The times they are a-changin’ – Watchmen review

Watchmen – Starring Patrick Wilson, Malin Akerman, Jackie Earle Haley, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Directed by Zack Snyder. Rated MA for strong violence and sex scene. 160 mins.

They called it the ‘unfilmable’ graphic novel. It was written with the specific intention of showing the limitations of cinema, and the boundless artistry of the comic book form. It was a sprawling 12-issue limited series that parodied the superhero genre, held a confronting mirror up to society, mutated the events of the past and set the bar for comics of the future. Twenty-three years since it was released, Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen remains THE definitive comic book. In 2009, Zack Snyder’s film adaptation is now THE definitive comic book movie.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I am a complete Watchmen fanboy. Like so many others, I fell in love with Moore and Gibbons’ comic from the first panel on the very first page. This wasn’t just ‘the next big superhero movie’ to me. This film has all the added weight of years of anticipation; that insatiable excitement of wanting to see your favourite book on the big screen and the crushing anxiety of not wanting to see it butchered. Suddenly I realised how all those tween Twilight fans were feeling, and now share a depressing kinship with them. I’m sure there will be many obsessed with making sure the film covers each individual frame of the comic, ignoring the beautiful whole in front of them. That’s their loss. Watchmen is a bold, bizarre and completely breathtaking masterpiece, for fans and newcomers alike.

Watchmen takes place in an alternate 1986; one in which masked vigilantes once protected the people, and eventually required protection themselves. An alternate past in which America has won the Vietnam War, thanks to an all-powerful God-like being known as Dr. Manhattan. An alternate past in which Richard Nixon is serving his fifth term as President, the Cold War is escalating and the Doomsday Clock sits at five minutes to midnight. The film begins in the apartment of Edward Blake, the retired and amoral masked vigilante known as The Comedian (Morgan). Wasting away in a daze of alcohol and regret, he is attacked by a mysterious assailant and thrown out of his window into the street, many stories below. It is a masterfully executed intro, followed by one of the all-time great opening credit sequences. Set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing”, the entire history of masked vigilantism is displayed, from its quaint beginnings in the forties, to its eventual outlawing in the seventies. I’m desperately trying to think of a film with better opening credits, and I swear I’m drawing a blank.

Blake’s murder strikes a chord amongst the other retired heroes. The uncompromisingly violent Rorschach believes someone is hunting down masks, and he won’t rest until he finds out why. Dressed in a hat, overcoat and ever-changing balaclava, he is the ultimate film-noir anti-hero; an unhinged detective with his own brand of demented justice. Jackie Earle Haley plays the gravelly voiced narrator with pitch perfect precision. He is the Rorschach we always dreamed of. Over the course of the film we are introduced to former Watchmen (known as Minutemen in the comic) such as Ozymandias (Goode), Nite Owl (Wilson) and Silk Spectre (Akerman). Some are living prosperous post-hero lives, while others desperately miss the old days, wallowing in self-pity and stifling mediocrity. As Rorschach’s investigation intensifies, each of them don their old costumes and become privy to a conspiracy of cataclysmic proportions, of which they are all at the center.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Watchmen universe, don’t be fooled by that beautiful trailer. Although there are a couple of great action sequences, this is far from an action film. It is a three-hour examination of the human (and not-so-human) psyche. The film asks ‘what kind of person is crazy enough to put on a costume and fight crime?’ Our heroes are murderers, sadists, rapists, sexual deviants and emotionally detatched maniacs. Peter-Parker puberty blues this aint. Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl (encapsulated wholly by Wilson) is a shell of man when not wearing his mask; impotent figuratively and literally. Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre (Akerman) reluctantly took over the heroics from her mother, and is now living in her judgemental shadow, resigned to be Dr. Manhattan’s sexual plaything. As for Manhattan himself (Crudup shining through jaw-dropping CGI), he is slowly losing his connection with humanity, and is forced to deal with the consequences of his own omnipotent existence. And you thought The Dark Knight had it tough.

Speaking of The Dark Knight, Watchmen is sure to attract many who contributed to that film’s billion dollar gross. However, the two films are as disparate as they come. Christopher Nolan’s film is gritty and realistic; Snyder’s is full of garish, colourful costumes and exaggerated sound effects. Every punch sounds as if it breaks a bone; every drop of blood looks richer than tomato sauce. The words “Bam!” and “Pow!” might as well flash up on the screen. The collision of the cartoonish and the startlingly gloomy destroys any lingering memory of how we always believed our heroes should be. Just as the comic redefined the superhero genre, the film makes The Dark Knight seem sooo 2008.

