Who Watches the Watchmen? I do.

I have literally just walked in the door after seeing "Watchmen" at the local theatrical establishment and I have a report for you, the loyal viewing public. Both of you. And the report is:

It's good. Very good. The short version is, this was a good psychological super-hero movie, like "Dark Knight" without all the uplifting stuff.

The Good: Excellent production values, solid if unspectacular acting, and an entertaining way to spend almost three hours.

The Bad: Adrian Veidt is way too skinny and weak-chinned, and the script is pretty superficial, not leaving a lot of room for deep thinking afterwards.

The Ugly: The septuagenarian audience surrounding me, all hacking up a lung at the same time. The oxygen tank to iPhone ratio was way too high for comfort, but on the plus side there weren't any children in the theater. Diapers, yes, children no.

More after the jump.

My doubts about this project have been well documented here, but all along I said I'd wait for the actual movie to debut before passing judgment. I'm glad I did, because I was very pleasantly surprised by how good it is. I think Snyder deserves credit for producing a movie that's true to some of the key threads of the source material, while still keeping it relevant to the big screen.

Visuals: Excellent. The production design really came through, creating a consistent and believable world. This clearly was neither Metropolis nor Gotham, nor was it a typical four-color type of city. The costumes were solid, although some of the masks were too thick and looked a bit silly, and I hated Laurie's outfit (Quentin Tarrantino's yellow "Kill Bill" biker suit meets S&M Club). But they nailed "The Comedian" and I even liked Nite Owl's getup.

Acting: Varied from a little weak (Veidt) to excellent (Dreiberg and The Comedian). Rorschach will be the crowd favorite as he gets the most bad-ass moments, but it's Dreiberg's understated humanity and vulnerability that are the heart of the film.

Slow Motion Count: Too high, but not overly so. One more Matrix-like hair flip from Laurie would have sent me over the edge, but luckily that disaster was narrowly averted.

Adherence to the Comic: A misleading category. This is not the book. And the book is not the movie. You always run a risk, when adapting previously written material for the screen, of losing what made it special while simultaneously failing to make a good movie. I think Snyder's walked that difficult line well here, turning in a film that retains enough of the threads from the comics while managing to give us something appropriate for the big screen.

Having said that, allow me to diverge into a bit of introspection here.

I've seen other reviews that argue "Watchmen" was relevant because it brought gritty realism to comics, or because it leveraged the cliches of the super-hero genre to dismantle them, or that its only relevance was as a reflection of the nuclear angst of its time.

I say, hogwash.

"Watchmen" the graphic novel is about powerlessness. Its brilliance is in tying that to costumed adventurers, who in American pop culture are the very symbol of raw power. And yet Moore bookended his story with Dr. Manhattan on the one hand -- a being of literally God-like powers -- and Dan Dreiberg on the other -- a man who is literally impotent. And yet both are, in their own ways, powerless. Throughout the story we run into the theme again and again, looking at these people who have gone to such extremes to impact the world and yet who, ultimately, are powerless against it despite their every effort.

Impotence in the face of Fate is the very hallmark of humanity, and yet these people have surrendered that very humanity in their quest to prove that they matter.

What matters is that the costumes and the powers serve to highlight that dichotomy. Getting hung up on the grit and the grime and the anti-hero aspects is to miss the cake for the frosting. I've read several reviews that airily proclaim that since all of the innovations Moore tried to introduce with "Watchmen" have become the de facto language of the entire genre, the work is no longer relevant except as a relic of its time.

But while the recent "Batman" movies also have realistic costumes and conflicted heroes, they're still not "Watchmen". Because "Watchmen" was a work of art, a deeply-layered, nuanced piece of fiction that is no more "about" a super-hero murder and villainous plot than Shakespeare's "Hamlet" is "about" ghosts.

Zack Snyder's movie misses that mark; it's "about" being a psychological study of people who dress up as super-heroes, wrapped up in a tights-and-cape shell. And that's ok, because on its own that made for a fine, entertaining film. I hope those who haven't read the comics yet will go back and do so, because I think they'll enjoy them. But don't mistake the one for the other -- each stands on its own, and that's exactly how it ought to be.

So long story short, whether you've read the original book or not, I think you'll probably enjoy the movie. Hats off to Snyder, he did a good job with a project I frankly thought was unfilmable.

25 Responses to Who Watches the Watchmen? I do.

  1. CARR10N says:

    My wife and I went to the midnight showing and here is my take. It was complete and utter crap. The change in the ending was just downright horrid. The last 45 min was not Watchmen, but a new story with Watchmen characters. 1/3 of the theatre up and walked out cursing the movie the minute it veered off course. Unlike with Dark Knight where the audience erupted in applause after Watchmen, everybody left confused and disappointed. The only plus side of the film is this, my wife, who has never read the book, now is looking forward to reading it to understand where the movie went wrong.

