Steel, I do hope he does something different than his usual speed up/slo-mo action scenes between Zod and Superman. I actually kind of forgot that it was a Zack Snyder film based on the trailers. I still think (hope) that he can bring the right parts of his style and lose the wrong parts.

  3. As someone who had read the graphic novel several times before the movie ever came out, I have to say that Snyder did pretty much the best job possible in bringing it to the screen, and a much better job than I thought would happen.

    The biggest change was the delivery mechanism at the end, which a previous commenter mentioned, but I was not disappointed with it. It does make sense in the graphic novel, but would have been expensive to do the cgi for in the movie and it would have been tough to make it not look silly. And that was a far better option than earlier people who were trying to make the movie (i.e. Gilliam) because they were approaching it as they would have to change the ending to get rid of the deaths – which would have completely undermined the whole moral question of the actions.

    Snyder is often faulted for slo-mo (which I’ve never understood – it’s not like he’s the first person to ever use it), but in the opening sequence it is just a perfect use of it. Watch it again and notice how the very first images are static – just like the panels in a comic book. As they go along the images start to move a little more, speeding up a little more, until finally we have fully transitioned from a comic book presentation to a movie presentation. And the amount of info they impart in such a short amount of time astonishes me. There are also little details in this sequence, such as The Comedian stopping a robber while a father, mother, and young son who were trying to go to the theater get saved (can you say Bruce Wayne anyone?) There is also a sort-of re-creation of the iconic Times Square kiss when the end of World War II was announced. The sailor from the photo can be seen just behind the female hero who does kiss the nurse.

    I’ve watched the film multiple times (even the version with the Tales of the Black Freighter edited back into the narrative, and the Director’s cut). This is definitely a movie where you see more each time you watch it. I myself didn’t pick up on the young Rorshach in the opening the first time, and I had read the graphic novel. I did pick up on the original Silk Spectre’s argument with her husband that her young daughter Lori hears – and what it foreshadows.

    Someone else mentioned the Dark Knight. Whenever someone has tried to gush about how “dark” the Nolan Batman movies are I always tell them to see Watchmen to get some perspective on what dark truly is.

    I agree on the relative strengths of the non-super heros. That was probably my biggest quibble with the film.

    I highly recommend that you read the graphic novel and then watch the movie again. You’ll be amazed at what Snyder was able to include in the film.

    • Nice to hear from a big fan. I was definitely somewhat luke-warm about the movie after the first viewing, but it’s grown on me a lot on multiple viewings. As for the slo-mo I’m talking about that’s often viewed negatively is when used in an action sequence, like there will be a slo-mo close-up of a fist hitting a face before speeding back up. The credit sequence I thought worked beautifully, and I hadn’t caught the possible Bruce Wayne reference yet. Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate in-depth comments like this!

  4. Yeah, the fights were definitely Hollywooded up for the film. Most of them didn’t even happen in the comic, and the action there was far more down to Earth. If the film had been as calm as the book, I don’t know that it would have made for a good movie. Maybe I’m wrong and it would have been great anyway, but it certainly wouldn’t have done well at the box office to have a superhero movie without any superhero action.

    I always thought the squid monster made more logical sense to me. (to speak to the earlier comment, Dr. Manhattan leaves the solar system, so he is no more persistent a threat than the squid) But I thought blaming it on Dr. Manhattan made more literary sense, tying the story back into it’s own characters. So I’ve always been torn on the two different endings.

    I’ve never been one to think that the adaptation of something should be identical to the original. If change can only make something worse, then there is no purpose to adapting it in the first place. I thought this version of the story was fun and entertaining, and I can enjoy either version for what it is.

    • It would have probably made a good anime with all of the morality questions and less of the big action scenes. I didn’t mind the fact that it had more fights, and that they were action packed, just that they didn’t have to go that extra level to make them break through walls like it was nothing.

  5. I’m glad I’m not the only one who likes Synder’s interpretation. I hadn’t read the novel when I first saw the film and loved it. I’ve since read the graphic novel a few times, and love the film even more. Synder’s style is great and really suits this film, and though there are some details that are changed from the novel, like LOTR I can understand why and doesn’t detract at all, but it is great to see the level of detail within the movie.

    • It was a pretty great adaptation with a lot of layers that work better after multiple viewing, but also don’t detract from the first viewing much. It’s really growing on me the more I get into it. Will definitely check out the graphic novel at some point.

  6. I saw it opening night and I loved it. Pretty faithful to the graphic novel. I was interested to see how they would pull it off.

  7. It’s cool to see your take on the film here after reading Michael’s. Thanks again for suggesting this one for our series. If you’ve seen my comment over at Michael’s blog you’ll know that I don’t care for this film but one of the things you bring up really impressed me as well: there’s a lot of impressive organization to a really complicated story. It makes the movie easy to follow. And the great intro set to the original Minutemen is spectacular! Couldn’t agree more!

    Thanks again!

    • No problem, I have read the graphic novel since writing this review and I had some of the same issues with it that you did. I thought the pirate story and excerpts were an interesting concept, but they disrupted the flow of the story a little too much, I also think that the space squid was a little too far out there, though I have heard one compelling argument that while blaming it on Dr. Manhattan makes it more plausible, it removes the fact that the space squid was completely unaffiliated with a country while Dr. Manhattan was very much American. And even though America turns against him, the other countries would be just as likely to turn against America rather than Dr. Manhattan specifically.

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