It's obviously difficult to adapt a beloved written (and, in this case, drawn) work for the big screen — and it’s downright impossible to make an adaptation that satisfies every viewer (or certainly every megafan). I truly enjoyed reading the comic book series Watchmen by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore, and having seen the film adaptation, I don't dislike it. It's probably the best we could have asked for as far as adaptations go. And I know it's useless now to say that the work should never have been brought to film in the first place (though I do feel that way), so now that it has been made into a movie, is it any good? From a fan's perspective I say, sure, it's fine. But I don't have any other perspective to go by.
I have no idea how this movie comes across to someone who has never read the comic book series. I can't even pretend to be unbiased about this — as a fan, just seeing these characters come to life is incredibly exciting. But as a standalone movie, I can admit that it's probably not great. Essentially, it's made for the fanboys (and fangirls) and other viewers may not understand or like it. It's campy, sometimes resembling a silly soap opera, and truthfully I am hard-pressed to remember any distinct images or scenes from the movie, just a few days after seeing it. It's certainly temporary entertainment, and for some it may be frustrating to watch. For more about the movie and my take, read more.
The opening credits (which I got to see at Wondercon, awesomely) are perhaps my favorite part of the whole thing as we hear Bob Dylan's "The Times, They Are A-Changing" and go through a series of slow-motion images of what's been happening politically over the Cold War years, along with images depicting the rise and fall of masked vigilantes in the US. Originally revered as society's helpers, by the 1980s masked crime-fighters have become hated, and people want their good ol' police officers back protecting them. One "mask" is the dark outlaw Rorschach, who still wears a mask of ever-shifting ink blots over his face. Now in 1985 New York City, Rorschach notices that someone has been murdering former masked avengers one by one and he becomes determined to get to the bottom of it. Meanwhile, tensions between the US and the Soviet Union are reaching a boil and nuclear war seems imminent. The movie strings together several different stories of the various former crime-fighters while simultaneously increasing the threat of nuclear destruction within the US-Soviet conflict.
Director Zack Snyder is very faithful to the written work (though he makes some decisions to make certain scenes bigger or smaller, like a particular sex scene that seems to go on for approximately forever). So any real issues one has with the story of Watchmen or with the characters are probably issues with the source material itself and not so much with Snyder's adaptation. That said, even having read the series, the movie is way more violent than I thought it would be. At times it's that cartoonish violence that's easy to take, but some of the gore is startling. In movie form it's just gruesome.
Despite this faithfulness to the material, though, there's a weightiness and a complexity to the written work that doesn't quite come through, leaving many of the scenes to fall flat and empty. The written work is expansive and complicated and multilayered — to pare it all down to a storyline people can understand (even in the lengthy running time of approximately 162 minutes) is an insanely massive task to take on. And in attempting to do so, some parts of the book simply don’t translate well. Dr. Manhattan (a physicist who has an accident in his lab, resulting in his becoming an all-powerful blue, glowy giant being), for example, comes across as just silly and in fact, I found myself at times bored or annoyed with him. His scenes with Laurie are even more tiresome.
Perhaps unsurprisingly (but no less satisfyingly), the best moments come from Rorschach. Aside from being a fan favorite in general, Jackie Earle Haley does a marvelous job making us care about Rorschach and see him as a disturbed man with a strong sense of right and wrong. He's pitiable and a little bit frightening, too. It's easy to root for Rorschach; it's easy for the audience to want to be on his side. We know that he's a bit messed up but somehow all the more likable because of it. And the dark electricity Haley brings to the screen in each of his scenes sets the character of Rorschach apart from the rest.
And maybe I'm easily amused, but the ever-shifting mask he wears is unendingly cool to watch.
See, that's the thing. As a fan, I forgive so much. I don't know how to recommend this movie to the uninitiated — I have no idea what it looks like, or if it's worth the nearly three hours in a movie theater. But as a fan I was going to go anyway, and short of total disaster, I was probably always going to think what I think: that it's cool-looking and super satisfying to see these characters come to life.
Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.