    In short, thats three hours of my life I want back with interest.

  2. Jeff Hebert says:

    I actually liked the alternate ending. I thought it made more sense than the original one, and tied up the whole idea of “who watches the watchmen” very well. The last third of the movie, to me, was just condensed — they didn’t leave out anything I thought was super important.

    Except for the ending, of course, which admittedly is quite different. I think I actually prefer it to the way the comics ended, to be honest.

  3. Lyogi says:

    I also enjoyed the alternate ending. I thought it fit better with the rest of the story.

  4. Brad says:

    Honestly, I have to agree, the new ending really was a lot more consise and easy to grasp for the general moviegoer and a really nice twist on the Doc’s character for the fans.

  5. Danny Beaty says:

    “Watchmen” is awesome, but I hate that Rorschach was killed. He was one mean s.o.b.! It’s a great movie, and everyone should see it!

  6. nate says:

    with the removal of the “tales” part, the original ending wouldn’t have made nearly as much sense to the movie audience. On another note, am i the only one who thought the soundtrack was slightly invasive at some parts of the film?

  7. Jeff Hebert says:

    I’ve read a lot of reviewers saying the same thing about the soundtrack, Nate, so it’s not just you. I’m generally not super aware of that kind of thing, but particularly with “99 Luftballons” or whatever I was jarred a bit.

  8. haz says:

    I actually loved the end, though I look forward to reading the book and seeing the differences. I liked that they broke every comic book movie rule and did it in such a way that, instead of being jarring, it was thrilling. Considering the way books are generally have far more layers than their movies, I’m very excited over reading Watchmen now.

    Also, I’ll agree that Laurie’s costume veered too far into hooker territory, but aside from that, the costuming was better than the average superhero movie.

  9. Eric says:

    “Who Watches the Watchmen? I do.”
    Didn’t somebody post a comment saying people would say things exactly like this?

  10. Jeff Hebert says:

    @Eric: Probably, I’m not very original πŸ™‚

  11. The Imp says:

    I thought it was fantastic. The ending made a lot more sense in the context of the setting, it was well-conceived, and well-executed.

    I actually thought the soundtrack was one of the high points of the film; the songs were perfect for their particular spots.

    The greater emphasis on the alternate-history aspect (as opposed to the graphic novel) was great, although I do wish they’d shown a little more how this world diverged from ours – the fuel cell cars that Doc Manhattan came up with, for instance, although you do see them (and the airships) in the background.

    And re Laurie’s costume… what’s not to like there for any hetero male? πŸ™‚

    All I can say is… damn, they got it right. I think I’ll go see it again tomorrow.

  12. Cavalier says:

    I agree slow-mo was overdone. All the fight scenes felt long and overly gory. They seemed to think “if we’re going to hurt people, lets do it a lot *and* have bones sticking out.” You would think by the tenth attacker people would run away.

    I realize they had to change the ending, but can’t see what it accomplished. There is no defense against him, so little reason for rapprochement. Plus, how long would peace last once Dr. M disappears. Or was it supposed to be a taste of Armageddon (ST:TOS reference), pushing people towards peace once they see the true price of war?

    Silk Specter II’s costume was probably better than in the comic, and fit her background as the daughter of a publicity hound/pin-up model. I think the costumes looked very good overall.

    Ozy did look rather weak and thin, though.

    The music seemed appropriate, but did come to the fore at several points.

    Overall I think a good job was done on this adaptation. I was afraid the internal conflicts would be sacrificed for wire-fu, but we got a glimpse in to the characters and there motivations. Good adaptations are like Cliff Notes – you get the basic ideas but lose the depth.

  13. Runt82 says:

    I just got back from the Watchmen movie, and my feelings are mixed at best. Since I have just read the novel 2.5 times since getting it at Christmas, I feel I unfairly watched the movie with the biased notion that it would be as ground-breaking as the book. Plus, I was making mental notes throughout the movie of certain dialogues that were out of place. The more I think about it and digest it, Jeff is right. I shouldn’t be viewing the novel and the movie as the same entity.

    This being said, I actually did like the new ending for the movie. For the story that was played out in the movie, having Jon appear as the bad guy makes perfect sense. It would have been too daunting to try to keep the ending from the novel, because if they had showed every single detailed moment that led to the novel’s outcome, it would have been a 5-6 hour movie instead.

    The only real thing I’m aggrivated about is Bubastis. I understand that the genetically-engineered beast needed to be shown for the hardcore fans, but he/she/it (can’t remember gender right off hand) didn’t belong at all in the movie’s adapted storyline.

    I think I still need time to let it digest, and I think by watching it a second time, I’ll know where my true feelings lie. But the more I think about it, it’s probably a better movie than I’m giving it credit for right now.

