Watchmen Review

Published 6 years ago by , Updated March 21st, 2009 at 9:21 pm,

Short version: Watchmen is an ultra-violent, sexually explicit mystery film (with a few costumed heroes thrown in) that is visually stunning, but uneven.

watchmen review Watchmen Review
Screen Rant reviews Watchmen

I’ve really been dreading writing this review because frankly, I’m still not sure how I feel about Zack Snyder’s big screen adaptation of the revered graphic novel (yes, I’m calling it a graphic novel), Watchmen.

There are some films that I really wish I could watch TWICE prior to writing a review: Big, highly-anticipated blockbusters tend to taint my initial viewing with expectations. Ideally there would be one viewing where I’d just let the film wash over me and then a second viewing where I could be more objective and analytical.

A little background for context: I read the graphic novel once, last year, following the San Diego Comic-Con. I’m not a die-hard devotee of the book, but I recognize that at the time it was written it was groundbreaking in its approach to the superhero genre. I don’t remember every nuance or panel of the story, but I remember enough for the film to make sense to me.

The problem is – I can’t “unremember” the book in order to give you the point of view of someone coming to the film with little knowledge of the story, and I’m not so into it that I can compare it detail by detail to the book – so take this review for what it’s worth. Some of you will end up agreeing with me and others will probably call me an idiot… such is the life of a guy who runs a movie website.

First off, for the uninitiated, you should know a couple of things:

  1. This is NOT really a superhero movie in the sense that we’ve come to know the genre. It’s not X-Men or Spider-Man – it’s not even The Dark Knight… it’s really more of a murder mystery with a bit of superhero action thrown in for flavor.
  2. It also seriously EARNS its R-rating, people. This is NOT a film you should bring your kids to because “it’s a superhero movie.” There is extremely graphic, horror movie-level gore, scenes of intense, realistic violence, full frontal male nudity throughout the film – and a very explicit sex scene.

Watchmen is also a very “dense” film, one that a viewer will no doubt pick up more details and nuances upon repeated viewings, so I won’t be covering a lot of detail here as far as story.

The film opens with a montage of scenes giving us the history of costumed vigilante crime fighters back in the 1940s. It’s pretty damned cool looking back and seeing men and women wearing homemade costumes and masks taking on muggers and such, sometimes even posing for the newspaper photographers in the middle of capturing the bad guys.

These are the glory days of the masked crime fighter, with society loving them and the heroes enjoying the heck out of what they do – even forming a loose alliance with one another. Eventually in the film we see some of these older “superheroes” who are now either dead or retired – trying to live normal lives.

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The Comedian meets his end in Watchmen

From there we move to the iconic scene from the book – The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), now in his 60s, sitting at home in his apartment when a shadowy figure breaks in and beats him to a bloody pulp – culminating in his murder via being thrown out of a window high above street level.

It is now 1985 and masked vigilantes have been outlawed by the government for almost 15 years; Richard Nixon is in his 5th term as President, and the world is on the brink of a nuclear war between the United States and Russia.

Rorschach/Walter Kovacs (Jackie Earle Haley) is a vigilante who has told the government to go screw itself and still prowls the streets at night. As depicted in the film, I would say that he is probably portrayed as some Liberals imagine all Conservatives to be. He’s borderline crazy (if not actually over the edge), but he knows where he stands and what he believes in – to a fault. He doesn’t believe the killing of the Comedian was a burglary gone bad – he thinks that it was outright murder and that someone is tracking down ex-heroes one by one in an attempt to wipe them out.

This mystery is in fact the crux of the film – we follow Rorschach through his investigation and along the line we meet other ex-heroes Nite Owl II/Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Spectre II/Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman). Dan lives a quiet, lonely life (he comes across as a bit of a geek) while Laurie has a relationship with the one true superhero in the story: Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup). Things are strained between Laurie and Dr. Manhattan, as he is slipping farther and farther away from humanity due to his god-like powers and intellect.

Rorschach tells Dan his theory about a “mask-killer” (they were once partners) and Dan goes off to warn Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) that his life may be in danger as well. Adrian is a super-genius billionaire who created his mega-corporation after vigilantism was banned. He is supremely confident and is determined to change the world for the better and bring it back from the brink of nuclear destruction.

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Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II and Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl II

The film takes us through Dan and Laurie rediscovering that the only time they really feel alive is when they’re in full costume, out there fighting crime. As a matter of fact, Dan goes through a Clark Kent to Superman transformation once he dons his costume, changing from a clumsy, impotent coward, into (as Jesse Ventura so eloquently said in Predator) a sexual Tyrannosaurus.

