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.

watchmen comedian window Watchmen Review
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.

dr manhattan Watchmen Review
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.

adrian veidt Watchmen Review
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. Overall, the movie was pretty good.

    My problems with it (I know I may sound like a nitpicking fanboy but please hear me out :P ):

    That it didn’t inlclude “everything” that was in the book (not talking about Black Freighter or any of the excerpts and interviews and other information). :(

    That they added a bunch of crap that was unnecessary and that wasn’t in the book AT ALL, specifically amping up the gore (I’m thinking of Rorshach’s cleaver into the man’s head scene and the man’s arms being sliced off) and putting an explicit sex scene in the film which had no business being there, the way the book did it was just fine and would have worked fine on the screen. Also all the uses of the “F” bomb. That was NOT in the book at all, altho it isn’t a major issue compared to the others I suppose, but they could have done without it for the book’s sake. :(

    Malin Akerman’s acting. She was poor for most of the movie except maybe towards the end. :(

    Dr. Manhattan’s voice. He should have sounded like Carl Lumbly’s Martian Manhunter on the JL/JLU cartoons or something like it. :(

    The movie should have been closer to the book, especially the psychologist sequence, they took too much away and tried to cram too much into the time allotted, which actually made it feel “long” (for the uninitiated at least), believe it or not, and ultimately resulted in not getting regular movie goers interested enough to care about the film, and most importantly took away the impact of the story, IMO. :(

    Changing the ending. They should have used the giant squid. It would have been so cool to see a giant Cloverfield type monster in NY, and they could have made it really scary. :(

    The way the songs were placed in the film. It was just weird. The Comedian’s death should have been complete silence, sans the man with scripture reading and the rain. :(

    The Mars scene was terrible towards the end when it should have been awesome. I was really looking forward to that and I was rather disappointed, mostly due to the way it was setup and some acting and voice issues. :(

    Again, I really disliked how they had switched and really tweaked some of the dialogue for some characters (examples in later posts). :(

    Dr Manhattan should have had that scene with Adrian at the end of the movie before he leaves like in the book. :(

    Was it just me or did it seem like Carla Gugino’s Silk Spectre was flirting with the Comedian before he tried to rape her? Maybe it was her acting, but that scene should have been more “scary” instead of having the sexual undertones (that Snyder said he was trying hard not give it) that it did. :(

    Speaking of Ms Gugino, the scenes with her as an old woman were also terrible. I just didn’t buy it, it was campy as Vic said. :(

    ^ Most of those reasons I listed are why I think most “non comic” people will not know what to think of the movie and why they will probably not get it. If it would have been EXACTLY like the graphic novel just in movie format people would have liked it better, IMO.

    Now onto the things I did like :) :

    Jackie Earle Haley as Rorshach. He was EXCELLENT, altho I’m not sure why they had him go with that particular voice. It reminded me of Bale’s crappy Batman voice mixed with Michael Chiklis’ Thing voice from the Fantastic Four films when I heard it in the trailers originally, but I got used to it over the course of the film, and he was better than both Bale and Chiklis as his character and at being understood. :) Haley’s performance was perfect. :)

    Jefferey Dean Morgan’s Comedian. Guy did GREAT, he is also a great actor. I’d say he did the character justice. One of the highlights of the film for me. He was really violent and despicable but not completely unsympathetic. :)

    Patrick Wilson’s Nite Owl. He was exactly how I read him in the book. He did really well. :)

    Matthew Good as Ozymandias. Sure, I wish they’d have built him up more, but I really liked him as Adrian. He acted really sophisticated and it seemed to me as though his mind operated on some other plain, and that was good. I also really liked the quasi-german accent. That was a really cool take on him. I loved how powerful he seemed at the end. It makes perfect sense that the world’s smartest man would be aware of techniques that would allow him to withstand all sorts of punishment and dish it out as well. He was brilliant. :D

    Despite the voice problems, I felt Billy Cruddup’s performance as Dr. Manhattan was overall very good. Just not what I had expected or visualized Dr. Manhattan as sounding. I liked his Jon Osterman, although we didn’t see much of him. :)

    The enormous attention to detail was SWEET. :)

    The movie was visually stunning. :)

    The action sequences (not gore) were ALL GREAT. There were just so many that blew me away, too many to list in this post and talk about. I loved how powerful the superheroes seemed, especially at the end, even tho they didn’t have powers (excluding Manhattan). That’s actually how non powered, human superheroes are depicted in most comics, at the “limit” of human endurance if you think about it, even they still do seemingly impossible things, and it was cool to see that on film. The film is worth seeing just for that. :D

    The costumes were great, and very close to the books for the most part. I hope other filmakers will take note of that (Batman, hint hint). :)

    The special and visual FX were also great. :)

    The old school superheroes were awesome. Loved that. :)

    The opening credits montage sequence was very cool, I liked that very much. :)

    The film’s original score was good, ( :) ) even tho we didn’t hear much of it, much to my dismay.

