I Watched the Watchmen

Just got back from seeing the movie. I’m a huge fan of the graphic novel, and had some real trepidation going in. Overall, I liked the movie. I’ve got some detailed thoughts outlined below, but first I want to put up a

Spoiler Alert!

Yeah, I’m gonna be talking about stuff that happens in the movie or the graphic novel. If you don’t want to know, don’t read any farther.

We good?


  • The cast is pretty much perfect. Not only does each actor really look a lot like the character from the comic book, they get most of the character traits down wonderfully. I can’t be happier. They are fantastic. Of special note are Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian, but there really isn’t a bad word to be said about any of them, in my opinion.
  • Zack Snyder sticks very, very close to the comic book, both story-wise and visually. Whether this is being faithful or slavish is going to vary by viewer. For me, I like it most of the time, but it does make his departures from the source material, in those few instances when it happens, somewhat jarring for those of us who are really familiar with the comic book. Yeah, it’s a geek thing.
  • I heard a lot about gratuitous sex and violence before I saw the movie, and I dismissed it. There are a lot of that in the comic book, and it’s not entirely gratuitous; instead, it makes a sort of meta-statement about the use of gratuitous sex and violence in the medium. Having seen the movie, I gotta say, a lot of the sex and violence, while not necessarily gratuitous, is exaggerated and emphasized rather gratuitously. The rape scene is pretty over-the-top violent, as is the mugging scene, and the sex scene in Archimedes is about as graphic as you can get without being labeled porn. And I’m not sure it carries the impact in the same way the gratuitous stuff in the comic book does.
  • The ending, as most have probably heard, is not the same as in the comic book. They don’t do the alien creature manifestation/mock-up, but opt for framing Dr. Manhattan as the villain. This makes for a much tighter story, not having to run the whole kidnapped artist subplot, and speeds up the exposition at the climax, but I really wanted to see the giant alien thing, so I was a little disappointed.
  • They’ve only got three hours to tell their story, so a lot of the layers and depth gets compressed into easy explanations or dismissed entirely. I think that, for people who are not familiar with the comic book and its deep and intricate backstory, sections of this movie may feel rushed or confusing. In addition, certain bits were included that may have been better cut for time or continuity, but were great geek-joy moments that we geeks certainly wanted to see.
  • Time to complain about a specific storytelling choice. There is a scene, in both the comic and the movie, where Dan Dreiberg and Laurie Jupiter get mugged, and kick the crap out of the muggers. In the movie, they kill several of their attackers, deliberately, and in ways more violent than even Rorschach’s murders are portrayed in the film. I found this very jarring; in the comic book, Dan and Laurie are the most “normal” of the masked heroes; they’re the ones we can most easily identify with. To show them cold-bloodedly slaughtering thugs breaks that empathetic connection, undermining the link we’ve established with the humanity of the characters. It distances us emotionally from the only two characters presented in a human, sympathetic light, and I think that was a mistake.
  • Time to compliment a specific beautiful acting moment. Throughout the movie, I found I was missing the dynamic tension between the ideals represented by Ozymandias and Rorschach. In the comic book, they balance each other: one who will never compromise, and one who will do whatever it takes to do good. This didn’t come across very well in the movie, for several reasons that I’ll have to think about more before I can identify them beyond saying that it was led by the visual emphasis over story. Anyway. In Rorschach’s final scene, where he pulls off his mask and forces Dr. Manhattan to kill him, that entire dynamic tension, the pull between the man who will not compromise and the man who wants to do good, is made manifest completely within the character of Rorschach. He begs Dr. Manhattan to kill him, knowing that it must happen to preserve the peace Ozymandias has created. It was a beautiful, perfect moment that captured something vital and important to the work that Alan Moore introduced in the comic book. It captured the idea of monsters on both ends of the spectrum, and the torment of where they meet. That moment was almost worth the price of admission all by itself.
  • The opening historical montage sequence is worth the price of admission. My god, that was wonderful, filling in so much necessary backstory in such a beautiful, moving, and effective way.
  • One last complaint: having Dan and Laurie go back to crimefighting at the end of the movie really, drastically undermines the idea behind the comic book. It changes the meaning and nature of the entire work, and I don’t much like it.

So, in closing, I liked the movie, but not unreservedly, and not completely. The comic book, as an ironic, insightful look at the superhero phenomenon is so intricate and layered in subtext and superhero reference that it is pretty much impossible to do it complete justice in a movie. Having said that, Zack Snyder gave it a really good try, and made a movie I enjoyed. He came about as close as I can envision someone coming. The source material is just too dense and nuanced to translate with complete faithfulness in three hours.

It’s not the comic book, no matter how much it might look like it.

But it’s not bad, either.