Take Watchmen off your shelf, watch the pages as you rapidly flip through them with your thumb, and it will almost be like watching the movie: images rushing at you without conveying the full weight of their significance. There are just too many subplots and too many layers of nuance to properly tell the story in a two and half hour movie. I guess Zack Snyder did the best he could given the limitations of the medium, but it was more like a movie based on the Wikipedia entry on Watchmen than a movie based on the actual graphic novel.
We all know that movie adaptations of our favorite books never live up to our expectations. I can accept this particular adaptation for what it is. If you liked the Watchmen movie taken in and of itself, that’s fine. But if you liked it because you thought it was “just like the comics,” you need to stay the hell away from me.
- Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias – 5/5. I didn’t think he could pull it off. In my mind he was still the cute secret service agent who was chasing Mandy Moore around Europe. He should’ve looked a little bit older but all in all it was a convincing performance.
- Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Edward Blake/The Comedian – 5/5. The Comedian is an amoral, sadistic, cigar-chomping womanizer yet Morgan still managed to portray him as a somewhat sympathetic character. Good job, dead guy from Grey’s Anatomy.
- Jackie Earle Haley as Walter Kovacs/Rorschach – 5/5. Haley got an Oscar nomination for his performance as the town pedophile in Little Children so we knew he had the creepy psycho thing going for him. He did not disappoint. I especially loved the scene where he trashed the shrink’s office and growled, “WHERE’S MY FACE?!?” The only Rorschach moment I didn’t like was the part where he killed the little girl’s kidnapper instead of leaving the knife beside him and setting the house on fire. I don’t see why they felt the need to change that detail. It wasn’t a minor detail – it changes our understanding of Rorschach’s sense of justice.
- Patrick Wilson as Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl and Malin Akerman as Laurie Juspeczyk/Silk Spectre – 4/5. They look like their respective characters, except they’re both too young and too hot. Dan’s a dumpy middle-aged man. When he’s walking around naked you’re not supposed to want to check him out. Laurie’s in her forties and going through mid-life crisis. They’re both shadows of their former selves. Malin Akerman’s most notable role to date is the wife of the redneck freakshow in Harold and Kumar so we weren’t really expecting much from her, but wow. She’s a terrible actress. At no point does she show that she’s capable of any depth and her emotional breakdown on Mars just seemed contrived.
- Billy Crudup as Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan – 3.5/5. Dr. Manhattan experiences time in a non-linear fashion. His perception of the world is radically different from that of ordinary people. Human concerns seem pointless, the morality of human actions escapes him. Over time his emotional capacities decrease. He becomes more and more detached from the world, with Laurie as his only link, until he eventually loses her too. Crudup’s portrayal wasn’t able to demonstrate this great divide between Dr. Manhattan and the rest of humanity. His Dr. Manhattan just seemed kind of clueless. Also, couldn’t they have done something about his voice? Put it through a filter or something. It’s hard to be in awe of someone who sounds like geeky Jake Gyllenhaal. Plats thinks the only reason Crudup was chosen for the role was “because he was the only one willing to expose his peeper.”
- Genuine attempt to be true to the original look and feel of the graphic novel, though they were more successful in some parts of the movie than others. Loved the flashbacks especially, very Golden Age.
- Cohesive story. Smooth transition between scenes. You never feel like you’re missing something or confused about how something came about. Of course that meant sacrificing content, but that’s better than trying to cram too much material into a limited amount of time.
- The soundtrack. Paul Simon and Jimi Hendrix! I loved that scene with All Along the Watchtower. I don’t understand why some people are saying that the music was out of place throughout the whole film.
- The scenes where they fought like old time comic heroes — hook-like punches and all. Nothing artistic or graceful about them, just Bam! Kapow! Zokkkk!
- Confrontation between Nite Owl and Ozymandias. This doesn’t happen in the graphic novel. Nite Owl doesn’t challenge what Ozymandias did; he accepts it. The ends justify the means. But in the movie, it is presented as a moral dilemma.
- No sense of impending doom. The world is on the brink of nuclear destruction but for some reason you don’t feel the direness and urgency of the Cold War-esque situation.
- No crescendo. There’s no build up and no climax. By the middle of the movie I was already bored, and remained so all the way till the end.
- Laurie and Dr. Manhattan’s conversation on Mars. This is actually one of the best parts of the the graphic novel, but it had nowhere near the same impact in the movie. The scene felt awfully weak, partly because they whittled down the dialogue too much, party because the actors weren’t very good.
- Nite Owl and Laurie’s fight scenes in the alley and the prison corridor. Too smooth and too choreographed. It felt too modern, not at all the way I imagined they would fight. I had in mind something much grittier.
- Awkward talkie scenes. There were several in the movie but the first one that comes to mind is the one between Nite Owl and Rorschach in Nite Owl’s lair after Laurie and Dr. Manhattan teleport to Mars. Rorschach’s being a pain in the ass. Dan goes, “Why do you gotta be like that, man?” Rorschach goes, “You’re a good friend, Dan.” Dan goes, “I’m sorry man.” And this whole time they’re just standing awkwardly in front of each other and the camera angle doesn’t change. Is it because in the graphic novel that conversation takes place in only one frame?
- The ending. Some people argue, who cares about the squid? The same effect is achieved: a threat to humanity unites humanity. But I disagree. I think that the fact that the threat to humanity came from humanity should change the outcome. The squid is neutral; Dr. Manhattan is not. The US created Dr. Manhattan. He was their most powerful weapon and he backfired. This resulted in massive destruction and loss of life around the world. Why should their mistake unify the nations of the world? Why would Russia or anyone else be rushing to embrace the US just because they suffered casualties too? I think human beings need to be confronted with something larger than themselves, something completely removed from them and totally beyond their known universe (e.g. aliens) to enable them to rise above their small-mindedness.
Conclusion: I knew it was going to be a let down but it was still worth watching. 3/5 stars.