Watchmen (2009)

Action, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Carla Gugino, Malin Akerman
In an alternate 1985 where former superheroes exist, the murder of a colleague sends active vigilante Rorschach into his own sprawling investigation, uncovering something that could completely change the course of history as we know it.
Gritty and visually striking, Watchmen is a faithful adaptation of Alan Moore's graphic novel, but its complex narrative structure may make it difficult for it to appeal to viewers not already familiar with the source material.
  • Warner Bros. Pictures Company:
  • R Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 06 Mar 2009 Released:
  • 21 Jul 2009 DVD Release:
  • $107.5M Box office:

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Get in line now......10/10
Screened FRebruary 23 for Australian Media.

There's no reason for me to expect I was going to like Watchmen. I knew the cast was interesting - Patrick Wilson has made smart film choices that don't rely on or intentionally subvert his good looks (Hard Candy, Little Children); Jackie Earle Haley was icky in Little Children (and I'm old enough to remember him from Breaking Away); Malin Akerman is cute but 28 Dresses and The Heartbreak Kid do not a superhero make; Jeffery Dean Morgan, Matthew Goode - ??? And director Zack Snyder did cool things with zombies in Dawn Of The Dead and made a wild and wacky movie in 300, which totally indicated his third film was probably going to be worth a look, know, whatever...

So they all signed up for Watchmen - based on a comic bo...sorry, graphic novel...that I'd never read and that was coming to theatres less than a year after Ironman and The Dark Knight had redefined how good superhero movies could (and should, from here on in) aspire to be.

That Watchmen has turned out to be the most complex, exhilarating and deeply-moving fantasy film since Terry Gilliam's Brazil surprises nobody on Earth more than me - and, man, did it surprise.

In equal measure, it is a) an inspired vision of an alternate world that echoes but redefines our own existence; b) a subversive yet bracingly humanistic exploration of the role of the superhero in modern literature, c) a supremely adult take on the fetishistic pull of the heightened existence that life as a saviour of society creates, and d) a wildly exciting adventure story that turns normal people into exaggerated victims of their own creation and then back into mere humans.

An exploration of the plot would reveal more vast themes, but at this early stage of its release I don't want to risk lessening the experience for anyone.

I can reveal this - Billy Crudup as Dr Manhattan and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach create characters every bit as captivating (and deserving of Oscar recognition) as Heath Ledger's Joker; Malin Akerman makes an entrance to the world of superhero timelessness that will be the fantasy of every teenage boy, aged 15 to 50; and from the flawless art direction, set design and special effects to a mesmerising soundtrack, Watchmen is a film that revels in the perfection of minor details.

Be warned - those expecting Spiderman-like teen-angst or Fantastic Four-like silliness will be stunned, perhaps not quite sure of what they have found. Watchmen is an extraordinarily mature, risky project for Hollywood to role the dice on, especially given similarly-complex explorations of social collapse and vigilantism (V For Vendetta, most specifically) have failed to do blockbuster numbers.

But Watchmen is something special and deserving of analysis and discussion. As bold an attempt at commercial film-making as I can remember, Watchmen is an undeniably unique movie experience - rich, perverse, violent and resonant.
My favorite movie ever?10/10
For over 25 years now, I have cited Blade Runner as my favorite movie of all time. After seeing Watchmen, I may have to reconsider.

First, I'm glad I went to see the movie alone. I've heard so many comments focused on a blue dick, or the length of the movie, or some other such nonsense, that I'm sure watching it with someone would have been a constant barrage of commentary and complaint. And no, that's not Javier Bardem.

Yes, the movie is long; nearly three hours. But, unlike the dreadfully insipid Titanic, at the end of this movie I wasn't asking for those three hours of my life back. And, as with all such movies, you must be able to look beyond the literal.

Watchmen is iconic and iconoclastic, deconstructionist and revisionist, laden with allegory and allusion. Consider, for example, the character Ozymandias. I'm wondering how many people who viewed the film ever even heard of Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem by the same name. The character even quotes the poem on a plinth in his Antarctic lair. The allusion is amazing. Here's the full quote;

And on the pedestal these words appear -- "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.'

