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.
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.