Review: Watchmen

A while back, I posted about my belief that the upcoming Watchmen movie would be the best movie ever made. Obviously that was an intentional overstatement for humorous effect, but it DID believe that it would, without a doubt, be the best comic-based movie ever made.

Now that I’ve seen the movie, I realize I’ve either got some explaining to do or some crow to eat.

Not that the movie was bad. No, not at all. It actually IS one of the best comic-based movies around… but ONLY if you’d read the comic first (and liked it). For those who haven’t read the original comic, the movie was less awesome and more confusing and underwhelming. The problem is that the movie is TOO much like the original work. The things that made Watchmen a great (graphic) novel are reproduced faithfully on the screen. Unfortunately, those things don’t necessarily translate into an accessible story on the big screen.

Let me explain.

The things that made Watchmen a great novel:
1) The characters. Great characters are flawed characters, and the original story had some of the greatest. Everyone in this movie is conflicted and screwed up, and the only clear hero… is clearly NOT a hero. The movie presents these characters exactly how they are in the comic. Great job there; no complaints here.

2) The setting. Some serious thought went into the worldbuilding here. It’s set in a world where the existence of costumed vigilantes has caused the world to develop different from our own. In a novel, the reader has time to accept and appreciate how this strange world evolved and realize how its events play in to the plot. In the movie, the exact same world just confuses the viewer. People who’ve never read the novel probably spent more than a few confused moments going “Wait…what?”

3) The point. The novel had a theme… a point to be made about good and evil, human (and inhuman) nature, and about Who Watches the Watchmen. That same point is presented in the movie through the actions of its conflicted characters. Again, great job. But then, most people who go to see comic-book movies aren’t going to see a deeply philosophical work. This isn’t The Hulk. This isn’t Iron Man. This movie isn’t about brightly-colored freaks bashing each other on the head with automobiles (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The comic was not chock-full of action… and neither is the movie. Unfortunately, the previews kinda gave people the idea that Watchmen WAS this kind of movie, probably because that’s the only kind of comic-movie people have ever seen. For that reason, I think the plot of the movie goes right by some people. Sure, they get what happens… but they don’t GET what happens. Get it?

What was wrong with the movie:
1) It wasn’t a movie. It was a live-action graphic novel. Contrary to what legions of fans think, the act of translating a work from one medium to another involves… you know… CHANGING things. Certain things that play well on the page or the stage don’t fly at all on the big screen. The Watchmen movie changed almost nothing. Seriously. Sure, this may SOUND good… especially if you were a fan of the original story. But go ask someone who never read the original story what they thought. The flow of events, while exactly the same as those in the comic, was confusing to people who didn’t already know WTF was going on. There were too many flashbacks. Fine for a comic, but not so great for a movie. The whole Dr. Manhattan origin story (skipping backward and forward through time) was confusing even in the comic! It’s hard for me to say exactly what they could have changed to make it work better without destroying the story… but hey, I’m not a scriptwriter. Yet.

True Moment: The original comic was a 12-issue series. The movie was SO faithful to the original that, at one point about an hour into the film, I turned to the coworker seated beside me and said: “It’s been an hour and they’re only at issue four! At this rate, they’re gonna run out of movie before they run out of comics!”

2) Dr. Manhattan’s penis. ENOUGH ALREADY!!! I swear, they were throwing big blue dick in my face not only at every opportunity, but they were MAKING UP opportunities when they ran out of valid ones! I’m not a prude or a homophobe, but I really do not enjoy seeing THAT much penis in any movie.

2) The music. WTF!? I know a lot of thought went into the soundtrack of this thing. They picked songs that represented the thematic elements and the setting, but it wan’t working for me. From the opening credits to the love scene aboard the Owl Ship… 100% Epic Fail. Every scrap of music needed to be ripped out, burned, and replaced with a proper orchestral schore ala “Batman”. Or music like that Smashing Pumpkins song they used in the preview.

So what did I think of the movie? I thought it was great. The characters were awesome. The action was awesome. I wanted there to be more action, but there wasn’t more action in the COMIC so I’m not complaining. YOU might… but I’m not. There were some truly excellent scenes. Just like the comic, the story being told is a lot deeper than the sum of its events.

Buuut… the narrative style, while true to the original work, was confusing and inaccessible. The characters were a bit more flawed than some people are used to seeing (not a bad thing… I’m just saying…).

The Watchmen comic was great because it was DIFFERENT from all other comics. Likewise, the Watchmen movie is different from most superhero movies out there. Some people will come into the theater expecting to see “Batman.” Most of those people will leave disappointed. But people like me, who went expecting to see the original graphic novel acted out almost page-by-page in live action… we’ll love it!