Snyder truly knocks this one out of the park. There are sequences in this film that are even more evocative and devastating than in the book. Dr. Manhattan’s origin plays like a short-film within the picture; it stands alone as a heart-wrenchingly tragic sequence whilst also fitting into the makeup of the movie. Snyder grapples with the multiple storylines and flashbacks like a master watchmaker creating a tightly wound timepiece.

Of course, the comic fans will always have their complaints: a couple of small subplots have been excised (but are promised by Snyder to be in the Director’s Cut DVD), and there is a slight change in the ending. However, the message remains true, and its effectiveness is undeniable. It took twenty-three years to make it to the big screen, but it seems almost fitting to debut in 2009, especially considering that the Doomsday Clock currently sits at 11:55. Whether non-fans embrace the picture is unknown; I can only speak in my capacity as a nutty Watchmen geek. The film is a ballsy, brainy, and thoroughly bloody examination of human nature, pop culture and ‘the good old days’ that never were. And it rocks really, really hard.


Check out the trailer

25 Responses to “The times they are a-changin’ – Watchmen review”

  1. I saw the early release film, at cinemas, I want the 3hrs of my life back that the movie took. It was the worst piece of pointless rubish I have ever had the displesure to watch. All I need to say is way to much blue schlong, no story poor script. I hated it.

  2. I agree with the above… A waste of time… The film went no where… Very dissappointed.

  3. 1st Act – Awesome2nd Act – Still pretty good3rd Act – er…When the story veered off from the suspense & noir, and I was looking at a naked glowing blue man ride a giant timepiece around Mars I knew something was amiss.It was just too close to the source material. Fanboys are a loud and noisy bunch, but some ruthless editing could have done this a world of good.Start by giving Dr Manhattan some briefs.If not then maybe this story just needed to be told over two or three films rather than forced into the one.

  4. Dr. Manhattan is naked because he has no concept of human sociality or shame. If you want to criticise this movie, which might i add, would have been very difficult to script considering its many sub-plots (one of the most gripping ones, could not even be included in the film) read the comic first.I guess this is the twilight debate all over again…thoes in glass houses…..

  5. Why?Seriously.The movie should be able to stand on it’s own two feet. You can’t argue against shortcomings in the film by protesting that everyone should have to read a comic book before forming a worthwhile opinion on a near 3 hour long movie.If you honestly believe that’s what’s genuinely required to enjoy the movie, then Zack Snyder’s The Watchmen just fell flat on it’s face.

  6. i agree; a movie does not need to rely on its source material (ie. book/comic) to be reviewed/criticised/or even understood.however, as a fellow Watchmen fan I can understand Silk Spectre’s frustration at some of the criticism the film is receiving.for instance – she is right in saying that Dr Manhattan’s nakedness is essential to the plot.i honestly believe that Watchmen the film stands alone as a great piece of work, whether you’ve read the comic or not.but I completely agree with you too Silk Spectre – doesn’t it suck to be defending a movie like those Twilight fans. Sigh. I guess we move on one day at a time.

  7. I thought the movie was awesome.I went in prepared for disappointment due to some of the very undeserved criticism it has got, but instead, I was totally blown away by its scope & characters. In truth I was not bored at any moment during the film, & the only disappointment I felt was that it ended. That a pretty good achievement considering it was such a long movie.Yes, I have read the comic a while ago, but I am not a die hard fan, even though I knew it was a great comic. To have the movie any shorter would not have done it & the characters any justice. The grittiness of the the action scenes was a pleasant surprise; now that's what really happens when you take on a superhero! I truly think that this was one of the few flawless movies I have seen, & I watch a hell of a lot of movies. It almost puts The Dark Knight to shame (I said almost…)