Clearly one must see the allusion to the work, in this case, of a superhero who hopes to leave mankind a lasting legacy, but realizes in the back of his mind that everything is eventually lost in time. Ozymandias was the first poem I ever examined from an expositional point of view, and I was blown away. The use of it in this movie is equally impactful.

Then there is Dr. Manhattan, named, of course, for the Manhattan Project, which yielded the atomic bomb. His character is an allegory for God, and his relationship with man mirrors the apparent detachment with which God sees suffering in the world He created. The deity reference is reinforced often, and one thinks of Oppenheimer's citation of the Bhagavad-Gita, in which Vishnu takes on a godly form and says, "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

In an expository scene in the second act, Dr. Manhattan has a sort of recollection of his life. His account is dizzyingly elliptical, since he does not see time as linear the way others do. This scene has the lyrical feel of my favorite piece of fiction, Alan Lightman's almost unbearably beautiful Einstein's Dreams, and the reference to Einstein cannot be ignored.

But the real beauty of Watchmen is the moral diversity of its superheroes. Each is flawed in different ways, allowing us to inhabit different ethical perspectives, intellectually at least, and witness their consequences. Everything from Rorshach's refusal to compromise, which makes him a doomed fugitive, to the ultimate compromise envisioned by Ozymandias, who can dispassionately evaluate scenarios where millions of lives are sacrificed, calls into question our most cherished beliefs. Where does it leave you? Well, that's for you to decide.

From a purely entertainment perspective, Watchmen is stunning. The visuals are state of the art, and do not suffer from the sort of mental rejection I have for some movies that present too many special effects to swallow at once as reality. And Watchmen doesn't suffer from Hollywood's apparent fascination with camp in comic book movies. Camp works to some degree in Spiderman, since he's a somewhat humorous character to begin with. But the excess of camp rendered the Fantastic Four sequel unwatchable. Watchman proves that superheroes can use more subtle forms of humor, such as irony, without devolving into camp for cheap laughs.

And the music, oh, the music. If you didn't grow up in the 60's and 70's, you will surely miss some of the impact, but don't worry. Even a second hand recollection of such iconic tunes will suffice. I am reminded of the painfully awful Across the Universe, which couldn't even pull together a decent movie built around the greatest catalog in modern music. Watchmen does it in spades.

I LOL'd, I cried. The people in the theatre applauded at the end. I vowed to wait 24 hours before writing a review to see if my euphoria passed. It hasn't.
We All Watch the Watchmen7/10
Let's get this out of the way - Watchmen the movie is not as good as the graphic novel.

Zack Snyder's Watchmen is not your average graphic novel adaptation. Unlike with 300, which was short and sharp and shallow and easy to adapt, the original Watchmen is incredibly dense and, as written, unfilmable. So Snyder did something very smart - he didn't even try. What he did instead was to take the world of Watchmen and rebuild it in a way which made a virtue of this new medium (film) rather than try to cram the graphic novel into a cinematic form.

Nowhere is this approach more obvious than in the film's title sequence. A wonderfully composed collage of images depicts scenes from the universe of Watchmen in a way which is only possible in the movies. In this way, we are subconsciously introduced to a world where costumed heroes are a part of everyday culture and brought, in a stylish and fluid way, from the original days of the Minutemen to those of the Watchmen. This introduction is cinematically perfect and is indicative of the heights which the Watchmen movie is perfectly capable of achieving but not quite capable of sustaining.

Watchen is a brave film for a major studio to make and without a doubt it would not exist in its present form without the success of 300. It is incredibly dark (both in tone as well as shooting style) with events that would be anathema to any other superhero story. The less you know about the story, the better so there will be no spoilers here but suffice to say Watchmen's version of a happy ending is a far cry from the Hollywood norm.

