I should preface this review by stating that I am a great admirer of the original source material for this film. Watchmen the comic book helped to redefine the genre, grounding it’s characters in a dark dystopian world and the heroes are a product of that world.
Writer Alan Moore had dismissed the very idea of filming the comic book, saying it was essentially unfilmable. Director Zack Snyder certainly had his work cut out for him. Snyder is extremely sympathetic to the tone and pacing of the comic. The rich multi-textured marriage of words and pictures that reward the examining eye with visual clues and references as the tale unfolds would have been lost in a series of quick cut action sequences. To tell this story in full was going to take time.
Weighing in at 2 hours and 40 minutes it still explores the essential themes and subtext without appearing bloated. (The extended DVD cut will reportedly be closer to four hours, with Tales of the Black Freighter, Watchmen’s comic book within a comic book, spliced into the action).
Aesthetically the movie captures the essence of Dave Gibbons drawings and transposes them to the screen without losing the small details that add texture and substance to the story. The attention to detail is astounding, the movie is densely filled with information that would reward repeated viewing.
I was dubious when I heard that one of the main characters, the god like superhero Dr. Manhatten, was going to be rendered in CGI. I am not a fan of the over reliance on CGI in movies, it can tend to detract from the realism and renders the medium more akin to a video game. However, in the case of Watchmen the subtlety and nuances of Billy Crudrup’s performance shone through and I felt completely immersed in the world depicted on screen.
The actors have been well chosen and each is perfectly believable in their roles. There is no good and evil no black and white just shades of grey. Jackie Earle Haley’s portrayal of Rorschach, once the mask is removed, was excellent although I felt that the gruff growling voice adopted for the narration was spawned from a conventional cliché rather than a fully formed realisation of the characters true nature. Rorschach is a pivotal character around whom the tale unfolds, the ultimate antihero. A flawed sociopath with no remorse. Not the hero the world wants but the hero it deserves. This is a story driven by the interaction between the central figures rather than showy set pieces. That said it will not disappoint those looking for a liberal dose of extreme violence and visual spectacle.
The film is firmly anchored in the world it sets out to portray. This is a film that takes itself seriously and demands you do the same. Audiences are now well versed in the superhero genre and are ready to have their preconceptions challenged. What does it mean to be a hero and what is the ultimate cost. Not that the film is a dark unrelenting torrent of despair, although bleak in outlook there are moments of humour and it ultimately shows faith in humanities ability to redeem itself.