Overall, what this story is about is showing how really messed up in the head people who put on bizarre costumes to go out and beat up bad guys would be if they actually existed in the real world. We’re talking about your next door neighbor putting on a batsuit complete with mask and cape, going downtown and beating up people so badly that they had to go to the hospital. Sure, it sounds good in a comic book or a movie, but would you really want to live next door to that guy? Would you really feel safe?

Watchmen follows the book very closely for the most part. Where it deviates mainly is via omission of certain aspects of the book and the ending. But what you see on the screen follows the imagery in the book to a “T.” Visually, I don’t think anyone could have done a better job with bringing the artwork from the book to life. I do think that some of what was omitted (and may be in the director’s cut for all I know) might have brought more humanity to the film. In particular what you’ll find missing if you’ve read the book is anything having to do with the old magazine stand guy and the young man reading “Tales of the Black Freighter” while keeping him company.

The format of the film is such that you don’t get to know some of the characters until you’re pretty deep into the film. We don’t get to see the pre-Dr. Manhattan Jon Osterman until we’re probably over an hour into the film. The movie jumps around quite a bit, and I don’t know how that will go over with people who aren’t familiar with the original story. It seems to me that perhaps some license should have been taken with the structure of the film considering the fact that the original story took place in 12 separate comic book issues spread over the course of an entire year. But if you know the story, this won’t bother you at all.

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Naked Dr. Manhattan with the naughty bits blurred (as they aren’t in the film)

Visually, Zack Snyder did a fantastic job with Watchmen. The incredible attention to detail in everything from the background sets to the props and costumes is really something to see. Of course one aspect of the film I could have stood to see a bit less of was Dr. Manhattan’s penis. The logic of the story was that eventually he becomes so detached from human norms that he doesn’t see the point of wearing any clothing. However I’m pretty sure I don’t recall Mr. Happy being so prevalent in the book. Here we’ve got full body shots all over the place and frankly, it was a bit distracting (I’ll never look at Blue Man Group quite the same way again).

The CGI effects for Dr. Manhattan were very impressive, except when it came to him actually speaking – there was a bit of the “uncanny valley” effect at work there and it just didn’t look quite right.

Far and away the best thing about Watchmen was Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. The man is mesmerizing and his performance rivals that of Heath Ledger as the Joker. I loved his interpretation of the how the character would sound, and when he gets to prison you’ll be jumping out of your seat at just how awesome he is.

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Jackie Earle Haley about to go ballistic in Watchmen

Another bright spot was the despicable Comedian. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was great to watch… he was just SO twisted that you couldn’t turn away and he just draws you in.

So what didn’t work? I thought that both Malin Akerman and Carla Gugino were quite weak. Akerman’s performance came across as pretty shallow to me, and Gugino’s first real scene in the film as an old woman almost had me laughing out loud because it seemed so campy. I could take or leave Patrick Wilson’s performance – maybe it was just the character he was playing that left me cold.

I also really didn’t think that Matthew Goode was the best choice for Veidt/Ozymandias. He seemed too frail of build to me, and this became much more of an issue in the final scenes in the film where he displayed what seemed to be superhuman strength in a film where the only super-powered being is supposed to be Dr. Manhattan. This also came up in the early scene where the Comedian is fighting for his life – he punches through what looks like solid brick, and while it might look cool, it didn’t seem to make sense.

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Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt

Aside from the Comedian and Rorschach (and maybe even Dr. Manhattan), I never really felt drawn into the characters in the film. They felt like, well, characters – instead of real people. I suppose it was almost akin to an Opera, where you’re very aware of what you’re watching as an observer. It was so obviously trying to honor the source material that you could actually TELL that’s what it was doing.

So in the end, is Watchmen a good film? I think so. Was it a great or close to perfect film? I’d have to say no. It felt long to me, and we have the issues I pointed out above. It is however yet another comic book-based movie that breaks the mold, and lays the groundwork for more non-traditional comic book stories to be turned into films.

I think it’s definitely worth seeing, and I’ll be very curious to hear what you think of it. I really think Watchmen is destined to be a cult movie – not very mainstream, but with a smaller and very dedicated core of fans loving it as time goes on.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

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  1. Sylar, I agree with you that this film is this generation’s BladeRunner, but I would not say that it is this year’s Cloverfield. Wolverine seems to be taking that mantle.
    I would also encourage you guys to read El Guapo’s review over at LatinoReview. No dis to you Vic, your review was great, but he makes a great point in I think the 3rd and 4th paragraphs of his review concerning this film.

    Matt P, I’m with you homey! Forget TDK! I really did enjoy The Incredible Hulk more, but I would say the best hero film of last year was Hellboy 2.

