Lego Watchmen

The Jose Vilson’s Review: The Watchmen

Jose 9 Comments

Lego Watchmen

Lego Watchmen

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?

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 9

  1. Tafari

    Great heartfelt review.

    I did not read the graphic novel & actually never heard of the Watchmen until the previews started to come out last year. So basically, I was walking in blind.

    My expectations were not high but I was not all that thrilled once the credits started to roll.

    You just made me want some fruit punch BTW.

    I actually got lost @ one point & had did not catch for a few scenes, by that time, they were in the arctic.

    This is a film that I can do without seeing again. But I will say that the actions & graphics were awesome & Rorschach was my favorite in the film.

    Using your scale, I give it a 3.

    Tafari

  2. Jonathan

    I hadn’t read the novel.

    I found the alternate history fascinating. I found Rorshach’s narration was a big thumbs up.

    But man, it dragged. If the back story was too complicated… they should have done something. I get being faithful to the novel, but please, find a way to keep it moving.

    After about the fourth time they draw you in then shock you with violence, you know, those big jump out of your seat moments, like I said, fourth time, been done.

    And that ending? A little weird, but I got it. But why then did the movie continue for 20 more minutes? What had been ok for me, that long goodbye spoiled.

    Rorshach raises it from a 1 to a 2 for me.

  3. Damian

    I read Watchmen for the first time this past fall, after having heard some of the preliminary buzz about the movie over the summer. I thought it was fantastic, but I’ve been conditioned to keep my expectations low when it comes to movie adaptations. Even if it’s not a 5/5, it sounds like I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

    I’m going to check this out by the end of the month. Wonder if Black Freighter will make it onto the director’s cut DVD.

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    Jose

    Interesting. I did honestly try to keep my movie review tempered, especially since I know so many people didn’t actually read the book (besides the many of us who only read it BECAUSE we saw the trailer). In any case, at first, it was easy to dismiss it as too long and drawn out, but I concluded after the movie that it’s not every day that the director actually pays real homage to the original script. I especially liked that element. The examples I cited like X-Men 3 really just made me wanna WTF, or even a movie like Spiderman. Had excellent potential, but in the comics, it was 20x cooler. Therefore, with Watchmen, this was as honest an attempt as you’d get from the film. However, I definitely see people’s point: if you weren’t immersed to begin with, then you lose it.

    Can’t win em all. Unless you’re Slumdog Millionaire of course.

  5. Jonathan

    The contrast (I’d like to say “of course” but maybe that’s not true, and maybe that’s not fair) is with the first XMen. Gave just enough backstory, we met the characters and they were developed in front of us, etc. Now, I don’t know how true it was to the comic, but I’m sure many left the movie wanting both more film and to go read.

    I’m guessing that’s a contrast.

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  7. Errick

    You know I had to weigh in. I read this book way back and fell in love. When I saw the teaser at the Dark Knight, I jizzed in my pants and went home. Then I came back and watched the feature presentation.

    While it took out some things for the sake of time and overall importance, it keeps the vision. That was the most important thing to me. Alan Moore is a psycho and I love him for it. But no, there will be no part 2. Watchmen was a limited series of 12 issues so they had to do the whole shot in one sitting. X-Men is a movie franchise that can spread out over a few movies. Still, they can take liberties with the story because they can’t cram 46 years of X-Men continuity into 2 hours. But with Watchmen, there’s no excuse. i woulda torn the theater down brick by brick if they took too many liberties.

  8. Amauri T.

    You hit the nail on the head with this review Jose. I was so worried Snyder would either turn this into the typical 3 act Hollywood film or as you mentioned try to make it his own. His loyalty to the book is much appreciated as Alan Moore crafted an unmatched MASTERPIECE of the comic genre. I’m actually eager to go watch it again…the characters and story are endless food for thought. It is unfortunate that many will not like it. Snyder stuck with serial style pacing and subtlety versus what the pop (corn) audience is used to so unfortunately in their eyes it can’t hold a candle to the action and in-your-face themes of a Dark Knight. If only people could know how much Batman Begins/Dark Knight and all similar re-interpretations of heroes owe to Watchmen. As for comparing to X-Men, to me ‘that’s baby stuff holmes’ and not in the same league.

    Why are parents bringing teens and toddlers to this movie?

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    Jose

    I’m not sure either, Amauri. People these days really don’t understand or don’t have those senses that many of the rest of us do. In my theatre, no one was under 18, or at least didn’t act like it, so it actually gave me a bit of confidence in going to first-week movies again.

    As for the baby stuff re: X-Men, you know X-Men is dope as hell. It’s just not as intricate usually as Watchmen is. I think anyone who didn’t like it AND read it presumably read it because it was just good, fun reading rather than something to chew on. ::shrugs::

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