Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Review of Watchmen

I had doubts about an adaptation of Watchmen into a two and half-hour film. Alan Moore’s 1986 graphic novel is THE classic in all of comic-don, it is the holy grail of comics. Turning it into a movie is just worrisome for fans like me.

The plot is the same. Set in an alternate history where costumed crime-fighters really existed, a former superhero called The Comedian was murdered. His former teammate, the masked vigilante Rorschach, investigates the murder and believes there is a plot to kill off retired superheroes. However Rorschach is a borderline psycho and even his former teammates don’t really believe him. All this is set against a backdrop of nuclear Armageddon as the USA and USSR inches ever closer to nuclear war. As Rorschach investigates the murder, he uncovers a mad plot to save the world from itself.

To give director Zack Snyder credit, his film adaptation is faithful to the source material. At times it was a shot-for-shot remake of the comics like Sin City but that in itself is a problem. Watchmen is a comic series that just doesn’t lend itself well to any other medium outside comics. There’s no thought bubbles in the movies; flashback sequences doesn’t work as well in movies as in comic books; these are among the more obvious differences.

However Zack Snyder did try his damm best. While the movie is nowhere near the classic, it is still a highly enjoyable film. The casting was excellent. Jeffrey Dean Morgan did a good job as The Comedian. The Comedian is a monstrous thug who just happens to be on the side of the government, but Morgan managed to captures the character. The Comedian may be a thug but he is also insightful and could see the world as it truly is.

Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach was another excellent choice. His scenes as Walter Kovacks were brilliant. His scenes in prison were good while his stand against Doctor Manhattan in the end of the film was the best scene in the movie. Rorschach was conflicted as keeping to his own personal code could have plunged the world into nuclear war but he was a man that does not comprise. For the greater good, Doctor Manhattan had to do what he did and Rorschach knew it. Haley nailed the scene beautifully.

Billy Crudup had the unenviable job as Doctor Manhattan. Acting as a godlike being that show little outward emotions, Billy Crudup still managed to capture the character as a being that knows he is slowly losing his humanity but is unsure if that is a good or bad thing. Crudup had to do this under tons of makeup and CGI but still managed to get the job done.

However, I didn’t get some parts of the movie. The most obvious change was the attacks at the end. In the comics, the trick was make the world believe that there was a greater enemy out there in space and that the only chance the world has is if we unite and work together against this common outside threat. In the movie, the alien threat became Doctor Manhattan. This change just does not work.

I can’t understand why Snyder changed it. For decades, Doctor Manhattan was THE nuclear deterrence of the US. He was even used to win the war in Vietnam. If your cities were destroyed by America's ultimate weapon, would it not make sense that America is the one who attacked you? Why would any country in the world believed that America is NOT responsible for the actions of Doctor Manhattan? Hell, if you consider that the US and USSR are at the very brink of war, surely the Soviets will shoot first and ask questions later. I know this is a superhero movie but thinking of it logically, the change just did not make sense.

Another problem was the finale of the movie. When I read and realized Ozymandias’ plot in the comics, my jaw dropped. The sheer scale, ruthlessness and success of Veidt's plot was amazing but I did not get the same feeling in the movie. Maybe it’s because of the change in the plot to Doctor Manhattan, or it could be that I know of the plan already but there just wasn’t the awe-inspiring amazement I felt when I was reading the comics.

So it’s not perfect, but it’s still an enjoyable ride. After so many false starts, as a fan of the comic I was glad that I finally get Watchmen come to life.


Anonymous said...


Hage said...

i believed that the Doc M frame up was just as good as the squid from another dimension. the pacing was well done and i didnt feel that the change shortchanged the fans at all. all the director wanted was to give a more watchmen-oriented movie.

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Ghost said...

The squid may sound stupid, but it's still an outside threat against Earth. Dr.M is a US weapon.
As the US and USSR were on the way to war already, the Soviets would have shot their nukes at the US the moment they discovered Dr.M was the one who destroyed their cities.

Packrat said...

When you have a "godlike" figure within the movie, the next logical step for the character would literally be to play god. And that (imo) is what made the Dr Manhattan threat a whole lot more credible. What if the ONLY super-being in the story decided to step up to the role of "god" on earth. The vengeful god of the bible that punishes people for stepping out of line. Would that cause the nations to behave?

I think that Snyder did his best with the material that he had. The "alien menace" storyline worked well as a comic in the 80s. Wouldn't have worked as a threat in today's day and age. (Or it would just have taken too much time to explain)

Ghost said...

Dr.M is a known US weapon. If Soviet cities were just destroyed by a weapon from their hated enemy, would it not make sense for the USSR to fire their nukes back against the US immediately?