  14. Lyogi says:

    I took the ending as, we all needs to get along and play nice, or else Dr. M will come punish us again. It doesn’t matter that he is gone, only three people in the world know that, everyone else will assume he is just silently watching from mars.

  15. DJ says:


    That would be me who posted that! πŸ˜€

  16. nate says:

    what i meant with the soundtrack wasn’t just the song choice, i think the volume of the music relative to the action and speech was a little off, in the sense that it was loud enough that it actually distracted me a little from what was going on. A good example is the first fight scene

  17. HalLoweEn JacK says:

    WHile I don’t have any concern’s about the changed ending and agree that it fit the style of the film more appropriately, I really was looking forward to seeing the reaction to the film’s wonderful 9/11-esque conspiratorial type ending.

  18. The Imp says:

    @Runt: I agree about Bubastis. It was nice that they included her(?) but they could’ve used a little explanation. Maybe they could’ve shown her and had Adrian make a little reference to her as ‘one of the many benefits of science’ during the conference where he’s attacked. As it was, those of us who’ve read the book knew what was up, but I heard more than one person in the theater go “WTF was that?” and I can’t blame ’em.

  19. J. Tester says:

    The movie was very good, in my opinion. It maintained good continuity with the book (taking into account, this is a movie and not a book or graphic novel) up until the end. I have to agree with jeff on this one, too: I liked the new ending more than the comic’s. The action sequences were well-choreographed, epically brutal and very fitting with the overall style of the book/setting, too. If I had to say there was something “wrong” with the movie, it would be the soundtrack. In some places, the soundtrack was rather laughable (I’m thinking of the romp in Archie, and I am still laughing at that scene, even now), but even then, I think it was kind of the movie-makers making light of the overt gratuity in which they portrayed that “wholly human” encounter.

  20. CARR10N says:

    My biggest issue with the ending, was that I still feel it was kind of thrown in there. I understand it had to be changed for the movie and I dont exactly fault them for that. It would have been better if they had preserved some of the scenes with John to make you actually see where humans would feel threatened by him. As far as John watching them…nobody actually knew he went to mars, as far as the non hero community. There is no feel that were really afraid of him so the “attack” felt very random. Simply leaving in the scenes of the police strike riots and preserving his mass teleportation of reporters during the TV interview would have given an image of a more a public fear of him making the ending fit a little better.

  21. Danny Beaty says:

    A thought: Since Dr. Manhattan has godlike powers, he may be able to resurrect Rorschach. Let’s say Rorschach’s journal is published, resulting in the downfall of Ozymandias. Dr. Manhattan could hear/see/sense what has happened, realize there’s no reason for Rorschach to be dead, and return to Earth and bring back Rorschach.

  22. collex says:

    I liked the ending. It preserved one important aspect of the comic ending that everybody seems to forget: the peace won’t last, even without Rorshack journal. Sooner or later, people will realizes that the aliens (or Doc. Manhattan, in the movie’s case) isn’t going to come back.

    And Jeff, I tought the movie was going to sucks?(LOL) Happy to see you changed your mind.

    Also, for all those interested in a good Watchmen-related laugh, you should watch these two videos on Youtube : Saturday Morning Watchmen and I’m a Marvel I’m a DC: Rorshack vs Wolverine.

  23. Darkton says:

    I wonder…if the Watchmen film does really well, will it, combined with Dark Knight, create the same impact that The Dark Knight Returns and the Watchmen comic had on the comics industry?

    Just a thought.

  24. godOfPLague says:

    I heard they changed the scene where rorshach burns the child murderer alive to one of him more or less hatcheting him to death… if they did that would be a shame.

  25. Xstacy says:

    I had two problems with the ending. 1) If people aren’t scared enough of mutual assured destruction to not bomb each other, why would they be scared of *someone else* basically bombing them? 2) Is the rest of the world really going to forget that Dr Manhattan gave his total loyalty to the US before moving to Mars? How long until they notice the US only lost a major city and *not* its capital, like the rest of the countries?

    Well, okay, actually there’s one more. 3) The fact that Dr Manhattan had moved to Mars was on the evening news. How did they know? And won’t they be able to tell (using the same method) that he isn’t there anymore?

    As for the music, I think it was *meant* to aid in the storytelling, not stay in the background. While I had to laugh at the scene on Archie, there’s little doubt that Hallelujah is, indeed, an accurate description of what Dan (and maybe Laurie, too) was feeling. Likewise, I think 99 Luftballons was supposed to give us the idea of what Laurie does for Dan, emotionally speaking, since she isn’t really show-stopping for the audience at large. I dunno, just my interpretation. But looking at it that way made the music work for me instead of distracting me.