Dave’s score: 6.5/10
Before starting this loaded gun of a review, I have to make an admission. Ideally, any review would look at a film based solely on the merits of the film. Unfortunately, due to whatever personal flaw I may have, I was unable to do this. This review is going to be influenced by the original book by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons and how the changes in the film altered the story itself. I just want to warn everyone before we get into this. By necessity, this review will have PLENTY of spoilers, so don’t read on if you haven’t seen the film.
Watchmen is a story that explores what would happen if masked heroes actually existed and explores the dark side of humanity from there. I know, I know. The actual story is about a hero, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), investigating the murder of The Comedian (Jeffery Dean Morgan) and uncovering a darker plot. Honestly, the story is more about my first sentence than the second sentence. If it sounds dense and complex, it most certainly is.
Since my issues with the film are mostly at the end, I’ll save the negatives for later parts of my review. Let’s start with the good stuff. First of all, I’m outright saying that this film had better win the Oscar for best art direction next year. There’s simply no excuse for anything else to win. Zack Snyder and his team created a world that doesn’t just immerse you in the world of Watchmen; it immerses you into the world of Watchmen and makes you believe it’s the 1980’s. It would have been very easy for this world to be cheesed up, but kudos have to go out for recreating this world with such immaculate attention to detail.
The great thing about this film is that there is a lot to like. Next on my list would be Jackie Earle Haley’s performance as Rorschach. I’ve never seen a comic character brought to life to perfectly and inhabited so fully like Haley did with Rorschach, and yes, I’m including Heath Ledger on that list. The scene where Rorschach tracks down the child killer was the most powerful sequence in the film for me. He made you forget about Christian Bale’s husky voice in The Dark Knight, and that’s no light accomplishment. After seeing Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl, I can’t think of anybody else playing that character. The same goes for Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian. Between their performances and Snyder’s direction, they completed the miracle that draws you into their world.
So, about now, you’re thinking that this reads like a 9/10 review as opposed to a 6.5/10. After everything that went right, there had to be some significant things wrongs to drag my score down, right? You would be correct in that assumption. I’ll start with the smallest thing that I would have completely forgiven if I didn’t have such major other issues with this film. There was just something off about Dr. Manhattan. I know that CGI isn’t a perfect science yet, but I think that those imperfections actually detracted a little bit from Billy Crudup’s performance, which really does him a disservice. Whether it be that his mouth really didn’t match what he was saying at times or that his tux that dresses him looks like clothing I’d find in Toy Story as opposed to real clothing, it bugged me. In the interests of full disclosure, it’s a minor qualm that I would have barely mentioned in passing if I adored the film.
If I’m this drawn into a world that’s been recreated with such amazing precision, you’d have to have some really awful makeup to pull me out of it. Well, congrats for doing something very difficult. The only way that Richard Nixon could have pulled me any more out of the movie than it did is if they replaced the actor playing Nixon with the animated head of Nixon from Futurama. To so completely create a world only to have such awful makeup as was found on Nixon and Silk Spectre I is completely inexcusable. My issues with Dr. Manhattan are due to the limits of a technology, but the makeup just plain looked lazy on those characters and I can’t think of a single good reason for it to be that way.
Speaking of Silk Spectre, Malin Akerman’s portrayal of Silk Spectre II really belongs in the realm of an afterschool special as opposed to what should have been in this film. I understand that a lot of people are willing to forgive a lot because of one certain scene, but I just can’t let it go. When you have so many solid performances, that one bad performance sticks out like a sore thumb. Honestly, it’s hard to tell if the blame goes to Ms. Akerman, Snyder’s direction or the lack of development from the script. Regardless, it makes Akerman look out of her league, fair or not.
Next, we come to Matthew Goode. Ozymandias is a difficult character to take on. You have to portray the smartest man in the world who comes to a rather grizzly solution to the escalating threat of nuclear war. The problem is that instead of being so snobby that he has the necessary contempt for the common man to come to such a conclusion, Goode comes off more like Michael Scott from The Office trying to impress people and not knowing what he’s saying half the time.
Now, here comes the fanboy in me rearing his ugly head. To be fair, these issues may not at all be issues for people who haven’t read the book. Like I said when talking about the plot, part of the point of Watchmen was to show heroes in a real world. I understand that certain suspensions of disbelief are still necessary (like two people beating up a prison full of inmates), but said heroes should at least be breathing hard or have some bruises to show for all the fighting. It makes these regular people more like super heroes.
Finally, we get to the ending. It’s no secret to anyone who’s read the book or dug into the spoiler filled news about the film knows that Ozymamdias uses the generators that Dr. Manhattan helps make transport an inter-dimensional being (aka The Squid) that kills 3 million in Manhattan, which causes the world to unite and subdues the problem of nuclear escalation. Instead, we get generators that mimic Dr. Manhattan’s powers that kill 15 million people across the world. Surely, the shear increase in dead would make this a more compelling ending, right? Not by a long shot. It’s been well documented, but I have to echo other voices who didn’t like this change. Dr. Manhattan is a weapon of the United States of America. They make a point of pointing this out. Call him a god or whatever, he still represents the USA’s interests and he lets himself be used as a tool of the USA. If he goes rogue, I don’t care if he took out part of Manhattan too or not, the US is taking the blame for this. The rest of the world wouldn’t suddenly forget that he was OURS and decide to sit in a circle celebrating unity, sunshine, flowers and rainbows. I don’t see how anybody can get past that VERY serious flaw in logic. If you watch/read the news in any capacity, it just simply doesn’t make sense. The interesting thing is that it would have been possible to make this ending work. If you change Dr. Manhattan to becoming detached from humanity enough for him to have no preverbal dog in a nuclear fight, the ending suddenly becomes feasible. I could possibly have even bought that. The problem is that Snyder and the writers took an abrupt departure and made an illogical ending.
The thing that made the squid so powerful wasn’t the thing itself. It was the fact that the threat came from an uninterested party who attacked the earth (see how my solution could have worked?). Not only that, you also had very graphic evidence of the aftermath of said invasion. Instead of having just a number to throw around and make it easy to make the decision, you had Dr. Manhattan and Laurie looking upon the devastation (ie. bloody corpses). That makes it so you just can’t simply think about a number. It’s the reason why seeing starving children in other countries on TV makes you want to do something or give money to a charity. It gives you a reality that pure numbers don’t give you. I don’t care if it’s a squid or some other outside force causing the destruction, the aftermath humanizes the collateral damage. In Watchmen, we get a sanitized crater. Shocking? Possibly. Does it make the same impression? No. I understand this wasn’t possible due to various reasons, the two probable culprits being budget and rating. This movie pushes the R-rating as it is with its violence and sex. This kind of carnage may have crossed the line. It still doesn’t excuse the choice.
Is Watchmen a good movie? To an extent, yes. If I hadn’t read the source material, I probably would have added at least a point to the film, but the reality is that I have. Watchmen won a Hugo Award and was considered one of the 100 greatest novels by Time Magazine. That isn’t light praise, and the book deserves a fitting adaptation. I’m sorry, but this falls well short as an adaptation because of the departures made. Make no mistake, this may be the closest that we can ever get to a faithful adaptation of Watchmen, but it simply isn’t good enough as far as I’m concerned.