I can't remember the last time I wanted to stand up and applaud when the ending credits of a movie rolled. For some really bad movies I was ready to sigh with relief, but with "Watchmen" as the My Chemical Romance's hard rockin' cover of Dylan's "Desolation Row" came up for the credits I wanted to cheer. Maybe it's because the somewhat mixed reviews led me to wonder how well this adaptation of the comic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons would turn out. By the end I was glad to see that this rendition of "Watchmen" is about the best fans--even those who came late to the party like me--could hope for. Sure there are those hard-core purists who are going to scream "Where is the squid?!" and "What about the 'Black Freighter' comic?!" but the realists among us should be happy enough.
Now if you're Joe/Jane Q. Public who has no idea what this movie is about, then I can't recommend it. Definitely if you thought "The Dark Knight" was too dreary or boring or that comics are for kids, then you don't want to see this. Because the genius of Moore's story was to show that beneath the masks and tights are REAL people with REAL problems, and the movie largely sticks to that, so even though there are fights and explosions, this isn't a cheery little tale by any means. And with a 162 minute run time it's hard for many people to pay attention that long.
Like the graphic novel, the movie is about an alternate 1985 where Nixon is on his fifth term--not his third like some news outlets keep saying; apparently they failed math and civics class--and the world is on the brink of Armageddon thanks to the US and USSR's large stockpile of nukes pointed at each other. In this universe, costumed heroes are very real, starting in about the '40s until they're outlawed in 1977. One of those heroes, The Comedian, is murdered when a shadowy attacker throws him out the window. Soon other heroes are neutralized, including the godlike Dr. Manhattan, who has largely been seen as the USA's ace in the hole against Soviet aggression. As the mystery unravels, we learn something far more diabolical is afoot.
There's not much for me to complain about with this movie. One thing is that they needed better impersonators for Nixon, Kissinger, and other real figures. If you compare this Nixon to "Frost/Nixon" the one in this movie seems a little silly, more like something from an SNL sketch. Also, the gore in the film is a little too much for me. We didn't really need to see bodies explode, bones protrude through skin, and Rorshach taking a bite out of a bad guy. What we really didn't need to see either was Dr. Manhattan's wang--especially not four of them!
I generally liked the casting for the movie. Jackie Earle Haley is tremendous as Rorshach, the sociopathic "hero" many would compare to Batman, though really he's more like Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry movies, except he wears a mask and doesn't use a gun. Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl II was also really good as the far more naive hero who gets a sort of perverse thrill out of heroing. Some critcs panned Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II, but she's at least as good as Jessica Alba or Maggie Gylenhaal, which isn't saying a lot. Other than his wang--did they use the motion capture on that part too? Hurm...--Billy Crudup is good as Dr. Manhattan, the god being finding himself increasingly distant from humanity. My only complaint is Matthew Goode as "the world's smartest man" Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias. Especially in civilian clothes he looks so frail I wouldn't believe he could beat up my 92-year-old grandma let alone hardened criminals or other heroes. In his hero getup he looks better thanks I'm sure to lots of padding.
The movie is long, but I didn't check my watch more than once, which is always a good sign. But as I said, casual viewers I think would find it more of a drag than me. I hinted at the beginning that there is some change to the ending, which in large part was to simplify things to avoid tacking on another half hour or so. I don't like this ending quite as much in some ways, but it still works to get the same point across, which is that if you want world peace you just need a really good scapegoat.
Generally, as I said at the start, this was about the best fans could hope to get. It's unfortunate Alan Moore decided to throw a tantrum and keep his name off the film, because unlike "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" or "V for Vendetta" this one sticks to his work to a fault.
That is all.
My score: 4/4 stars
Metacritic score: 56