Long time, no review! I figured it was past time to do another guest movie review. So here it is—I decided to tackle Watchmen. Yep, another graphic novel movie, but I couldn’t resist. My sister Michelle introduced me to the comic, and I have to say it’s worthy of the acclaim and awards it has received. The story is detailed and layered, the characters rich and multidimensional. The movie does a pretty good job of telling the story. It’s better than I expected.
The story starts like this: it’s 1985 in a New York in which Nixon is still president and America prevailed in Vietnam. The threat of nuclear war is an ever-present reality. Starting in the 1930s, a group of people took up masks to fight criminals. Other masked heroes followed their example, and they continued until the Keene Act outlawed masked vigilantes. The movie starts just before the death of a vigilante called The Comedian. The rest of the movie focuses on one man’s investigation into that death and what it uncovers.
Watchmen is no typical superhero movie. Only one character has superhuman powers—the rest are men and women who fight crime for a variety of reasons. The “heroes” are fully realized people with strengths and weaknesses. Some don’t seem heroic at all. It’s fascinating, gritty, and unforgettable.
I’ve seen both the theatrical version and the director’s cut. The director’s cut is the stronger of the two. It includes more violence, but it also makes the scene transitions smoother and offers more character moments. Whichever version you view, this movie is not for the faint of heart. The movie includes nudity and sex, though neither seemed overly gratuitous. (Actually, I take that back—one shot was added to the director’s cut, and it seemed completely unnecessary.) The violence is stark and vivid, so much so that there were moments when I had to look away. If you thought The Dark Knight was dark—well, it’s like comparing late afternoon to midnight. Watchmen plunges viewers into a world of midnight black. It is a very dark world.
Despite its darkness, light shines through. The budding romance between two characters offers sweet moments. Dr. Manhattan’s sequence on Mars is another high point.
Most of the characters are well cast. I especially appreciated Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan) and Malin Akerman (Laurie) also turn in fine performances. Matthew Goode offers the least satisfying performance, but in general the cast works together beautifully.
The movie was not a box-office triumph. I suspect some fans wanted an undeviating adaptation, something that’s not possible based on the medium. A few scenes are even stronger in the movie; one notably during the prison sequence when Rorschach enters the men’s room and the door closes and swings open behind him, offering glimpses of the confrontation to come.
On the other hand, traditional moviegoers want straightforward heroes and villains, which you won’t find here, and a feel-good ending. By the time Watchmen ends, the movie doesn’t provide all the answers—it raises questions like this . . .
What makes people become vigilantes?
Does the end justify the means?
Does the end justify the means?
Who watches the watchmen?
. . . and leaves viewers to reach their own conclusions.
So, who watches the watchmen? I did, and I’ll watch it again: 8 out of 10.