  2. @SK47

    No offense taken, I know there are vastly better written reviews than mine out there. :-)


  3. It’s a bit long-winded (the review and the film) you don’t need to give us like an enitre outline/synopsis of the film, just get to reviewing it already.

    also “unremember” = forget

  4. @Cutler

    I’m well aware of the word “forgot.” I chose to write “unremember” on purpose. As to my reviewing style, that’s how I do it – plenty of other review sites out there for your reading pleasure.


  5. @Darkheart

    Very well said, but I prefaced my review with my exposure to the book just so it would make things clearer. I never said I didn’t like it or wasn’t impressed with it, I just I wasn’t “a die-hard devotee of the book.”

    It’s been brought up here on the site before and I’ll say it again – regardless of the source material a movie is based on, the film should stand on its own as a piece of work. Reading a book should not be a requirement prior to watching a film. Sure, it can enhance (or sometimes, take away) enjoyment of the movie, but you shouldn’t have to read the book to “get” the movie.

    And your explanation for Dr. Manhattan’s nudity finds itself at odds with the fact that for part of the book/movie he DID wear something to cover himself.


  6. So saw the movie read the book. to be honest it was lame. it didnt really feel like it was paying homage to the book it felt like it was using the book as a backdrop to set up the movie. A lot of important elements from the book where missing. the death of the first nite owl. the riot near the end of the movie. the SQUID!!!! The reason for the mask on rorash like why did it move like that didnt zack think people would ask that??!?!?!

    in terms of special effects and shear wow factor it does the trick but in terms of story telling it fell far short. i am sure a lot more people would have been drawn into it if it had more background story as it was it felt incomplete like walking into a middle of a conversation. and being asked for an opinion. those of us who have read the book i think felt cheated people who havent read the book are left wondering what the hell happened. there is no real set up as to how they find its veditt who is responsisble for it. apart from some very vague clues. the scene in the hall at veditts office he is never speaking to lee iokoka!?!?!?! its his secrtery that takes the shot!!!! anyhow thats my two cents, feel free to edit any spoilers.

  7. 1 of the worst films i have ever had to sit through. normally i love sci-fi and fantasy genre. but this really went no-where or entertained me. me and 6 of my friends couldn’t even handle the last 40 min and walked out an i personally have never done this before. a real shame because the build up and hype was massive. true and total let down

  8. Vic I agree 100%, I was not drawn into the film at all, in fact at the end I was wondering, man is this almost over yet, that’s a BAD sign and I hardly every do that. This movie had everything I normally would want in a movie, but it just lacked something, maybe feeling? I do know that I didn’t really care if they all did get blown up if that says anything about the disconnect this movie had with me.

  9. PS I wish people would stop calling this a super-hero movie, I don’t think it embodies anything that a super-hero movie typically does, or break any ground as to where a super-hero movie should go in the future.

  10. PPS I also didn’t seem to notice Dr Manhattan’s nudity nearly as much and people are noticing it, I did think that the actors around him (the janitor for instance) didn’t seem very awed or scared or anything about him, they were just there lol. You’d think they would react to seeing him differently.

  11. PPPS This movie almost reminded me of watching a foreign film, like there’s something I don’t get, like I feel watching a Chinese or French movie since Im not Chinese or French I don’t get some of the story or something you know, just a fleeting thought.

  12. This is DEFINITELY the Cloverfield of 2009, but instead of whining about shakycam, boys must duly register their shock, Shock! at seeing a blurry blue glow worm.

    Okay there’s more to it than that–I think most of us agree that the pacing was not great, and many agree that the music could have been better.

  13. @Sylars Hunger…

    I agree that this is the “Cloverfield” of 2009 – that was another dreadful movie that had a painfully boring beginning, and left me thinking “what the hell happened?”

  14. I loved the movie i saw it open night i would recomnd it to anyone out there and great review i loved it =)

  15. Saw the flick. Was pretty good but lacking on some level, can’t quite put my finger on what though. The main things that bothered me was why the hell they couldn’t force Dr. Manhattan to wear that speedo for most of the film. Not being prepared for an unmasked Rorschach. The cheesefactor during the Silk Spectre II Night Owl II scene (you know what Im talking about). Other than that good film but for me didn’t live up to all of the hype.

  16. My review is coming soon. :D

    I’ve seen this once but don’t want to post my thoughts on it until I’ve seen it a second time (later this week). I just think I should let the knee jerk reaction come to a halt before I say anything. ;-)

    I will ask you all to answer a question though:

    Would the film be as good or any good at all if it weren’t for the book? Would any of us even like it or care if it were just a movie? That’s my question. :)

  17. Great movie, loved it, but I figured I would help clear up the riot scene with the comedian. The last guy he shoots, he shoots with a 203 round (smoke grenade), at the range he fired it, it would be lethal. So I do not know whether he was firing ‘sandbags’ or regular buckshot, but obviously he didn’t care to kill people (he shot a pregnant woman in ‘Nam anyways)

  18. I have not read the novel or the comic book, so I saw this as just a movie viewer. It was really hard to follow, in my opinion. There were so many things that they left open at the end, but usually that just means sequels.

