I sat through the two hours and 40 minutes of “Watchmen” Friday night and liked it. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. I liked it.
I write this review not as a fanboy who’s been waiting 20-plus years for the graphic novel to make its way to the big screen, nor as somebody who knows nothing about comics and this particular storyline. I’ll admit, I was well aware the “Watchmen” existed and knew the storyline growing up, but I’d never actually read it. Seeing the trailer for this movie before seeing “Dark Knight” last year intrigued me, so I read the novel hoping that it would allow me to better enjoy the film.
I will say I liked the comic better. There’s just so much that can be done with 300-plus pages of art and words … and the book had so many side stories, featurettes and other extras that if put into the movie, would have made it a 5-hour film.
That said, this movie was about as close to book as anyone could hope for. It follows the book almost line for line, and even many of the camera angles are the same as the drawings … which I particularly enjoyed and admired. Reviews have been mixed on this film from those who get paid to write reviews. Those who like it admire the beautiful cinematography, the dedication to the book and the overall story. Those who hate it aren’t keen on Zach Snyder’s slow-motion fight style, his focus on the brutality and, well, the overall story.
This movie isn’t for everyone. There’s graphic, graphic violence. There’s nudity. There’s F-bombs and an attempted rape scene. Then again, that was all in the book, too.
For those unfamiliar with the story — and, yet, care to read this whole review — Watchmen takes place in 1985 … though this 1985 comes after the U.S. won the war in Vietnam thanks to a superhuman being, Doctor Manhattan, who developed his superpowers thanks to a freak accident in a science lab (big surprise, right?) Instead of being the caped crusader of other comics, though, Manhattan is growing tired of humans and is more focused on the universe around him and all the miracles of life and science.
Nixon is in his third term as president — thanks to the Vietnam victory — and before the story begins, we learn he’s put an end to all caped crusaders and masked vigilantes … a thing that became the norm thanks to a group of heroes called The Minutemen in the 1940s. We learn a bit about these Minutemen in a clever opening sequence, and the movie starts with the death of one of these Minutemen — The Comedian — who’s thrown out of a window 40-stories above Manhattan by an unknown villain.
Another former hero, Rorschach — who is BRILLIANTLY played by Jackie Earl Haley, a former child actor who most recently played the pedophile in “Little Children” — investigates The Comedian’s death and begins to think somebody is after masked heroes. There could have been a whole movie about Rorschach, a twisted hero who loathes the world around him, yet thinks he can make it better by ridding it of its animals in very graphic ways (think a 5-foot-4 ugly Dexter with an ink blot mask).
Rorschach warns other former heroes, the Clark Kent-like Nite Owl, the lovelorn Silk Spectre, Doc Manhattan and the world’s smartest man, Ozymandias, they could be next. Only Nite Owl and Spectre pay any attention to the warnings, and even they’re skeptical.
And this whole story is overshadowed by the ominous doomsday clock, since Russia is on the verge of firing nukes at our country — the point is, even with a victory in Nam and a superhuman, that only made things worse … a hungry, greedy, victorious U.S. poses a threat to Russia and it’s only a matter of time before the two nations begin a nuclear war.
Well, the movie’s confusing. The book can get confusing, too. I’m told it often takes more than one read to completely “get it.” Maybe that’s the same with the film.
I think many of the people who go to this — I was in a theater with a bunch of loud, obnoxious teens and early 20-somethings who giggled at the nudity and yelled at the screen during slower parts … yay — go for the “comic book hero” they see in Batman, Spider-Man, etc. They’re not getting that here. Sure, there are some cool fight scenes, but there’s MUCH more dialogue than anything else. And like I said, there’s an over-riding theme to it all. An elbow nudge asking you to “see? see what it’s like when our country is run by greed?”
And this was penned in the 1980s.
I think most of the fans of the comic will appreciate and even like the movie. It’s a hard story to tell, and the ending is one that really makes you think — even without the squid.
Sure, there are slow parts. There are laughable parts, mostly with poorly performed dialogue and an awful make-up job on Nixon. And the violence is sometimes overblown (particularly the alley fight .. which is necessary because it gets Owl and Spectre’s blood going, but this was just bloated).
And I know Manhattan is nude in the book, but do we really need that much screen time of a digital blue penis? I probably wouldn’t have minded it as much if the aforementioned theater teens didn’t giggle at that throughout as well. I’m just waiting for the nightmares now.
But the good parts really shine, particularly Rorschach (his prison scenes are intense, especially the line he delivers in the cafeteria) and the Comedian (every bit the ass he is in the comic, played to the T by Jeffrey Dean Morgan … the ultra-sweety with a broken heart from Grey’s Anatomy). The fight scenes, though violent, are brilliantly choreographed (if you liked 300, which I didn’t, then you’ll enjoy the style again). And like I said, it’s just a great story that makes you think when it’s all said and done.
So I liked it. I didn’t love it, but maybe I need to see it again to better appreciate it.
Or not watch it with a bunch of idiots.
GRADE: 6.5 out of 10