    I appreciated all the effort that was put into the film, and that they TRIED to let the film play out, and kept it over two hours. I look forward to the additional fifty minutes of footage in the extended edition. (BTW, does anyone know if the 50 minutes of unused footage included in the extended version of the film is actual live action stuff or is it the Black Freighter sequence? I hope it’s mostly actual live action film footage) :)

    Overall, the film was good, not great, but good, and I think I may like it better over time, but it would have been better had they let it play out the way it needed to be, as it was done in the book. A six hour version would have been phenomenal, although the studio would never have done it. It would have done justice to it (they could have done an intermission). That, or a twelve part series on HBO or Spike TV or even a twelve part “serialized” monthly series at the movie theater (the rebirth of serials maybe? The film may have been revolutionary in more ways than most thought it would. ;-) ) would have been the way to do it, instead of trying to cram everything into a 2 and a half hours.

    Zack Snyder is a great director, visually, he knows what he wants, and that’s great. But that’s ultimately where his talents lie, in stylistic images. I think maybe another director, better suited when it comes to storytelling and characters (who had a passion for the comics, of course), while the film may not have been quite the visual achievement, may have been better for the whole of the film and done a little more justice to the translating the book into a successful movie while staying true to the book (what comic movies need to be).

    I know they tried really hard with this, and I give them an “A” for effort, but if this is truly the best they could have ever have done with this, from now to eternity, maybe it really shouldn’t have been made into a film and maybe, just maybe, Alan Moore wasn’t so crazy when he said that. Maybe some things just shouldn’t or can’t be made into films. The book is, to this day, still unfilmable (sorry).

    Thanks for reading and sorry for the verbose post. Sorry if I misspelled anything. :D

  2. Question: Does anyone think this may have gotten the same reviews The Spirit did if not for the book?

  3. @Kel

    Nicely put – I think your dislikes are some of the reason the movie didn’t go over well with general audiences.

    But compare this to The Spirit? Dude, are you insane? Did you SEE The Spirit? :-P


  4. Thanks, Vic. :D

    No, I actually didn’t see The Spirit yet, I’ll probably check it out on DVD. Your reviews kept me from seeing it in the theater. :p

    I guess it must have been REALLY bad then, lol.

    Didn’t meant to compare it to Watchmen like that, Spirit must have been like Battlefield Earth bad. ;)

  5. @KEL

    Oh man, just the mention of Battlefield Earth, makes me throw up a little inside my mouth…

  6. @Ken


    So Spirit is bad but not quite Battlefield Earth bad? ;-)

    I don’t know if there’s any film as bad as Battlefield Earth. :-P

  7. Funny thing is tho, about B.E., whenever it’s on, it’s one of those things that are just SO terrible that I HAVE to watch some of it. It SUCKS that bad that I’m actually compelled by some metaphysical force to watch. LOL.

  8. Believe it or not I’ve never seen Battlefield Earth. I just heard it was SO bad I never wanted to waste my time on it. :-P


  9. You know Vic, this would be the perfect time for me to play a prank on you and say that there’s something about BE worth watching to get you to watch it, but I’m not that cruel and you’ll never forgive me. I don’t want to get banned from the site so…

  10. Sorry Ken, you wouldn’t be able to fool me on this one. :-)


    This is a summary of audience opinion. It’s worth a gander.

  12. Oh no! Now everyone knows Sylar’s Hunger Continues’ secret identity.

    JC in Chicago,
    (Devourer of Worlds, if not brains)

  13. Definitely not anything close to a good film. People went to see it, and will continue to see it because of all the hype about the movie, and the legal battles with Fox.

    They should have shelf’d it – aside from Rorschach, there’s nothing worth watching.

  14. Behind-
    Well, that’s just dandy, because Rorshach is the main narrator and POV character. So this strikes me like saying Planet of the Apes would have been a suckfest, “aside from Heston”?

  15. I havent seen it yet but I definitely plan on it.. penis or no penis :)
    I want to see Spirit on too, Maybe I will get a chance to rent it. This is my first time on this site…GREAT!!!!

  16. @Deb

    Hey thanks, hope you become a regular. :-)

    And don’t say I didn’t warn you about how awful The Spirit is!


  17. Saw it last nite. Not a comic book/graphic novel fan cept for American Splendor & R. Crumb. It’s just a penis. What struck me was the pacing. Definitely the slowest action film of all time. I assumed they’d gone slower to smack ya with action at the end. Sorta. Loved Haley as Rorschach. He had presence in the 80′s Breaking Away bike film and to see him 25 years later was very satisfying. Awesome quote I’m not in here with you, you’re in here with me. Not superhuman almost like Mystery Men’s Ben Stiller character, he just gets really really mad. And he’s like McGyver, uses whatever’s at hand and makes it work. Glad it’s R cuz a lotta kids coulda waltzed into this and the softcore sex scene and the limbs bein’ cut off are just not for children. Fascinating to envision life with Nixon at the wheel for so long. Imagine 5 terms of Bush. That gives you an idea how the U.S. of this movie got ground down, taking restrictions off of big business and lettin’ ‘er rip. I might go see it again cuz yer right, there’s gotta be lots to yet catch in this densely presented film. Very realistic regarding how life might end up for neighborhood masked vigilantes. Blue man is removing from his humanity and he’s still moved by the girl. Nite Owl II is reminiscent of Batman, left lots of money by his folks and builds/has built? clever vehicle & crime fighting suits and his own urban conceivable batcave. Someone told me Robert Downey Jr. was in the flick and just as the Comedian looked like Javier Badeem he also looked like a made up Downey Jr. especially in Vietnam younger. Unusual. I don’t anticipate this film getting the big bucks at the box office cuz of the very deliberate almost too slow pacing. Cool look tho.