  8. I think your appreciation of the comics has clouded your judgment Simon … so here is a non-Watchmen's opinion :)Watchmen did a FANTASTIC job of taking a comic and putting it on screen. The tempo and cinematography was definitely unique. Best I've seen so far visually however it probably was TOO faithful to the comics. I have not read the comics but felt that I missed out on a lot to have a proper understanding of this alternate univers.The movie delved into the character's past & present (which was probably an hour too long) but that helped give the characters some depth. Was it really necessary to go THAT far?!I was mislead thinking it would be an action film. I mean, there are people in Superhero suits, after all… ALL the pictures have always been action shots. But to start with, I found a lot of plot holes (DVDman would love this one!) – eg. Does The Comedian have "super powers" other than guns and how did he get them? Same with Danny & Rorschach. What about the "fallen"? Why do they go insane or retire?In conclusion, I think too much was packed into one movie which could have been done better in 3. Very long (especially if you had 1/2 liter of coke before the movie!!) but beautiful eventhough it's dark and violent. Makes me wish I read the comics first. I'd give 3 1/2 stars only.

  9. Watchmen will one day go down as one of the greatest films adapted from a graphic novel. I agree with some of the criticisms levelled at the film, it has flaws; however I feel the overall achievement is immense.In all honesty how lazy have we become as an audience when we expect every aspect of a film to be neat and packaged.I personally enjoyed the fact that the film required more of me that to just sit back and enjoy. There are so many sub plots and themes intricately interwoven into the narrative that I can overlook some of the characters underdevelopment, in favour of using my own imagination to fill the gaps.I think Watchmen requires a second viewing to truly appreciate the amazing depth and scope of what has been condensed into 3 hours.For the record I have never read any of the novels, and am no fan boy. Give it time. Watch it again. Compare it to The Dark Knight, Sin City, Iron Man. Its a different beast. 4/5.

  10. So Elitist,What you’re saying is this movie is the best of about half a dozen that have been made. Not exactly a smorgasbord of choice.Is Driving Miss Daisy the best film EVER made about a senile old lady with a black driver slave-boy???

  11. DVD Man what is your qualification for that comment. There have been so many adaptions of graphic novels and comics it beggars belief that you think there are only 6 movies spawned from this genre of literature. Your reference of Driving Miss Daisy is also deeply flawed. I believe that film is an adoption of a play – I was referencing the source media of the film, not its content.Clearly you lacked the mental capacity to make such an educated leap in thought; and I’d bet everything I own that you haven’t even seen the film. Pathetic.

  12. Could have been a masterpiece, but instead it’s an over the edge display of gory scenes and only enjoyable by those who enjoy sick…and I mean sick…scenes.Snyder’s treatment that imbue the whole horror crap that he used to shot into this movie is just over the top, plus the deliberate effort to offend the religious people out there is unneccessary.As I said, could’ve been a great movie, but fall short due to the excess amount of gory in it.(and yes I read the comic)

  13. I think we must all agree that this film was always going to be a “love it” or “hate it” movie. People who can’t see past Dr Manhattan’s blue schlong obviously spent the whole movie squirming in their seats feeling uncomfortable about themselves, and totally missed the rest of the movie.I had never even heard of this comic based storyline before, but for me the movie was about society’s values, and what we find acceptable and obviously unacceptable.For example,why is it ok to kill someone as long as we have an excuse(war)or have good reason(child murderer)and would you act differently? Why is ok to watch people killed so graphically on film, with no regard, and yet what people find appalling is Dr Manhattan’s blue schlong?Why are we ashamed of our bodies, and would a “God-being” be ashamed of nakedness?Obviously the film achieved its goal of being controversial and talked about.Some food for thought to those who thought this was a pointless movie.4 1/2 stars

  14. Im gonna post off the topic here because no matter how you slice it people are always gonna say the hated it or loved it. I personally agree with the comments on the intro, i don’t believe i have seen a better intro to a movie or at least not one that had me still thinking about it days later. Quentin Tarratino once talked about the use of very popular songs in film and how it can take away from the experience but this hit the nail on the head. Bob Dylan fitted so well and was very unexpected i must admit, i was expecting a Muse song.Not the best film i have ever seen but definatly one of my all time favourites. I will enjoy it everytime i watch it.

  15. Yeah i agree with the use of iconic pop songs in the film. I know some people that felt the inclusion of cliched songs such as ‘Times they are a changin’, ‘all along the watchtower’, ’99 luftballoons’ and ‘ride of the valkyries’ took them out of the film. However, i love that Synder took all these songs (that are highly evocative of vietnam/the cold war); songs that have been used ad nauseum in cinema, and reappropriated them for his film.Just in the way the Watchmen comic took all these archetypal superheroes and flipped them on their head, so too does Snyder’s film with these archetypal songs.

