Watchmen Review

My fondest memory of Watchmen is finding a copy of issue #11 in 1987 while on my way back from a college cross-country meet. There were no comic book shops near where I lived or even in my two college town. We had stopped to get something to eat and I spotted the comic book store, saw the issue was for sale and happily paid the man.

Let me tell you, the squid makes even less sense without issue #11.

It was probably the last time the completion of a story had such a fundamental impact on me. Kingdom Come comes close. New Frontier danced around the edges. However, I will never be 19 again and blown away by what I read in a comic book.

Watchmen will always be the 12 issues for me even though for most everyone else it’s the graphic novel – the collection. It’s probably why I always felt the story would do better translated as a 13 episode, finite, mini-series. Something HBO would attempt. I, along with most everyone who loves Watchmen, felt a movie adaptation would never match the story in scope or tone.

Zack Snyder’s Watchmen adaptation succeeds or fails because his movie really isn’t an adaptation at all. It’s an homage to the graphic novel. Just like his 300 before it, he used the actual comic book panels as storyboards and the result is a mixed bag. Is it almost literally the comic on the screen? Yes, it is. It’s why I loved the movie. It’s also why its receiving a mixed bag of reviews.

I can’t wait to get the super deluxe multi-disc set at Christmas. Why? Because I think this movie, more than many in recent memory, deserves a second or third viewing to see the world imagined by Moore and Gibbons and transferred to digital print by Snyder. It will become the perfect companion piece to the graphic novel, which is also it’s downfall as a movie. It doesn’t stand on its own. You need the graphic novel to help fill in the blanks. Sure, the super deluxe version will ultimately be even more directly tied to the novel and that’s a good thing, but only for those who already love the graphic novel.

Iron Man and The Dark Knight were two super hero movies that were supposedly “game changers” within the genre. Watchmen doesn’t have anyone in it’s cast as fantastically talented as Robert Downey Jr. or Heath Ledger. Iron Man works because no one but Downey could have played the role. TDK works because it’s really a crime movie with a psycho killer up against a guy in a bat suit instead of some other accouterments such as a red bandanna or bare feet.

Watchmen isn’t a film like The Dark Knight is nor is it quite on par with Iron Man for sheer summer popcorn movie fun. It’s a murder mystery with colorful characters and a little bit of the ultra-violence thrown in. It wants to be more, but it fails in becoming the serious comic book film it would like to be. Instead, it’s an entertaining three hours of lavish Watchmen the graphic novel worship. Like I said, I loved it. On the other hand, I get that it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

The marketing people did their best to sell the move as a big action-packed summer blockbuster in March. They played up the super hero angle even though down deep inside the story and the movie is a whodunit – a drama with lavish special effects. The story is about human frailty, relationships, politics, murder and personal responsibility. The bait and switch worked because plenty of non-graphic novel readers went to see the movie, but my guess is they were mostly disappointed.

While it was amazing to actually hear Rorschach’s voice, see Archie take to the skies and hear my favorite line in the book (“… I did it 35 minutes ago.”), nothing will ever take the place of seeing and hearing my own imagined versions of these events as I read the issues/graphic novel. It’s always perfect inside my head and sometimes terribly wooden or laughable when presented in the movie.

When I saw the movie on a Saturday afternoon, I was shocked to see so many kids in attendance. The movie is rated R. That means you just might see a meat cleaver in someone’s head or some naked boobies or, heaven forbid, a blue porn star-esque penis. Why do parents of children take them to see a movie clearly not for children? At my screening, an elderly gentleman left the theater in disgust after the child kidnapper deals unsuccessfully with Rorschach. Another kept moaning in disgust. I guess it was better than a theater full of tittering juveniles laughing at the big blue dong.

Watchmen isn’t a masterpiece of cinematic storytelling mostly because of the reverential adherence to the source material which wasn’t made to be a three hour film in the first place. Be that as it may, I think those who read and admire the graphic novel will love the movie and the extended versions even more. Those who were duped by the marketing campaign into thinking it was going to be a super hero smash-up will be rightfully disappointed.

Me? I’m going back to re-read #11.