Snyders brings his unique approach to action to bear on Watchmen, expanding on the action scenes in the comic without making it feel too redundant. His efforts are ably supported by the incredibly game cast, excellent cinematography and near perfect visual effects - this film is incredible to look at but also manages to create an entire world in a way which most superhero stories never do. The attention to detail in even the smallest scenes is commendable and the dense flashback structure means the same attention is paid to the presentation of full and complex characters.

Snyder has made a film which is gorgeous to look at, agreeably violent, well written, wonderfully designed and features some of the best small scale action sequences ever committed to celluloid. But, naturally, not everything is perfect. Most of the performances are excellent, with a cast of relative unknowns who manage to distinguish themselves despite constantly competing with overbearing effects and design. Patrick Wilson, in particular, does great work with a difficult role as Nite Owl, while Jackie Earle Hayley is blistering as Rorschach. Unfortunately in a film which could have done with a strong female presence, neither Carla Gugino nor Malin Ackerman make much of an impression, despite having quite a lot of screen time. Synder's musical cues are another bone of contention - often pushing the tone of the film into the realm of parody. And the ending... well let's just say it cheapens the experience in search of the lowest common denominator and the whole package suffers. On a related note, neither of the stories major revelations are handled that well. These moments were genuinely shocking in the graphic novel but are almost glossed over in the film.

Don't get the wrong impression, Watchmen is a good film, sometimes a great film. Snyder has managed to make a movie which is a terrifically well balanced compromise between accessibility and fidelity. That anyone can sit down in the cinema and experience a distillation of the Watchmen universe in just 163 minutes is a marvel. It does not deliver the depth of feeling and connection of the novel but that is more a matter of the differences in the media than a failure on the part of the film.

On its own merits, Zack Synder's Watchmen is a dark and twisted tale peopled with complex characters whose motivations are not obvious even to themselves. It is a solid film, sometimes rising into the extraordinary, and deserves to be successful. This is not Alan Moore's Watchmen but it is a competent extension of the universe into another medium and a worthy cinema-going experience.
I'll be watching the Watchmen. Over and over again.9/10
After months of anticipation, today I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the premiere of Watchmen over here. Together with a friend, who hasn't read the book, we went to Amsterdam this afternoon. Expectations were ridiculously high and I was kinda afraid to leave disappointed, since I wasn't sure how to possibly film the book that people refer to as not filmable.

Zack Snyder appears to have been the right choice to take the job. 300 proved that he has an eye for visuals and knows how to adept a book as faithful to its source as possible, but faithfulness and nice pictures don't necessarily make for a good movie. In order to achieve this he was forced to cut several sub-plots and trim sequences now and then. He made some very smart moves here though, by making up with detail. Every single frame will please fans with in-jokes, or hints at related characters or plots that the unfamiliar moviegoer won't miss. This gives Watchmen the very much needed depth and heart that fans so very much craved for.

The overall story is an exact replica from the book, with every single flashback in place and only 1 noticeable change towards the ending. Much discussed by fans, but I'm sure that only the very worst nitpickers or haters might think badly of this. It works perfectly well, so rest assured, it won't disappoint. The movie begins, like the novel, with the Comedian being killed in a long, tense and action-packed scene that sets the proper mood and makes one long for more, which we get plenty of the next 160 minutes. After this scene comes the brilliant intro montage (with 'The Times They Are A-Changin' in the background), which introduces the Minutemen and helps newcomers to pick up on the story.

Everything that comes after this is in one word overwhelming. Every character is well cast, takes complete hold of your attention and gets the time for a proper and detailed introduction. After watching it, it's hard to tell which hero I liked best. Patrick Wilson is perfect as Dan Dreiberg, Rorschach a joy to watch and you're watching Dr. Manhatting in awe, which makes sense for his character. Also, I'm sure everyone will secretly fall in love with Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman). The suits have been beautifully changed wherever necessary and also have the right effect. The Minutemen look kinda stupid, which is perfect for the superhero parody element of the book. But not only the heroes impress, the fans will have a splendid time recognizing all the smaller characters, such as the news-vendor and the reading kid, or the shrink with his pills.