Something for the non-comic fans. The main heroic characters of Watchmen were all based on characters in DC Comics. No, the Night Owl is NOT supposed to be Batman. He’s actually the Blue Beetle. Rorschach is likewise NOT Batman. He’s the Question. If Rorschach were Batman, the movie would have had a COMPLETELY different ending. And Dr. Manhattan is really Captain Atom, although the resemblance is sparse.

So now that you’ve seen it, what have you got to say?


11 Comments

  1. DarkIcon, March 18, 2009:

    I tried to keep my review as spoiler-free as possible, but it’s hard to discuss movies without talking about plot details. So feel free to do just that in the comments. People who haven’t seen the movie should be aware that, below this post, plot details (including the ending) may be given away.

  2. Chris, March 19, 2009:

    Totally agree, loved the movie (was a big fan of the comic) wouldn’t take my wife to see it, as I don’t think she’d enjoy, or really understand it.

    I liked the ending in the movie, the movie didn’t have time to set-up the same ending as the comic, and I was OK with that.

  3. DarkIcon, March 19, 2009:

    I’m in the exact same position. My wife was kind of excited about seeing the movie based on my recommendation, the previews, and reading ONE chapter of the graphic novel. Plus she has this strange infatuation with ‘the big blue guy’. She hasn’t seen it yet, but I can tell already that she’ll be disappointed. Except for the gratuitous shots of the aforementioned blue guy’s junk.

    I actually like the movie ending better. Actually, the movie and the comic essentially ‘ended’ the same way, but the details of what the main villain was trying to do are different. The movie version is tighter and less out of left field than the comic, with the same result.

  4. nate, March 20, 2009:

    I haven’t read the comic, but I took my 14-yr old son to see the movie. I enjoyed it, and the more I think about it I’ll probably watch it again on DVD. I thought the movie was very deep, and the characters really drew me in. I did get tired of seeing a big blue dick, and figure I don’t want the wife to see it because she’ll realize how shortchanged she is :>)…

    I honestly can’t remember the ending. I remember WHAT Ozymandius was doing and why, but can’t for the life of me remember what happened or didn’t happen to him.

    I do think the movie was a bit more intense than I normally would have let my son see, but he’s been cool about it.

    I hated the sex scene. Too dark, small boobs barely seen, and that flamethrower at the end was just plain stupid.

    A coworker has offered to loan me the comic when he’s done with it, so hopefully I can read it before the DVD comes out.

  5. DarkIcon, March 20, 2009:

    You’ll enjoy the comic, and probably be surprised at how similar it is to the movie. The comic does have some aspects that were left out entirely… they weren’t central to the plot, but they were part of establishing the history and setting of the world. You’ll appreciate just how much work the creators put into this thing when you read those as well.

  6. Chris, March 20, 2009:

    Funnily enough, the flamethrower was right out of the comic as well.

    The impotence scene (before the sex) was great in the comic and the movie. Was almost surprised they kept it in the movie.

    Definetly thought there was a way too much blue cock… we get it, he doesn’t wear clothes.

  7. DarkIcon, March 21, 2009:

    I found the flamethrower hilarious. This was actually a bad thing, however, since the movie in which it appeared was not a comedy.

  8. DarkWizard, March 24, 2009:

    My 15 year old daughter saw the movie with me. She’s never read a graphic novel in her life and she LOVED the movie.

    Now, my son and I, both of whom have read the graphic novel (he’s even MORE into collecting comics than I am) like the movie a lot, but it was too much a simple reproduction of the original for our taste.

    Personally, I liked X3 more.

  9. nate, September 28, 2009:

    I still haven’t read the comic, but my son bought the animated version of it on DVD and I finally got around to watching it over the weekend. In some ways it was better than the movie version. At least it explaine Rorshach’s mask.

    I still can’t remember what happened at the end of the movie version, but the graphic novel ending was cool.

    On the dvd was also a promotional teaser for another animated movie that looks like it’s based on that comic being read at the newsstand.

  10. Kragon, September 28, 2009:

    As for the DvD The Directors Cut to me was a hell of a lot better then the theatrical version with almost 30 minutes of added footage to it. But they still left somethings out that I was hoping that they’d put in, the origins of Rorschach’s mask, and of course Captain Metropolis, him being cut from the movie altogether. If they mentioned him I must have missed it. Will have to back and re watch it.

    But all in all. I love the movie. I was very pleased with it. Well, more pleased then I was with other comic based movies.

    …Ahem, the first Hulk movie and the second Fantastic 4.

  11. DarkIcon, September 28, 2009:

    I agree, the extended DVD put a lot more into the story, making it much more palatable than the theater release. But it’s still over most people’s heads, I think.

    I didn’t have TOO big of a problem with the way the movie ended, but… with all the special effects they put into the rest of the film, I wonder why they didn’t go with the original graphic novel’s ending. They certainly had the ability to pull it off.

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