  19. @KEL

    In my opinion, no, this movie would be almost universally panned by critics without the GN to back it up. It would have been considered another ‘Waterworld’.

  20. I am still absorbing this movie after seeing last night (usually a good sign), but I definitely loved it! It’s pacing is a little off, but it is a deep, imaginative story that uses “costumed heroes” as part of the plot. It is not a “superhero” action movie.
    Go & engage your imagination & your brain & you will enjoy it. Lie back & expect to be passively entertained & you will be wasting your money. It is like nothing else you have seen before, which is why these reviews are so polarised.

    Reading these reviews, I have to ask; What sort of society are we, when a blue penis bothers more people than arms being cut off & cleavers being buried in heads?
    Like someone else here said, penii, half of us have them, what’s the big deal? Violence is the perversion, not sex. Rant over.

    See this film, it is not perfect but it is brave, imaginative & very different. Go with an open mind & reach your own opinion. But go!
    Mine is; flawed but still brilliant!

  21. The WATCHMEN comics were a masterpiece: a complex, carefully-crafted, character-driven, multi-threaded murder-mystery that mutates into something truly epic.

    The WATCHMEN movie is a bloody, amazing mess…

    It works best in the moments where it is completely faithful to the source (the Manhattan back-story / Manhattan on Mars and Rorschach in prison sequences are almost perfect) and fails when it diverges. Biggest mistake: Adrian Veidt has been turned into a camp, European Bond villain, sign-posting him as the “bad guy” right from the beginning. The omission of the origins of Rorschach’s mask leaves the audience to assume incorrectly that something supernatural is controlling those ever-shifting ink blots. The violence and fighting is over-the-top and unconvincing (in the comics, Nite Owl II & Silk Spectre II defend themselves and beat the crap out of some would-be muggers – in the movie they brutally murder them!) The film starts by treating the audience like a bunch of dumb Americans, shouting: “Nuclear War!” at us. And the climax, which should have been the slowest, most bloody and traumatic part of the film is replaced with a rapid CGI flash! And there’s other negatives already mentioned above: poor pacing, distracting make-up (Nixon, aged Silk Spectre), soundtrack doesn’t quite fit in several places, etc. The riffs on other movies (2001 during the Manhattan transfer sequence, Apocalypse Now during ‘Nam, even the number 300 is thrown at us) are also very distracting and pointless. Didn’t mind the nudity: I got a penis myself (no, it isn’t blue), and the Malin Akerman soft porn scene could have been longer…

    I bought the comics back in 1986 and ’87 and still consider them classics. This movie is just a chopped-up, dumbed-down version of Moore’s story, but it is still a bloody amazing movie in many moments. And thankfully there’s more than enough of those moments lifted straight from the comics pages to save the movie and make repeated viewing rewarding. Not sure the Director’s Cut will improve the overall experience, but it would be interesting to see another Director’s interpretation of this in a few years…


  22. @ Vulch

    The same question can be asked of Europeans? Why does nudity not offend them as much as decapitation and such. it’s engrained in our culture period. The problem for me was it was kinda pointless, and I’m tired of this its ok for full frontal nudity on a man to get an R rating but full frontal on a woman and they try to slap and X rating on it.

  23. How can it get 4 out of 5!?
    I can see how all of the time was spent on coming up with the amazing affect that this movie is full of, however that’s stoped the director to spent any time on making the characters likeable! And it’s so uncomfortably long!!! 2 out of 5 at most

  24. A very well written review. I have seen the movie. I liked the movie, and like yourself could have done with out seeing the blue penis as often as it was shown. I think you are right in thinking this will become a cult film. It is not destined for the family dvd collection for the kids to watch on a rainy day.

  25. Rorschach was an especially well developed as a character, that guy rocked

  26. I can deal with the nudity, and sexual content. But the violence was just tooooooo much.
    That ruined the film for me.

  27. I dont know why people in america are not liking it i liked it and adore the movie and the graphic noveland dont know why it is not dominating at box office in it”s second the collection were only 18 million and i thinks so audience for this movie is also different at the end this movie remembered as only fan boy movie not a good movie and i disagree that it was bad movie i liked and will go for another show of the movie because i like it .I am a watchmen fan and dying to see this movie for long time doesn”t mind if it is not breaking box office record or people are hating it i would give 4 stars to this movie watchmen rocks .

  28. Gautam, I think a movie such as this can be considered a niche film, meaning it will appeal to some while not to others. Pretty typical love/hate reaction to movies like these.