‘Watchmen’: Epic film...or epic fail?


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You know you’re going to go see it, but should you walk in with your expectations at towering Dr. Manhattan heights or down at a more modest Mothman level? It depends on whom you ask...and whom you read. Here’s a survey of what film critics, members of the fanboy press and some bold-name bloggers are saying about Zack Snyder’s ambitious interpretation of comics masterpiece by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

(NOTE: I’m doing raw slabs of copy below. I didn’t correct spellings or monkey around with the text. The only exception: I added some first names in brackets to make cast and character citations clearer and I put in dashes on some words that were too ripe for L.A. Times copy editors.)

Christy Lemire, Associated Press: Yes, I’ve read ‘Watchmen.’ I understand why it matters culturally, why it’s considered revolutionary in its exploration of flawed superheroes, why it moved you. It moved me, too. And still — or, rather, because of that — I found director Snyder’s adaptation hugely disappointing, faithful as it is to the graphic novel. That rigid reverence should please purists — tiny details from individual comic-book panels are recreated lovingly on the big screen — but it also contributes to the film’s considerable bloat. At almost three hours, ‘Watchmen’ tries to cram in nearly everything writer Alan Moore and illustrator Dave Gibbons originally depicted, but then the ending feels rushed.


Brad Meltzer, bestselling novelist: Saw ‘Watchmen’ last night. You have to go see it and decide for yourself. You have to. Don’t read reviews. Don’t be influenced. Make your own decision (just like when the comic came out). But let me just say this -- seeing the film is like seeing, 20 years later, the girl/boy from junior high that you had your biggest crush on. It’s thrilling. And gets your blood flying -- really flying. But what stands out most is what’s different and imperfect and therefore (unfairly or fairly) outstandingly wrong. What they get perfect is so damn perfect (it’s insane how perfect). What they get wrong feels like lemons on your papercuts. But go see. You’ll know. READ THE REST

Ian Nathan, Empire: That Snyder has gotten a version to the screen at all is a triumph. He has found a way — although this is 160 minutes of a dense, geek-orientated blockbuster for grown-ups. Inevitably, but hardly catastrophically, it fails to truly capture the cascade of ideas and bracing cynicism of Moore’s writing. Yet there is a challenging, visually stunning and memorable movie here, moored halfway toward achieving the impossible. It will also inevitably be judged from two angles: what it means for those that have read the comic-book, and those who will enter the cinema unequipped, say, with the history of the Minutemen, predecessors of the Watchmen, or the nature of Bubastis, Ozymandias’ genetically mutated lynx. Snyder nearly manages a film for both, but errs to the former. While necessarily filleting down the vast story to something palatable for human bladders, he is slavish to the original text. In his desire to encompass the novel’s strands, storylines and their payoffs are short-changed, leaving the film emotionally subdued, more an intellectual mystery than natural thriller.
And there is no compromising for the junior dollar: arms are snapped, heads hatcheted, and Viet Cong splattered like flies by Dr. Manhattan, while Silk Spectre keeps her kinky boots on during mid-flight coitus. The entire atmosphere, dunking the cleaner lines of the novel into a pungently vivid, rain-sloshed superhero noir, lacquered in bloodstains and midnight shadows, is superbly realized, a true world-unto-itself far more stimulating than Iron Man’s Windowlened sparkle or even The Dark Knight’s shimmering, Michael Mann-ish nightscapes. READ THE REST

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: Feel free to nitpick what Snyder has left out of ‘Watchmen.’ It’s hard not to be impressed by what he has wedged in. Yet even Watchmen fanatics may be doomed to a disappointment that results from trying to stay this faithful to a comic book. The opening-credit sequence has a marvelous audacity, as it packs in the story of how the Minutemen — masked crime fighters of the 1940s — gave rise to their more nihilistic counterparts in the ‘50s. (The sequence is punctuated with historical events such as the JFK assassination and set to the thrillingly recontextualized sounds of Bob Dylan’s ‘’The Times They Are A-Changin’.’’) But once the film proper begins, Snyder, who did such a terrific job of adapting the solemn Olympian war porn of ‘300,’ treats each image with the same stuffy hermetic reverence. He doesn’t move the camera or let the scenes breathe. He crams the film with bits and pieces, trapping his actors like bugs wriggling in the frame. READ THE REST