Although Snyder adapted the book from scene to scene, there are not only passages he had to make shorter, but also those he slightly enhanced. Fights are longer; action sequences leave a bigger impression. He wonderfully uses slow motion effects and fortunately kept the editing at a modest tempo, never resulting in unwatchable quick fights. I heard that the UK rated this 18+, which makes sense given the amount of violence it has. Be it boiling fat thrown over a man or bones broken in the most horrible ways, there's plenty of gore. But the movie also doesn't fall short in nudity. Apart from a short scene involving Malin Akerman, it's Billy Crudup who gets to run around naked showing his digital penis the whole time as Dr. Manhattan. It doesn't distract however, but gives Watchmen something truly adult, very different from the far more gentle 'Knight'.

The special effects are really good, Dr. Manhattan looks awesome, Mars looks like you expect Mars to look and Rorschach's mask remains fun to see from start to finish. Most of the visuals and environments are very colorful and almost drown in atmosphere, a very welcome change from the realism that 'Knight' had. This is simply more fun to watch and impresses a whole lot more. The soundtrack is fun, picking various songs from that period. I'm sure most wouldn't work as well in other movies, but they seem perfectly in place here.

Watchmen is without any doubt the film I was so very much hoping for. A perfect adaptation of the novel is impossible, but this is the closest Snyder could've possibly gotten. His eye for detail will please fans, the visuals are wonderful, the characters intrigue and fortunately he hasn't made any wrong choices concerning the story. The 160 minutes flew by and I can't wait to see this for a second time next week. An astonishing movie that impresses in every way possible. I had a wonderful time.

I won't hold back here by giving this 9.5/10. By the way, my friend who didn't know the book loved it as much as I did.
Stays True to the "Big Joke," But This May Confuse Some.8/10
Before anyone sees this film, Zach Snyder should be given a pat on the back. He did what a dozen directors struggled to do for twenty years: he made a Watchmen movie. It seems unthinkable that anyone could properly put the greatest graphic novel of all time on the screen. But Snyder has done pretty much that.

While it is not Alan Moore's Watchmen, it is the closest thing that anyone else could have put on the screen. Snyder approached the material with enough reverence that fans of the comic will appreciate the film. As Snyder has openly declared, the final act does include significant changes, but the alterations that take place fit better on the big screen than the original ending would have. It works because it cuts down on a lot of the necessary back story which Snyder could not include.

Even though many pages of the book were not included, Snyder did take the time to try and preserve other information by including short "historical" sequences in the fantastic opening title sequence. By this point, viewers will also have had a chance to appreciate the stellar, and time appropriate, soundtrack. Unlike the hard rock recordings the Snyder chose for the background of 300, Watchmen's background fits the tone and mood of most of the scenes. The only questionable choice was the selection of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," not because of the recording, but rather its awkward placement. Some may also question Snyder's inclusion of gore not present in the book. While the comic does include it's share of violence, Snyder did overtly change several scenes to be more violent. These changes, while flashy on film, may disturb squeamish moviegoers. However, changes aside, Snyder has captured the essence of the book and packaged it in a beautiful 2 hour and 40 minute delight. Overall, it is a satisfying film experience for someone familiar with the source material.

But this might be a different experience for anyone who does not know the book. There is a lot to digest, and the overwhelming visuals may distract some moviegoers from the bigger picture. The interaction of these unique characters remains an integral point to understanding this film, and when the book was pared down for the movie, the relationships of the masked adventures became a bit more forced. The best part of the comic was the glimpse of what is "beneath the hood," and we have less of that in Snyder's adaptation. Additionally, the ending, while simplified, is still a bit convoluted.

Fans and those previously unfamiliar with Watchmen should go in with an open mind. Snyder has performed what Doctor Manhattan might deem a miracle, so it may take more than one viewing to truly appreciate this unique adaptation.