My review is backwards and perhaps more appropriate a review for 90 percent of the potential viewing audience of Watchmen as 90 percent of movie goers to Watchmen will not have first read the book; and this is a good thing. That is I may be the only person to watch Watchmen and then read the book. In addition, I'm part of the graphic novel collective in that I do know a great deal about comic book characters from the days of the Death of Superman and Batman having his back broken by Bane and the Spider-Man clone saga to the recent Marvel Civil War series. But somehow I missed Watchmen years ago and never had the notion to read it.
There was a lot of hype about this film. To call it ambitious is wrong. It really is an accessible film based on one of the greatest graphic novels ever written and this is the real problem many may experience in trying to enjoy this film; the hype. For instance when I saw the first trailer almost a full year before the film's release it depicted Dr. Manhattan and Silk Specter II standing in a time piece the size of a tall building in what appeared to be a desert. It cut to a nuclear explosion where Night Owl and Silk Specter II were both about to be wiped out. I figured, "Another trailer ruining a plot line". But I was wrong and the hokeyness of the scenes was a mistake in movie reveals if you ask me because in the end, I was wrong about everything I assumed before watching the film. I'll get to that.
What is Watchmen? Why is it so relevant and important to comic book readers throughout time? Watchmen is the first story to analyze and look at Super Heroes from a non-fictional point-of-view. It takes you into what you could call realism of a super hero. It takes an extreme idealistic personality to be one and these types of people are not the type to just 'fit in' with the general public. What would be the implications of actually having super heroes in our society? Have you ever asked yourself, "Why couldn't they just write that Superman flew over to Russia and dismantled all their nuclear war heads (and America's for that matter)." What if super heroes served nations in war? What are the implications of a super hero destroying public property? And yes we've seen that social commentary play out in the Disney Pixar family film, The Incredibles. You could say The Incredibles owes its original idea to stories such as Watchmen. So while you may read reviews stating Watchmen is not worth watching because of its similarities to The Incredibles, the fact is Watchmen was written 20 years prior and was for all intents and purposes the original idea stolen by Pixars writers. You see, Watchmen laid the foundation of what graphic novels (comic books) were to become years to come. It was a groundbreaking story, and hardly for kids. Don't get me wrong the Incredibles is a great story, accessible by all ages but Watchmen is for adults only and it is the original idea from which all others have stolen. If you read The Tick or better yet watched The Tick (1990's fox animated show) you could see the true impact of Watchmen on how other super hero creators wrote their characters. Forgive me Ben Edlund but I couldn't help but think you came to write The Tick after thinking... What if Watchmen were a comedy? The fact is Watchmen is responsible for impacting the way super heroes are written in today's literature.
In reviewing the film, I had little back-story knowledge. I understood that when it was originally written Alan Moore the writer pitched his idea to DC (Batman, Superman publisher) but as some characters were not going to survive the story, he couldn't use established DC characters thus Moore created new ones using traits and characteristics based on some existing character types. Take for instance one super hero named Comedian. I would best describe him as what if The Joker was a super hero not a villain?
Now let's get to just reviewing Watchmen...First and foremost, it is not for kids. It is an "R" rated movie for a good reason. If you take a child to the theater to watch this film you are a fool. The graphic content is absurd and no child should be exposed to it. The sexual content would make any adult sitting next to a child squirm. Having said this, the story works best as an "R" rated film. You can't tell such a complex adult oriented story without going to the level this film has gone to in order to express it.
The story takes place in an alternate reality of "what if". What if we had super heroes among us? What if they served in the military or served specific countries? If they existed, they would clearly age and become irrelevant over time. With so many "what if" elements in play, it is no wonder that in this story Nixon is serving a third term and because the story was written in the 1980's the Russia vs. America cold war was actually quite hot. The proverbial dooms day clock is at 5 minutes 'til midnight.
