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“Watchmen” Movie Review

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A couple of months ago, I read the Watchmen comic out of curiosity. The movie was in theaters and supposedly the graphic novel was one of the best ever made. I found the comic to be enjoyable and intelligent at times, but I never achieved a level of extreme fanboyism that many who have read the comic have. And so, sitting down to watch Watchmen (non-Director’s Cut) on DVD last night, I wasn’t grimacing thinking that “oh, they’re going to ruin the comic!” because frankly, I didn’t really care if they did. I was ready to watch a movie and judge it on its own merits. And that’s what I’ll do in this review. Even though I will compare the movie with the graphic novel at times, the movie will be judged on its own.

On its own merits, Watchmen both impresses and disappoints. Starting with the good, the art direction is both colorful and dark, keeping the bright, bold colors of a comic in place while the darkness of most of the locations complements the dark atmosphere of the story. With Zack Snyder directing, you know there’s going to be plenty of slow motion action sequences, beginning right at the beginning of the film where a masked attacker busts down the door of apartment 300 (in reference to Snyder’s other popular movie). Simply put, I think the general art direction overall fits the story perfectly.

The story itself is the reason so many people are such huge fans of Watchmen. Set in an alternate 1970’s and 80’s, normal people who have been dressing up as superheroes and fighting crime are banned under a government law, yet some of this group of vigilantes known as the Watchmen still combat injustice in their own ways – some more violent than others, as in the case of Rorschach, the trenchcoat-wearing man with an always-changing mask that resembles images in the Rorschach inkblot test. All the while, Cold War tensions are running high, due much in part to the existence of Dr. Manhattan, a real “superhero” that gained god-like powers in a scientific accident. When the retired masked vigilantes start getting murdered, Rorschach enlists the help of another hero by the name of Nite Owl and decides to investigate, eventually uncovering a twisted plan far bigger than anything he ever imagined.

I just briefly went through the story in that last paragraph. There are many more characters, and several more plot points – too much to try to describe in this post. The movie also seems to fall into this same problem. The Watchmen story is just too massive and in-depth to thoroughly cover in a two-and-a-half hour film. As a result, all the big plot points are touched on, but only a few go very deep, leaving a viewer with uneven character development. One of the best parts of the graphic novel was how much it fleshed out its many different characters, and how it painted none of them as pure good or pure evil as many superhero stories do with their characters. The same cannot be said about the film, however. I’m glad I had the background Watchmen knowledge that I did, or I probably would have been lost in the long, twisting narrative well before the movie ended. However, I’m judging the movie based on its own merits, so instead of saying “it doesn’t have the depth of the comic”, I’ll say “it doesn’t flesh out all of its characters evenly.”

The visual effects are quite impressive throughout the film, and may very well be the thing that keeps the flagging interest of viewers getting bored with the movie. Fight scenes are much more prolonged than they were in the comic, but I don’t think that’s an entirely bad thing. When the comic focused on story, and the movie can’t possibly focus on it as much, of course it has to give more attention to something else, and that is the visual effects and action. As he did in 300, Snyder throws buckets of blood into every fight scene. Actually, Watchmen the film is far more violent than I remember 300 (or any movie I have seen recently) being. While seeing such extreme amounts of gore and blood sprays may enhance the “dark” feeling of the movie, without the necessary character development the comic gave, it just goes to make nearly all the main characters look like either psychopathic murderers or complete whores when you add in all the sexual content. It’s kind of hard to want to root for these people when they appear to be just as immoral as their enemies.

In the end, I think trying to fit the Watchmen story into a theatrical release was just a bad idea from the get-go. There’s no way to bring the full story to life without skimming over necessary parts, and as a result, this movie is too bare bones to please fans of the comic and too confusing to entertain people who haven’t read it. I saw the theatrical cut, so maybe the lengthened director’s cut has a bit more in the way of the needed character development. That said, I do think that Zack Snyder did just about the best he possibly could with the story, and I can’t imagine a film adaptation of Watchmen in the future with better production values. In the end, it just comes down to the fact that Watchmen is a graphic novel, not a movie. It’s interesting to see the panels come to life with a big budget behind them, but I don’t think this film quite gives the story what it deserves, or what it needs.

Pros: Great art direction and visual effects, slow-motion sequences are handled better than they were in 300, the source material is adapted about as best as it can be

Cons: Characters are not fleshed out equally or well enough

Final Score: 7.7 out of 10

By Josh60502

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