Review: Watchmen Comes Up Short

"Where the comic is a glossy face on pain and terror, the movie is just a pretty picture."


Watchmen, meant as the ultimate anti-establishment rebellion comic, has been infused with a big studio budget and delivered to the big screen. Unfortunately, the resulting film completely misses the spirit of the thing. Worse still, if you haven't read the source material I think you're going to dislike it even more than I did. So yeah, it's sort of bad news around here.

Zack Snyder, the director of 300, has definitely made a visually impressive film. In fact, that's why this film is getting as high of a grade as it is -- it looks damn pretty. But where the comic is a glossy face on pain and terror, the movie is just a pretty picture.

The story deals with the death of superheroes, both metaphorically and physically. They've been outlawed, Nixon has rescinded term limits and is serving a third term. The USSR looms in the background, armed to the teeth with nukes. A few kooks and washed-up capes wander the city, looking for some way to fit in ... or move on. src="" alt="Who Watches the Watchmen?" width="162" height="78" align="left" hspace="2"/>When the 12-part series was released in 1986 it was glorious backlash and paranoia aimed directly at The American Dream gone dead. Each character embodied something important to creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, from Rorschach's complete loss of humanity to Ozymandias' corporate greed and insane "greater good" plots. The graphic novel had an attempted rape and multiple murders, plus a God-Man in Dr. Manhattan who could no longer relate to the human condition. One thing was clear though: The "superheroes" in Watchmen's world were irrevocably screwed up. If 2008's The Dark Knight was a commentary on our loss of personal freedoms, then Watchmen, back in the day, was meant to be the flag bearer for our complete and utter loss of hope in humanity. The movie keeps that same darkness, but without any of the surrounding context. It's long, plodding, and melodramatic where the graphic novel was clever, biting, and crisp.

Which brings us to director Zack and his solid gang of character actors. I have no doubt that the intent was pure and their motivations were decent. But it ends up as a Frankenstein. And it's not really Snyder's fault either; in adhering so religiously to the Watchmen world, he lost any hope of creating something interesting and effective. These are '80s archetypes we're watching on screen. What value do they have today? Snyder parroting the "look" of Watchmen completely eviscerates the spirit of the thing. It was never meant to be a movement. It was meant to be a middle finger. It would be like starting a Fight Club gardening club or playing with Apocalypse Now action figures. Somewhere along the way, when checks were being cut and marketing budgets being set, Watchmen the movie lost its way.

On the plus side, the film's first 15 minutes are pretty strong. Rabid fans of the graphic novel will have no problem recognizing their favorite characters and scenes. The vibe is intact too -- Snyder drills into the exact placement of props and songs. But it all comes off as a clever forgery. The film attempts to fly head-on into the American temple of excess. But everyone's dressed up, the lighting is perfect, and the songs sound lovely ... and cheesy. In attempting to make a carbon copy of Watchmen, Snyder and Warner Bros. somehow missed the opportunity to do something important and vital. We needed a Watchmen movie for today, not our dad's version of "sticking it to the man."

Grade: C