Without spoiling the movie plot, the story is guided by one super hero (named Rorschach) of uncompromisable values as he begins to investigate the murder of a fellow super hero. In fact they worked together as a team at one time. They took the name, The Watchmen. One by one Rorschach revisits his former colleagues in an attempt to both warn and establish who the killer is of their fallen fraternity member. It's worth noting that Rorschach is played by Jackie Earle Haley. Some may recall he made a name for himself in the 1970's classic satirical social commentary The Bad News Bears.
The story unfolds in an obvious direction but you can't help but wonder what will be the catalyst to impending doom? Now having watched Watchmen and not read it, I had heard the book had different ending. I had also heard the director decided to create a more plausible ending. After seeing it and then having read the book I entirely agree. Keep in mind that the director Zack Snyder was under intense pressure to make Watchmen true to the storyline and vision of its writer Alan Moore. In fact despite Zach's efforts, Alan Moore's disdain for book translations into film caused him to take the position of NOT having his name as writer credited in the movie. Still, director Zach Snyder decided to prove to Alan Moore he would not disrespect his written word or Dave Gibbon's illustration style by creating the most accurate translation of book to film possible. I believe he has. I see no reason for any Watchman fan to discredit this film. But what is best the new ending made the story more accessible to film goers as true comic book readers can accept on printed page any visual the writer and illustrator offers. But movie goers expect perfect special effects, continuity, and most of all plausibility so they can suspend disbelieve and accept what they see on screen. The new ending provides a cohesiveness to Alan Moore's original story that I believe even Alan Moore would appreciate from a good editor had he been handed his story back by an editor to tweak many years ago.
As I alluded to with the reference to the Incredibles, the story takes place during a time when super heroes have officially been banned. Congress passed a law and most but not all of the masked super heroes turned in their tights. Only a couple were excluded as they became tools of the government. Nothing ever stays the same and in the same way these super heroes could not go on forever living behind masks, they also could not go on forever living without them. Watchmen is a story within a story with a number of plot points of which I'd rather not ruin for anyone that has not yet seen the film. This of course is why you are reading this review I hope. The detective story of who killed one of the Watchmen ties all the back-stories of each Watchmen together. Everything culminates into a not-so-obvious ending while honoring the true ending which takes place in the Watchmen graphic novel.
While in the film version some characters don't get enough screen time for you to get an expansive feel for their motivation, you still get a solid feel of where each character is coming from. While some graphic novel enthusiasts may take exception to this flaw as they will see it; don't worry the DVD will be out and that will offer almost an additional hour of story detail. The characters underscore the story in their need to be in costume in order to really lead fulfilling lives. Some comic book readers may also feel the choices in actors for characters may be wrong on some counts such as Matthew Goode as Ozymandias. Some may even argue that characters make too late of an entry into the story on film; but this is a film and you want the viewer to be surprised and appreciate the complexity of characters. Therefore I agree with the director's decision to not show a character such as Ozymandias at his absolute best until the right time in the story. On a whole, this story did not drift far from the book. Many scenes are in fact what appear reenactments of story panels from the graphic novels; almost in tribute to the writer and illustrator. Watchmen works on many levels because director Zach Snyder didn't take liberties with the structure of Alan Moore's vision. For instance did you know that Snyder had to fight with the studio heads to keep the story grounded in 1985 rather than modify the story to take place in current times? It would have meant an entire departure from the original story. This is a true case of picking the right director for the job. He enhanced Watchmen making it more accessible despite the "R" rating. It took a fan of the book to create this film right, but you do not have to be a fan of the book to enjoy it.
Now normally that would be the end of a review for me. But as I mentioned. I read the book after. I advise it if you enjoyed the film. Why? As it does flesh out many unanswered questions and provides plausible explanations to unanswered details in the film. For instance, wonder how Rorschach's mask has moving ink splots? That is answered in the book. The graphic novel is as expansive as it is daring on social commentary too. What makes it more interesting is that these societal issues Moore discusses in the graphic novel were written in the 1980's. Watch Watchmen, and then read Watchmen.