Watchmen Review

by Ed Lau on March 8, 2009


Let me preface this by saying I did not read the original graphic novels prior to watching the movie. I say this because undoubtedly some massive fan of Watchmen is going to come here and tell me how wrong I am. This always happens when someone who has not read the comics or the book or played the video game, etc. writes a review and incurs the wrath of millions of fanboys/girls. Okay, let’s not kid ourselves here…just the fanboys.

Watchmen is based on a 12-part series of graphic novels from 1986 which take place in an altered reality where the Americans won the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon is elected thrice. Oh, did I mention there is a group of masked vigilante crimefighters around and no one seems to think it’s absurd? The films opening montage shows various historical events and how our “heroes” are involved in them. For example, one is on the moon with (presumably) Neil Armstrong, another is in the grassy knoll and so on. The story begins with the murder of The Comedian, an costumed hero probably approaching, if not already well into his 60s. After a brutal and decently choreographed fight between The Comedian and an unknown assailant, the former is thrown through a plate glass window to his death, beginning the events of the movie.

I should probably also mention that although they are referred to as superheroes, many of the main characters are only human. Sure, they may be extraordinarily fast, smart and good with their fists but all within the realm of human limits. The only exception is the big, glowing blue guy by the name of Dr. Manhattan, who exists outside of time and space. He is the only one of the Watchmen with actual powers, able to bend matter and such at will. Other characters include Nite Owl (sorry, but this guy is Batman without the charisma), Ozymandias, Silk Spectre and fan favorite Rorschach. Again, while they are able to fight a gang of henchmen without breaking much of a sweat, other than Dr. Manhattan, they aren’t supermen.

With America facing nuclear war with the Soviets and increasing public outrage, President Nixon had outlawed vigilante justice prior to the events of the movie, forcing many of the masked heroes into retirement or worse. The mystery surrounding The Comedian’s death prompts Rorschach to investigate and brings most of the former crimefighters together again to find out who wants them dead.

Let me say that those of you expecting to see a superhero movie in the same vein as, say, Spider-man are going to be surprised. What makes this movie different from others and I assume the graphic novels so different from other graphic novels is the depth of the story and of the characters. It’s easy to see why this story has garnered so much praise from critics and fans alike. The overall story is a tad confusing at times but is full of so much satire, political commentary and, despite being published and taking place in the mid-80s, modern relevance that this is easily forgiven.

The characters each have engaging, rich personalities and incredibly interesting personal backstories. Although they have skills and prowess probably in the upper echelon of human ability, none of them seem anything more than human. Even Dr. Manhattan, in all his superbeing glory, has a very human quality. He’s much like Superman, who despite being near indestructible, has very real human emotions and struggles. Some characters have absolutely hearth-breaking backstories that remind you that they are mortals.

The film itself is absolutely gorgeous at times and you can definitely see the influence of movies such as 300 and Sin City in the cinematography. Personally, I’m amazed it only cost $120 million to shoot. The way it’s shot is beautiful but at the same time, I question some of the choices made by the production team. Honestly some of the makeup is atrocious like that on Nixon and the first Silk Spectre. I also found some of the music distracting and some scenes just completely inappropriate for the movie itself. However, you have to remind yourself that this is a comic book. It isn’t supposed to look real and the shooting of the film reflects on those origins.

I should also point out that unlike many other movies based on comic books, this is a gory and viscerally charged film full of violence. There are some scenes that I’d definitely describe as disturbing as our heroes don’t hold back when it comes to fighting crime. There’s lot of blood, exit wounds and various disembodied limbs. Definitely not for the squeamish.

I know I haven’t said much about the actual story but it really isn’t something that should be spoiled in any way. It is a very unique experience and the final scenes challenge you to draw your own conclusions. I have no doubt that a lot of people just won’t get it but even if they don’t, maybe like modern art, they’ll appreciate it anyways. I don’t want to make it seem like this was the best movie in the world as there definitely couldn’t been some improvement in the writing department as well as some of the choices in production but overall, Watchmen really is something different. It isn’t for everyone but there’s a very unique experience to be had here.

…now I’ve got to go pick up a copy of the original story.

Verdict: 8.0 out of 10

in Entertainment

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

NVM March 8, 2009 at 6:13 am

thanks, Mr. Ebert…

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slif March 8, 2009 at 1:41 pm

I was waiting to hear your thoughts since you hadn’t read it. It sounds about right to mine – I looked at it as a movie based off a book, similar to how I view Harry Potter so I was fine with the interpretations. I thought the musical choices were random yet appropriate at the same time – just a breath of levity added in when needed. The main message was still there, and I found that the movie actually enhanced my appreciation for the book – in a good way. Some of my fanboy friends on the other hand were less than kind.

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Kevin March 8, 2009 at 5:29 pm

Good to hear that someone who hadn’t read it liked the movie.
I think you’ll enjoy the book even more now.
As for me, I’m going to wait another two weeks before I watch it.

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Paul Green March 9, 2009 at 7:41 am

Since I havent read the actual graphic novel, I cant say how well this movie is comparable to the original. Just considering the movie story, I feel a bit unsatisfied. The characters neither had strong roles to play. I had gone to the theaters expecting some good action, but got discouraged! My $20 ticket was a total waste.

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web design miami March 16, 2009 at 3:35 am

I haven’t read it and I was really affraid that if I went I’d only get lost in the plot. This however wasn’t th issue – I enjoyed the movie, it wasn’t a masterpiece but it was enough for a lazy saturday afternoon.

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miami graphic design November 8, 2010 at 8:28 pm

Dam, this movie was so borring, the acting and graphics were alright, but the plot was not good enough to keep my eyes open. This was a waste of money and time.

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