When I first read the book (around the same time I was designing the main site, hence why my site looks the way it does), I thought to myself, “Wow, the movie will either really suck or really kick ass.” Like X-Men 3 suck. Or like X-Men 2 kick ass. For almost too long, Hollywood as an entity takes a story, uproots the details, keeps the essentials, and has their way with the original story. Either it becomes awesome in its own right, or it becomes a case of “you all ruined it AGAIN!”
In this case, it’s most definitely the latter. The writers and directors of the film made damn sure that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (and every other fanboy and girl) would actually praise their work as an apt adaptation of their quintessential graphic novel. From the freeze-frame intro in which we speed through some of the finer details that set up this intricate story (the movie is set in the 1980’s with an alternative reality of Richard Nixon leading the US to political victory in his 3rd term as president and actually winning the Vietnam War, with a little help from our protagonists here) to the specificity of matching character for character, private anatomy and all. My mouth was agape watching the scene with JFK and Dr. Manhattan shaking hands, and watching Fidel Castro and Leonid Brezhnev meeting in the USSR pre-Berlin Wall for a glimpse. We were definitely taken there and then some.
The actors themselves were probably the best part of the movie (props to Jackie Haley, who plays a seriously believable Rorschach). They’re almost exactly how I imagined them (I thought Dr. Manhattan might have a deeper voice, but I also saw why he wouldn’t.) The movie did an excellent job of matching the transitions frame for frame without looking like Speed Racer (school trip, don’t ask). Even the omissions were perfect: The Tale of the Black Freighter, a story that gives some context for the deeper themes in The Watchmen graphic novel, was definitely absent throughout, and I actually appreciated that. It’s needed in the book, but for a movie, the visualization of the almost cannibalistic tendencies of humans was more than transparent.
And it’s hard for me to go through this movie without wanting to spoil it, but lastly, and probably most ubiquitously, there’s a huge theme of human intuition and faith; as one becomes an outsider to the mainstream, one can see more clearly the glorious and banal parts of the human race. Unlike other superheroes we encounter in other comic books, these heroes are regarded as vigilantes more so than a knight of justice. There’s also that duality that these superheroes, regardless of intention, have varying degrees of regard for human life. Their god complexes almost correlate with how many people they kill in the film, and their rationalizing becomes a barometer of their distance from the mainstream. We had the truly human who injure but don’t kill many if at all (Night Owl and Silk Spectre) to the uber-gods (Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias) who have the potential to wipe out millions.
And then we have The Comedian and Rorschach, who are practically right next to each other on this barometer, whose differences are next to nil in the big picture, and that’s where (again, without getting too into detail) the movie hits this beautiful line of optimism. We have that parallel between life being a “big joke” to “it’s not fun and games, either.” The plot almost lends itself to letting the audience pick a character which best represents their darker natures, as well. A big plus.
I will say that the movie wasn’t 100% excellent either. For those that didn’t read the book, some of the deeper parts get missed because a) you don’t get a chance to reread what was said, b) the dialogue gets lost in such an intense film, and c) you don’t get to read the artifacts from the end of the chapter, which give some context for what’s going on. Also as a note, even with all the omissions, it was still long. Not as long as Grindhouse / Death Proof, but definitely bring some Peanut M&M’s and Fruit Punch with you for this one.
Otherwise, I liked it a lot. It’s the first time I’ve seen a super hero film that the director didn’t try to make theirs (which often fails miserably). Instead, Zack Snyder opted to pay homage to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in a truly honest attempt at putting an excellent book into a substantial film for its genre. This is where many critics get it wrong: fanboys and girls alike have lauded this film because Snyder didn’t try to find his own vision in this case. For that attempt alone, I must give this movie, a 4 out of 5.
Thanks for reading.
Jose, who can relate with Dr. Manhattan more than any other character in the movie …
p.s. – What did you think of the movie? Did you read the book beforehand?