  18. The answer doesn’t lie in between. This movie was awful. I’m talkng worse than Highlander II, worse than Dungeons and Dragons, worse than Mortal Kombat II, worse than Krull The Conqueror.

    This movie is a tri-fecta of shoddy acting, bad directing and a screen play written by someone who didn’t quite get what the comic book was saying.

  19. Hi first time I have read your reviews good points.
    I personally felt that the movie was missing something was extremely long and with all the flashbacks made it very confusing.
    And from the get go it appeared as if, from the camera angles, coming at you style of photography supposed to be in 3D.
    I am sure if it was then Dr Mahattans Penis really would have stood out!
    Great review though Vic and I will look at your reviews in the future.

  20. I watched the movie without reading the graphic nvel first. I think that is the best way to go. I f you read the novel and really were into it, then the movie will probably be a let down for you. This is someone elses interpretation. The movie served its purpose, I think. It enertained the viewer(except the already biased ones). It has far better fight scenes than, most modern movies, lot of violence, sex, depth and intrigue. The only thing that seems kinda comical is Dr. Manhattan’s power. But…I can forgive that to watch the rest of the movie. The soundtrack was great. The soundtrack aided in the movie’s overall tone. I think that the bloggers who talk so negatively about this movie because it doesn’t live up to their unreachable expectations are doing a disservice to the people who could have went and enjoyed it. I stopped listening to professional critics years ago because they just like listening to themselves speak and smelling their own farts. YOu shouldn’t have to analyze a movie to know if you liked it. When you see it the first time how did it make you feel? Did you enjoy it? Then if you want to watch it again to unravel more layers or think critically about it go ahead. But, your first impresion is really whether you like it or not.

  21. I saw this movie 2 weeks ago; never read the comic, nor had I even heard of Watchmen before the movie…Ended up walking out about 1 hr into the flick. I’m definitely not a comic buff/fan, therefore I didn’t really know what to expect. The beginning kept me intrigued, yet the vivid images (to include the gore, sex, and “frontal”) were a bit too much for my taste. My wife thoroughly hated it btw..Anyhow, as if it hasn’t been said before, this isn’t a family movie…doesn’t come near TDK nor Ironman imho (Although I didn’t read the latter, the graphics and acting were MUCH better than Watchmen). Interesting plot (of what I saw at least), but waaay to much fluff to keep me watching. I shoulda read Vic’s review prior to paying $20 for tickets…Will check back here next time.

  22. Yeah I completely agree with the review, there were only three worthwhile characters. Even in the comic book I wasn’t attached to any of the characters, the only ones that seemed to have any depth were Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, and the Comedian. In the movie that connection with those characters seemed to be even more evident. Everyone else seemed somewhat detached and hollow. And being a girl I did like veidt only because of his cool as a cucumber personality and the fact that he was cute, but physically that punk was definitely not strong enough to take on the comedian, far less throw him through a window. If perhaps they showed a muscular figure or even his gymnastics routine to at least show he was athletic.

  23. There has been a lot of comments on this film. Most of them have been praises. The big question is : is this movie worth all these posted comments? The reason why I asked is because I have not seen this Film. So are we talking good like Tarintino good or Guy Ritchie good?

  24. Well, I went to see this without knowing what to expect. Didn’t read any reviews, and the only thing I knew was that it involved some superheroes. Imagine my surprise as I actually watched the movie. Expecting a dull and cliche superheromovie, it was waaaay better than I expected! I’m going to read the novel too, btw.

  25. You people are way too uptight/immature about nudity. Especially male nudity. I see my own dangling junk everyday, and I suspect most of you do too. Why is it suddenly such a big deal when its in a movie instead of a mirror?

  26. It is a horrible movie and i am never goint to see it cause i do not sniff stuff like that, but i like the name of it cause i also like to watchmen!

  27. this movie was sweet you people are dumb its not at all hard to understand. Follows graphic novel to a T like vic said so its truly for the fans. If your not into graphic novels then you prolly won’t enjoy this period

  28. I waited for the film to be released on dvd before I saw and man I’m glad I got to see the director’s cut…I give it a 4.5 out of 5, with running time of 186 minutes I just had to drop it half a point, but other than that the movie was AMAZING.

  29. Matt,
    I hear that on the director’s cut, there is even some full frontal nudity. Is it true?