So I just got home from the screening of Watchmen that played at my Local cinema. I bought my tickets weeks ago in anticipation, for the gold class cinema complex (big chairs, spaced out, service at the press of a button etc), and, to make a long story short, I wasn't disappointed.
First, some background. I had never heard about Watchmen until the first trailers started leaking out, but it intrigued me enough to pick up a copy of the graphic novel, and I fell in love instantly. Before I saw the film, I had read it twice, so I was not unfamiliar with the source material.
For the uninitiated, Watchmen is a deconstruction (for those of you who don't know what that term means, tough luck) of the "Superhero genre". It was a 12 issue "graphic novel" (which is what artists call their comic books if they don't want people to associate it with "Those things that nerdy children read"), released in the 1980's, taking place in that same decade, with an alternate history wherein Nixon is still president (after having a certain amendment repealed so he could serve 3+ terms), the Vietnam War was a glorious victory for the United States, and most strangely of all, donning a costume and beating up on bad guys became a real fad. Compared to other Superhero movies, the only one that holds a candle to the kind of themes Watchmen touches on is last year's excellent The Dark Knight, although they are still very different beasts.
Although it might be easy to initially dismiss Watchmen as a collection of cheap superhero knockoffs, it really couldn't be further from the truth. The vigilantes, much like their real life equivalents, are not necessarily heroic, and are without exception flawed in many ways. You won't find anybody approaching the moral righteousness of Superman or Batman, save one, who ends up playing the fool for most of the film anyway, and who's failure to achieve his goals ends up being his biggest triumph in retrospect. Of note is that there is only a single individual who has anything that could be described as a superpower, and he himself is something of a demi-god, finding himself increasingly detached from humankind.
But on to the movie!
First of all, let it be said that this film is visually stunning. The special effects really out-do themselves, and the soundtrack is top-notch to boot. You'll recognize tunes such as 99 Luftballoons (that's 99 Red Balloons to those of you outside of Germany), The Sound of Silence, The Times They Are A-Changin' and a few less prominent ones. The only one that felt particularly out of place was Halleluja. It was the absolutely terrible original version. It spoils what otherwise could have been a very touching moment, but as it stands, I burst out laughing in the cinema, because the horrid rendition was coupled with a sex scene.
Yeah, there's three of those. Nothing particularly over the top, and it is nice to see a universe where both superheros and sex exist simultaneously and in harmony, but they weren't executed flawlessly. Two come off as award, and the third is a little weird. These, along with one or two scattered lines (that worked on paper, but fell flat on the screen), were the worst things you could say about the movie.
The acting is strong for the most part, and kudos must be awarded to Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffery Dean Morgan, who absolutely stole the show as the mysterious, moralistic and hyper-violent "Rorschach" and the borderline villain protagonist "Comedian". I also give a nod to Billy Crudup as Dr Manhattan, who while not as strong as the other two mentioned, managed to pull the character off believably.
Oh, and the fight scenes! Director Zack Snyder copped a bit of flak for his excessive use of slow-motion in 300, but he's definably toned it down for Watchmen. It serves to enhance the brutality of the scenes (which is sometimes unnecessary, but still manages to be hella fuckin' balls-to-the-wall awesome). Bones shatter, about six thousand fingers are broken, a woman almost gets raped, and a Vietnamese people get gibbed with so much gore that it would make Unreal Tournament blush. So not for the kiddies.
A visual tour-de-force, Watchmen is something everybody should see at least once. It will not be to everybody's taste, but it's not something you'll easily forget.