This weekend, The Gryphon and I saw The Watchmen. I promised a couple friends I would share my thoughts on the movie, so here goes. This review is spoiler-free, for anyone who still wants to see the movie.
Nobody should take children to see this movie. You also shouldn't see it if you are squeamish about graphic violence or sexual content. Of course, nobody who's read the graphic novel would be surprised these are factors in the film adaptation.
This brings me to probably the most important point about The Watchmen. For the most part, it is an extremely faithful adaptation of the graphic novel, with several scenes reproduced almost frame for frame. I suspect that, ironically, that is why there has not been more enthusiasm from Watchmen fans: they know what's coming.
As my husband, The Gryphon, put it, the filmmakers didn't bring anything new to the story. They didn't reinvent it in any way. They did find creative ways to include many elements of the book that people thought would be difficult to include, such as the back history of these masked vigilantes, who are both heroes and antiheroes. This was accomplished through a creative use of film montages and flashbacks.
Of course, there is one major change, as well as a few minor changes, done for the purposes of plot cohesion and to eliminate one subplot. One of the minor changes is that these people have superhuman strength, whereas Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons portrayed their heroes as being more like regular street scrappers, motivated for various reasons to take justice into their own hands. The change makes for more interesting fight scenes, which is probably why the change was made.
Through their intervention, the Watchmen have changed some aspects of American history, such as successfully ending the Vietnam War and earning Richard Nixon such acclaim that an amendment is passed allowing him to serve for a third term. Still, this dystopian vision of the mid-'80s is not too far removed from the one I lived through: where the menace of the Cold War has everyone constantly on edge, and the prospect of a nuclear war seems imminent.
I agree with others who have commented that Matthew Goode, who plays Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandias, lacks the charisma and the gravitas to be convincing in that role. However, Jackie Earle Haley does a brilliant job of embodying Rohrschach, who is an unrelenting film noir style antihero. In general, the casting is excellent, with the actors looking like they stepped right out of the graphic novel.
Director Zack Snyder (who also directed 300) pays close attention to detail, and the movie is clearly a labor of love: beautifully shot and effectively capturing the spirit of the graphic novel. I'm sure that is gratifying for many fans.
Yet, as The Gryphon pointed out, there is no possibility of a Watchmen franchise. This one graphic novel is the only one that exists. Since the graphic novel effectively pokes holes in the superhero mythos, it would seem silly to mount a sequel, even if a plausible plot could be developed. By the end of The Watchmen, it is clear that most people are powerless against the larger forces in the world, whether or not they wear a mask and fight crime. All you can do, really, is keep trying to do good, keep standing up for your principles, and in some cases, simply accept that you can't change everything.
Because of the graphic nature of this screen adaptation, along with its nontraditional ending, I don't know how likely it will be to excite mainstream viewers. In a way, this is a very expensive offering to fans, who may or may not like some of the changes. They will, of course, all pay to see it, so at least the producers have that.
Attention to detail may be stunning but can remove the element of surprise.