Mike Ragogna, Huffington Post: From the moment we see The Comedian’s blood streak across his ‘70s Happy Face button, we know that the movie version of ‘Watchmen’ and its caretakers were going to be as respectful as possible to the vision of the original comic miniseries. Based on one of the most collected and memorable comic book runs in history, the movie ‘Watchmen’ tries to be all things cosmic and ambiguously moral to all of us unactualized and imperfect people, and it succeeds on most fronts. But unlike the thought-provoking Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins 1986 creation that demanded one’s imagination stretch beyond a page of panels, this thoroughly engaging incarnation of Warner’s DC Comics property attempts to achieve that level of examination through a more stylized, literal approach. READ THE REST

George ‘El Guapo’ Roush, Latino Review: ‘Watchmen’ may be one of the most beautifully shot superhero movies, nay, beautifully shot movies period, I’ve ever seen. From the opening scene to the end credits, each scene looks as if it just jumped off the page of a comic book and landed in your lap. Everything from the lighting to the camera angles to the color palette is striking to behold. I was blown away by how beautiful this movie is. And while looks alone don’t make a film great, they certainly don’t hurt. The costumes, sets and CGI all blend seamlessly together to make ‘Watchmen’ a sure Oscar contender for next year, at least in cinematography and costume design he academy likes to s---- on any movie superhero-related.The other thing that makes ‘Watchmen’ an almost perfect film is the way the characters are portrayed on screen. Everyone in the movie has issues, secrets and pain they deal with daily. Character backgrounds are explained either through flashbacks or just from simple character interaction. Each person becomes more and more complex and draws you in to the story that much deeper. READ THE REST

Brian Michael Bendis, award-winning comic book writer: i was not bored. not even for a second. but as we walked out of the movie the words: too long, too long, too long echoes through the theatre. i didn’t care. it only points out that the movie shouldn’t have been a movie, maybe a longer mini series. maybe the director should have gone with his first instinct and not even bothered. like chinatown 2 and godfather 3, this movie was inevitable. none of those movies are bad btw, just judged by thier weakest parts. alan moore’s name is not to be found, and that is truth in advertising. at least we’ll get an end to the alan moore i don’t read comics or go see movies because i know they all suck interviews. they make me feel bad for him. i will now take these lessons and apply them to the powers pilot. i’m not dc bashing, loved dark knight. and i really hope you guys go and see it. it’s very much worth your time and money. its a hell of a conversation piece. READ THE REST


Erik Amaya, Comic Book Resources: Like the theatrical version of ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ parts of ‘Watchmen’ will feel missing to readers and fans of the original novel, but even in that, the amount of affection for the source material displayed is pleasing. The film version of ‘Watchmen’ is unlike any superhero film before it. It has the benefit of 20-odd years to slyly point at those tropes that evolved into what we now call the ‘superhero movie.’ It manages to stay true to the era it depicts, but reflects upon our own time. The film is not the same visceral feel of ‘The Dark Knight,’ but it was never intended to be. It is a drama before it is a thriller or an action movie. Its power comes from the ways each key character relates to the others. While it may not offer the same simple delights, ‘Watchmen’ will leave you thinking about a lot more than its story; which, surprisingly, is just like the book. READ THE REST

David Fear, Time Out New York: Moore’s dialogue is frequently spoken verbatim, with mixed results: [Jackie Earle] Haley’s gravelly mumbling is a good fit for the seriously damaged vigilante, but given [Malin] Akerman’s cringeworthy readings, one can assume she was hired because of her uncanny resemblance to a Jack Kirby drawing. Such asphyxiating scrupulousness should keep the Watch-geeks happy, even if they—along with the rest of us—will balk at the odd tonal switches. But what the film rightfully retains, and often nails, is the book’s commitment to seriously digging deep into the psychic debris of these archetypes; not even last year’s The Dark Knight ventured this far into the abyss, which helps make the film’s myriad flaws far more forgivable. Moore and Gibbons brilliantly used the idiom and vocabulary of Silver Age superheroics to critique the medium itself, dragging those perpetually adolescent men-in-tights stories into an artistic adulthood. No matter how lofty its intelli-blockbuster ambitions, Snyder’s admirable take doesn’t quite do the same for superhero movies. It does, however, move the genre’s metaphorical clock hands several clicks closer to maturity. READ THE REST

