According to the average comic-book fan, Alan Moore’s deconstructionist graphic novel, Watchmen, has been begging for a cinematic adaptation ever since it was first released back in the mid-80s. But after being stuck in development limbo for close to twenty years, fans of this supposed seminal work of graphic fiction were losing hope that it would ever be released.
Tossed from director to director, the project eventually ended up in the hands of Zack Snyder, who had already tried his hand at another graphic novel adaptation, 300. It seems that Snyder could stand some more experience behind the director’s chair however, because Watchmen features an obscene amount of wasted potential.
In an attempt to deconstruct the superhero genre, Moore created an alternate history where superheroes were no longer out of the ordinary and had greatly affected the outcomes of various historic events. Due to superhuman interference, the Vietnam War had been won by the Americans, Nixon remained head of the United States all the way into the late 80s, and the cold war is still raging on during the events of the comic/film.
The film, in an attempt to follow the 12 volume format of the graphic novel, is rather episodic in its presentation, with each section of the movie tending to focus on one of the main characters (of which there are many) as they attempt to work together to solve the mysterious death of a retired costumed hero. Unfortunately, none of these episodes connect very well, and all momentum that the film gains is lost the moment we start to focus on the next character.
While some of the characters, like masked-vigilante Rorschach, develop well and provide us with compelling backstories, some of the other seemingly important characters are presented as blank slates. Two members of the Watchmen, Nite Owl and Ozymandius, who arguably move the plot forward the most, oddly receive the least amount of backstory.
To compound these plot problems, Silk Spectre, the female corner of a complicated love triangle, proves to be portrayed by the worst actress in the film; ruining most of her scenes and any potential empathy towards the relationship. This strong female character is squandered due to Malin Akerman’s incompetence.
The plot itself manages to be compelling, with a central mystery that holds the audience’s attention well, but the resolution seems more than just a little forced. Spoilers aside, let’s just say that the reasoning behind a certain God-like character’s motivations seem weak, and I can only hope they’re dealt with better in the graphic novel, considering they’re the crux of the storyline.
Of course, the average movie-goer would probably be more interested in the action scenes than the plot, and unfortunately, the film fails on this level as well. Action scenes are fairly routine, and the slow-motion ultra-violent battles (incredibly reminiscent of 300) fail to impress, and even seem out of date when compared to more recent action films. The fact is, these scenes take a backseat to exploring the alternate history, which fits more with the original graphic novel’s themes. However, adrenaline-junkies will be disappointed.
Despite the fairly banal action scenes, it’s impossible to say that the film isn’t ‘pretty’. In fact, the special effects are rather incredible – with one nit-picky exception: Dr ‘Perpetually Naked’ Manhattan’s flaccid penis, which makes several cameos, is eye-catching only because it’s rigid and unrealistic. Sadly, it’s not the most tasteful handling of the male form.
Watchmen, while good to look at, just doesn’t manage to be particularly fun. The plot is clearly superior to the average superhero film, but due to a lack of nuance, it doesn’t manage to capture the subtleties of Moore’s clearly fantastic ideas. Fans of the graphic novel will most likely be disappointed because this two and half hour film doesn’t capture the magic of the original source material, while others will be even less excited by the fragmented plot and the limited and typical action sequences.