The WATCHMEN movie was actually famous for a long time before it became a reality for being an idea that couldn’t ever be made into a film. Too complicated, too many special effects, too convoluted of a plot, were just some of the reasons. But when Zack Snyder announced he was going to give it a go, the excitement didn’t make news for long because soon after the film started production, Fox and Warner Brothers got entangled in a messy legal battle over the film’s rights. The drama around the film has been fascinating to keep up with and…oh yeah, the film ain’t bad either.
I’ve found myself defending the plot and the “convoluted” story to several naysayers of the film, but truth be told, it’s hard to explain. The basic thing to know is that the film takes place in an alternate reality that starts once a nuclear physicist is involved in a horrible accident that gives him supernatural powers. The physicist, known hereafter as “Dr. Manhattan” (Billy Crudup) is the center of the film and the driving catalyst for a lot of the film’s drama. It should also be noted that he is the only one with actual “super” powers. Everyone else has heightened strength or speed, but it’s never explained how they got it.
From the point Dr. Manhattan is “born”, the world in the movie differs greatly from the world we live in. Nixon gets unlimited terms (yikes!), the Vietnam war is over in a week, and the severe threat of nuclear war looms larger than it ever did in the height of our cold war. Around the same time, “regular” civilians begin to fight crime on their own and call themselves the “Minutemen”. The Minutemen are the precursors to the Watchmen, who are basically a group of masked “heroes” that fight crime, etc. The film predominantly takes place in 1985 when the world is counting down towards a nuclear war with Russia. The Watchmen have been outlawed and the remaining few are being hunted down by an unknown killer. Of course, each of the Watchmen have their own storylines and issues and we really don’t see all of them together very often. For the most part, they all do their own thing.
What needs to be clear is that this is not a movie about superheroes. This is not a Batman or Superman film, this is a film about “regular” people that are trying to save the world and each of them has been disillusioned about trying to protect their world. Each hero has their own problems and there are no fluff characters here. Every single hero has a purpose and represents something different about the world in which we, and they, live in and those deeper themes are what make this film so fascinating. Essentially, creator Alan Moore used comic book characters to represent all the major flaws of society; greed, fear, insecurity, naivety and others. Each of the hero’s origin stories are told in flashbacks and I have to hand it to Zack Snyder for timing the telling of those stories impeccably. I’m sure there was an urge to get all the origin stories over with in the first 30 minutes or so and that would have been a grave mistake. As is, Snyder managed to get the most impact from those stories by showing them at key points in the hero’s story.
Although I consider this more of a drama than an action film, the action scenes are done very well. Any scene with Rorschach was a thrill to watch and Jackie Earl Haley does another fantastic job with his character. If I have a complaint with the film, it would be that the ending dragged a bit. There’s a point where certain stories start to culminate into a climax and Snyder diverts the audience a bit too much with extended dialogue sequences that were a little unnecessary. It didn’t take away from the overall impact of the film, but after nearly three hours, the audience wanted a faster paced ending.
I should also mention that I haven’t read the Watchmen comic. I have friends that swear by it and claim it’s the greatest comic ever, but I haven’t even seen a page of it to tell you if it’s any good. So this movie was my first experience with the world of Watchmen and their stories. Perhaps that led to me liking the film more since I didn’t have anything to compare it to. Either way, WATCHMEN is a wonderful film that is told beautifully. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting more from their comic book movies than a series of action scenes.