Anthony Lane, film critic, The New Yorker: ‘Watchmen,’ like ‘V for Vendetta,’ harbors ambitions of political satire, and, to be fair, it should meet the needs of any leering 19-year-old who believes that America is ruled by the military-industrial complex, and whose deepest fear — deeper even than that of meeting a woman who requests intelligent conversation — is that the Warren Commission may have been right all along. The problem is that Snyder, following Moore, is so insanely aroused by the look of vengeance, and by the stylized application of physical power, that the film ends up twice as fascistic as the forces it wishes to lampoon. The result is perfectly calibrated for its target group: nobody over 25 could take any joy from the savagery that is fleshed out onscreen, just as nobody under 18 should be allowed to witness it. READ THE REST

Roger Moore, film critic, Orlando Sentinel: Snyder fills the screen with eye candy. But the violence of the comic book is here, too; brutal murders, dismemberments, attempted rape. The sex is graphic, the violence more so. What Snyder and his team add to the mid-’80s comic is a pop-cultural mashup sensibility. Bad impersonators abound, from a heavily made-up Nixon to a feeble Ted Koppel and Lee Iacocca. On the soundtrack, ‘99 Luftballoons’ crashes into ‘All Along the Watchtower.’ The film’s dizzying array of flashbacks (also from the graphic novel) gives only a couple of actors enough time to shine. Haley is a ferocious presence, Akerman is comic-book sex incarnate and [Patrick] Wilson does a nice Clark Kent turn as the reason-over-violence hero. At every turn, long pauses in the action force us to chew on what the Brit Moore, who went on to write the more obvious jeremiad ‘V for Vendetta,’ was getting at. Watchmen is biblical and political and psychological and not the least bit whimsical. And after absorbing it over those 2 hours and 40-odd minutes, the best you can say of the filmmakers is that they did what no team before could manage: They got the movie made. READ THE REST

J. Hoberman, Village Voice: The most eagerly anticipated (as well as the most beleaguered) movie of the year (if not the century), Watchmen is neither desecratory disaster nor total triumph. In filming David Hayter and Alex Tse’s adaptation of the most ambitious superhero comic book ever written, director Zack Snyder has managed to address the cult while pandering to the masses. Warner Bros., which battled Fox for possession of the property—from which author Alan Moore has, typically, removed his name—is marketing Snyder, who remade George Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ in 2004 and had a surprise mega-hit two years later with his adaptation of Frank Miller’s comic book ‘300,’ as a ‘visionary.’ That’s a grateful studio’s code word for ‘competent hack.’ The master of the video-game aesthetic has successfully streamlined Moore’s 12-part graphic novel and, even at a running time that tops two hours and 40 minutes, made it commercially viable. READ THE REST

Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter:The violence is not as bad as early rumors would have one believe. It’s still comic book stuff, only with lots of bloody effects and makeup. The real disappointment is that the film does not transport an audience to another world, as ‘300’ did. Nor does the third-rate Chandler-esque narration by Rorschach help. There is something a little lackadaisical here. The set pieces are surprisingly flat and the characters have little resonance. Fight scenes don’t hold a candle to Asian action. Even the digital effects are ho-hum. Armageddon never looked so cheesy. The film seems to take pride in its darkness, but this is just another failed special effect. Cinematographer Larry Fong and production designer Alex McDowell blend real and digital sets with earthen tones and secondary colors that give a sense of the past. But the stories are too absurd and acting too uneven to convince anyone. The appearances of a waxworks Nixon, Kissinger and other 1980s personalities will only bring hoots from less charitable audiences. Looks like we have the first real flop of 2009. READ THE REST


Devin Gordon, film critic, Newsweek: No one who watches Snyder’s 160-minute blockbuster could doubt that he is deeply, sincerely in love with the source material. From its opening moments, his movie is meticulous, even slavish, in its re-creation of Gibbons’ imagery, from colors to costumes to composition. Entire sequences are preserved, frame by frame. ‘Watchmen’ loyalists are already rejoicing. But is that a good thing? Speaking as an admirer, but not an apostle, of the graphic novel, I thought the ‘Watchmen’ movie was confusing, maddeningly inconsistent and fighting a long, losing battle to establish an identity of its own. READ THE REST

-- Geoff Boucher


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Zack Snyder and Alan Moore photos fom Los Angeles Times archives. ‘Watchmen’ cast photo from Getty images. All ‘Watchmen’ images courtesy of Warner Bros and DC Comics.