Watchmen (2009)

Zack Snyder's "Watchmen" film is as close to the perfect comic book movie as it's ever going to get. It is the masterpiece of comic book movies. It is based on the limited-series-collected-as-graphic-novel written by Allen Moore and with art by Dave Gibbons. Long before the film started production, Snyder promised to stick as close to the graphic novel and make a faithful adaptation. I haven't read the graphic novel yet - it sits on my bookshelf waiting to be read after I'd seen the movie, but Allen Moore is probably my favorite modern comic writer. I was very disappointed in the movie based on "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," - it was an okay adventure film but it bore only a superficial resemblance to the characters and original story. "V for Vendetta," also by Moore, was a little better, but a change in setting and story-theme eviscerated the powerful message of the work it was based on.

In "Watchmen," It's an alternate 1985. Richard Nixon has been elected to a fifth presidential term. But the USSR is encroaching on Afghanistan, and the US isn't taking too kindly to it. An ex-superhero, known as The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), is thrown through a plate glass window, many stories above the city. Was his murder somehow connected to the feared imminent nuclear holocaust between the United States and Russia? Someone seems to want the former do-gooders out of the way. A psychotic outlawed hero, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), is investigating on his own.

He tries to warn his former hero comrades of the possible plot to eliminate them all, but he soon finds himself accused and imprisoned for one of the murders.

Enter the smartest man in the world, Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), formerly known as superhero Ozymandias, who is working with the ethereal Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a physicist who has achieved immortality and near-omniscience owing to a long-ago lab mishap. With Dr. Manhattan's help, Adrian hopes to dissolve the tension between the two superpowers. Dr. Manhattan's lover, the former Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), feels Manhattan is loosing touch with his humanity, and it pushes her away and into the arms of the Night Owl II (Patrick Wilson), her former crime fighting associate from the days before such vigilantism was outlawed. The relationship rekindles their enthusiasm for the heroism game, and they soon take to the troubled streets again to try to make a difference.

The original 1940s Watchmen, known as the Minutemen

The film is, like, 2 hours and 45 minutes long, but it flew by for me - I was too absorbed in it to be aware of the time. It never lagged, and each scene seemed necessary to the advancement of the plot. Although I haven't read the GN, I am very familiar with its look and tone, and from what I saw tonight, Snyder's film is right on the money. It is a panel-for-panel adaptation in some places. I've heard that the ending has been changed from the GN, but I think the ending in the film is just fine. Each major character is given an origin story in flashbacks. The soundtrack is riddled with classic songs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The crazy-as-hell Rorschach was my favorite character, he's just so violent and fucked-up mentally. I cried during his last scene. The special effects are flawless and stunning. The pattern on Rorschach's mask is constantly shifting. Yes, Dr. Manhattan appears nude through most of the movie (At least he put on a suit to attend a funeral and a TV interview show), and is pretty well-endowed for those of us who appreciate such things. (Psst! It's gotta be CGI, just like the muscles!) In fact, there is a lot of nudity in this film, mostly male, and sex, and gore and violence by the buckets full. People literally get pulped right before our eyes. Really, there's something for everyone in this one.

The modern Watchmen

I expect that the film will go over the heads of those who are unfamiliar with comic book heroes and their conventions, and those who know nothing of how groundbreaking the story was when it first appeared by turning those conventions on their ear. This is a pretty deep message about how even the best of heroes, just like real people, have human frailties, and how far such flawed individuals will go to enforce their version of justice and good. There's also a moral question about how far and to what end you should go to justify a means when it comes to peace. The costumed crime fighters in "Watchman" run the gambit of different personality types, and each has a different method and viewpoint, just like real people. That's why "Watchmen" the GN was so groundbreaking: It creates characters that are REAL and therefore interesting, not just the standard altruistic boy scouts with nary a flaw helping little old ladies across the street.

UPDATE: having finished the "Watchmen" graphic novel, I can now report that the movie is even truer to the book than I could have even imagined.:

Dr. manhatten and his floppy blue weinnie...

Except for a few scenes between background characters on the New York streets, everything is there. A subplot, involving one of these peripheral characters reading a comic book called "Tales of the Black Freighter," is interspersed at intervals among the chapters. That comic, a ghastly and haunting pirate tale, will be released separately as an animated direct-to-dvd stand-alone next week. Later this summer, the animated film will be re-integrated into the main "Watchmen" film with linking scenes for a special director's cut of the movie.

Yes, the ending is different. But I actually like the film's ending better. The GN's dux de machina is the one really silly element in the whole story and needed to be changed. So instead of a fake alien invasion involving a mutated telepathic squid that makes both super-powers sue for peace, a much more clever and practical plot point happens that results in the same resolution. So whats the dif? Works for me.