  16. really good film. worth watching. never read the book but i also never believe hype. if anything, i go into every movie just hoping to get my moneys worth. they did that for sure.

  17. This was a great film. Call it what you will, it was no mean feat to make a coherent film out of the Watchmen. There are some inconsistencies in the character-development, but i don’t feel characterisation was sacrificed just to include more ‘Snyderesque’ gore. For thoes people offended by a big blue penis….What about movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall? A film can not be made unless it has a penis in it these days, so if a comicbook, radioactive blue penis offends you, you have real issues to worry about. Besides.. it was played down alot in the film. Deal with it.

  18. I watched it last weekend and I thought it dreadful. It reminded me of teenage gamers that feel powerless in their own lives, gaining a sense of strength and power while gaming. The language and behaviours of the characters were adolescent. I also want the three hours of my life back, as I have already been adolescent, learnt those lessons and have moved on.

  19. Boring, I’ve never been so bored in my life. The characters had no scope they were so flat until the jail breakout. After that brilliant ( I agree with that) intro to Bob Dylan, the last thing I wanted was anymore flashbacks. For the Comedian all they needed was two flashback, the rape attempt and Vietnam. I knew the character perfectly from there, the rest was repetitive and great lines as he said they were pointless. The whole plot just kept going round and round in circles and kept telling me the same thing I knew before. It was a great political film but at the end of the day the characters were used as nothing more than moral and political commentators. When I watch a film I want to feel something, instead I felt like I was listening to an essay. That’s why this film won’t be remembered, films that are remembered strike the heart not the head. When NY blew up I couldn’t care less, when Rorsarch died it was a pity but it wasn’t devastating. And besides it didn’t even make me think, there was too much exposition to make me think. The Watchman world is not as complex as you fan boys think, I grasped it very quickly from the intro, and I have not read the book. I didn’t need explanations of the world repeated to me again.

  20. I loved the film. It was nice to be treated like an intelligent responder for a change. I loved all the assumed knowledge about Nixon, The Vietnam War, the irony of Ozymandius’ and Dr Manhattan’s name, and the myriad other intelligent ‘asides’ aimed at the collective knowledgebase of a well read audience.Anyone who was bored was obviously unaware of the little gems and parodies thrust at the audience through out the film.Loved it, loved it, LOVED IT!And…I have never heard of The WATCHMEN until I saw the film! However, I now want to read the comic…Thats my NEXT stop!

  21. I loved the film. It was nice to be treated like an intelligent responder for a change. I loved all the assumed knowledge about Nixon, The Vietnam War, the irony of Ozymandius’ and Dr Manhattan’s name, and the myriad other intelligent ‘asides’ aimed at the collective knowledgebase of a well read audience.Anyone who was bored was obviously unaware of the little gems and parodies thrust at the audience through out the film.Loved it, loved it, LOVED IT!And…I have never heard of The WATCHMEN until I saw the film! However, I now want to read the comic…Thats my NEXT stop!

  22. i read the comic first and even though the movie does leave out some fairly important scenes it was still a terrific movie. most of you don’t realize that movies are meant to be enjoyed for their great stories and cinematography, not criticized for their tiny flaws. and even if you havent read the novel first it wont take away from the experience. and for those of you who just keep bitching and moaning about how much you hated it why dont you just get over it and devote your time to something more worthwhile than complaining to a bunch of people you dont even know.

  23. Hi,I'm really looking forward to this movie! Thanks for the early review!

  24. sorry guys but loved the movie and thought it one of the best “superhero” movies i have seen. As said already this movie will divide into “loved it” or “hated it”, cannot really see that a grey area exists. Each time i have watched it i have been drawn into it and seen nuances that i did not see previously. i have not read the comic but the whole atmospheric feel to it, the soundtrack, the background music, the ambition of making more than a “shoot ’em up” makes it worth the cost of the ticket. Brilliant feel to it and the fact that a movie like this can be made in the first place is great for the industry, love it or hate it!! Some of the movie is visual mastery, get over the blue one’s manhood for &$*$ sake!!

  25. Definitely one of the best opening sequences of all time. The only other one that’s even comparable is the opening of Lord of War.

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