A cinematic graphic novel that is stunning, intriguing, and undeniably thought-provoking...
Watchmen is a superhero movie based on one of the most acclaimed graphic novels ever written. Originally released from 1986 to 1987 as a series of 12 comics, Watchmen presents a story that turns the superhero upside down and inside out. No longer is the superhero a noble idealist entirely on the side of good. Here, we have protagonist characters who have feelings and psychological issues, something the idolizing public may not consider when they view their heroes only as saviors and not as real people. This premise was easily groundbreaking for its time. Fans to this day consider Watchmen a true graphic novel landmark.
Yet, it has taken 23 years to adapt Watchmen to film. It's a very intricate and complex piece of work, featuring an in-depth plot line plus plenty of minor characters and extra content to enhance the story's setting and themes. A 100% faithful adaptation of the graphic novel would likely result in a four-to-five-hour movie, longer than the already lengthy running time of two hours and forty minutes. Director Zack Snyder, who previously directed the adaptation of Frank Miller's 300, has created a cinematic version of Watchmen that removes the secondary content and presents a slightly trimmed and changed version of the central plot. Thankfully, the movie is still very entertaining. In my opinion, many fans will not be disappointed with it.
The story begins with the death of a retired superhero. Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a.k.a. the Comedian, is murdered when a hitman crashes into his apartment, beats him up, and hurls him through the window. While the police work on the case, another character does his own investigation: a vigilante named Walter Kovacs (Jackie Earle Haley), a.k.a. Rorschach. There are several possible motives for the Comedian's murder, but superheroes seem to be the target. This leads to warnings for four other characters: Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson), a.k.a. Nite Owl II (a man named Hollis Mason, played by Stephen McHattie, was the first); Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman), a.k.a. Silk Spectre II (her mother Sally, played by Carla Gugino, was the first); Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup), a.k.a. Dr. Manhattan; and Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), a.k.a. Ozymandias.
While there is a plot to solve this murder mystery, it is only a secondary element. One should not expect Watchmen to be heavy on action and thrills, though there is enough of them. The film is primarily a drama that explores the psychology of different types of superheroes. It illustrates how the Comedian became a nasty, cynical man after seeing how flawed humanity can really be, considering it all a joke. The character study of Dr. Manhattan, a glowing blue man with immense powers, looks at how he gained superpowers from an accident in a physics lab, became a future hero because of it, and now retreats to Mars because he shuns this great responsibility he never asked for. Meanwhile, Rorschach has a past that is truly shocking and horrifying. The remaining three characters don't have as much flashback material, but you can still see what kind of unique personalities they possess.
All of this is taking place in an alternate version of the United States. It is 1985 and U.S. President Richard Nixon is in his fifth term of office. Watergate has never been exposed, and America wins the Vietnam War thanks to the aid of Dr. Manhattan, whom the Viet Cong surrender to. Now the U.S. and the Soviet Union are on the brink of nuclear war. Obviously, there is a purpose to these historical changes. It creates a setting that is even more darker than the actual events of 1985. Each of the six Watchmen respond differently to this threat of global annihilation, and their personas and perspectives of the world become crystal clear.
Below the surface, Watchmen is the kind of story that makes one think. After reading the graphic novel and seeing this movie, I could not help but ponder on a lot of things. What is the meaning of heroism? What kind of people become heroes? And when they do, how does heroism change them mentally and emotionally? It's as if the six main characters represent all the different paths of being a superhero. Of course, superheroes are people, too. One can even notice the concepts apply to people in real life.
Overall, there is not a single dull moment in this movie. The characters are fascinating, the action is exciting, and the themes are unforgetable. There is plenty of brutal, bloody violence to darken the story and steaming nudity and sex to balance it out, both reminders that this is an adult superhero story. And it doesn't matter if you've read the graphic novel or not. I did and my friend didn't, but we both loved it.
Lastly, I think Watchmen was adapted to film at just the right time. With the release of superhero movies such as The Dark Knight that steer away from traditional good-versus-evil stories and focus on character depth and clever themes, people are ready for this kind of story. Watchmen is another excellent example and certainly a masterpiece.
For more information about Watchmen, visit the Internet Movie Database.