To dream the impossible dream, or in this case, to film the unfilmable book -- this is the task that director Zack Snyder took upon himself, and with much success.
Watchmen is based on the 1986 graphic novel of the same name, published by DC Comics. The original novel, by renowned author Alan Moore and drawn by Dave Gibbons, is about as dystopian as one can get in a "funnybook." The setting is an alternate 1985 where Richard Nixon is enjoying a fifth term of office and costumed superheroes do exist. The book deals with issues never before dealt with in comics. Usually the worlds of Marvel and DC comics are mostly sunny and anytime dark clouds come in, a shinning warrior smites them with much grandeur. In the world of Watchmen the reader is treated to great personality flaws, fetishism, sexual dysfunction and graphic violence unseen in comics before. The film lovingly keeps all of this intact.
The plot, simply put, revolves around Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) as the fan favorite, noirish hardcase of a vigilante who is trying to solve the murder of one of his own, The Comedian (Jeffery Dean Morgan), and is the main voice of the film. The plot does not stop there, though. The film is as dense as the book is and that may be off-putting to pedestrians who haven't read the book and think they are seeing another Batman or Spider-Man film. I have to warn you all now that this is not what you might think. You will not get the usual "good movie high" as you would seeing one of the former. This film does what none in its genre has done before, it makes you uncomfortable and will make you think about it long after the credits roll.
Snyder does pack a lot of information into a 2:40 runtime and promises a longer cut on DVD (woo hoo!), and some may be overwhelmed by it on their first viewing, but I assure you that upon a second viewing you'll take more away from it. I've read the book several times and I felt this to be true, even to fans of the book. Much of the social commentary is intact in the film as is some of the supplementary content of the book, though cleverly rushed through in the opening credits. The biggest complaint that some fans have is the ending is slightly altered, mainly in the catalyst of mass destruction. This, on the other hand, did not upset me, as I feel the original ending may seem a little ridiculous to those unfamiliar with the book and may need more exposition than what was offered. Also, some may feel that Dr. Manhattan's "big blue dong" is a little off-putting, but to me made greater sense to the character. In other words, grow up and get past it.
There are a few things missing that do go noticed to fans. In the book, at the end of every issue, there is usually an excerpt of the tell-all book "Under The Hood" written by one of the characters, Hollis Mason, the original Night Owl from the 1940s, that delves into the history of the original Minutemen team and what happened between the pages. There are also interviews with former hero turned multi-millionaire Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), psych profiles on Rorschach, and much more. One other thing is missing in the theatrical cut is the violent pirate comic-within-a-comic "Tales of the Black Freighter." This little tidbit offers a violent allegory to what is happening in the main story as well as answering the question: If superheroes do exist, then what kinds of comics would kids read?"
Most of the performances are top-notch. Patrick Wilson as Night Owl II/Dan Dreiberg is the emotional center of the film as a former Batman-esque hero who is now an impotent shell of the man he once was. Dr. Manhattan played by Billy Crudup is the only hero with superhuman abilities and it is through these abilities that he is losing touch with his own humanity. Morgan as The Comedian shows us exactly how absolute power corrupts as we see him turn from flawed hero into a government-funded hitman. As a matter of fact, one of his defining scenes in the book, the attempted rape of one of his former teammates, is recreated with the same level of distaste. Goode as Ozymandias/Veidt does a much better job of giving pathos to a character that is generally unpopular with some readers, including myself. The only performance that didn't really do anything for me was Malin Ackerman as Silk Spectre II/Laurie Jupiter. The role calls for a bit more emotional depth than she gave, so basically by this nature the character could have been played by anyone.
The finest performance goes to Haley as Rorschach. Rorschach sees only black and white, a former hero now soured by the world that has turned on him and is as unusual as the mask he wears that changes upon his moods. Haley was, in my mind, a perfect casting choice for the role. Haley truly immerses himself into the role and convincingly transforms into a much beloved and very dangerous character.
Watchmen is a film that will age and be better appreciated at a later date by the majority. I am looking forward to the DVD release with more footage. Also be on the lookout for the animated Black Freighter DVD to be released on 3/24. While it isn't included in the film as it was in the book, it does offer a bit more insight to arguably the greatest comic ever written.