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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
18
Cast
Jackie Earle Haley
Patrick Wilson
Billy Crudup
Malin Akerman
Matthew Goode
Jeffrey Dean Morgan
Carla Gugino
Matt Frewer.
Directors
Zack Snyder.
Screenwriters
David Hayter
Alex Tse .
Running Time
162 minutes

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Watchmen
It’s the Magnolia of superhero movies. Sort of


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Plot
It’s 1985 in an alternative USA of rundown streets, drained resources and imminent war with the Russians. Superheroes have been outlawed and are getting bumped off. Not a good time for the Watchmen to reunite?


Review
Watchmen
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Recently quizzed on his expectations for the movie adaptation of his hallowed graphic novel Watchmen, Alan Moore — shaman, philosopher, citizen of Northampton and visionary comic-book auteur — was heard to sigh. “Do we need any more shitty films in this world?” he grumbled not-unreasonably. After all, a muddled V For Vendetta and the gigantic snafu that was The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen had led him to finally cut all ties (including financial) with the movie world. Let them do what they will, just don’t involve me. He concluded his diatribe with the simple remonstration that Watchmen, his masterwork, was “inherently unfilmable”.

Which is not exactly encouraging for a director attempting their dream project. But Zack Snyder, hot from his stylised-if-juvenile adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300, is a determined man. Even if Moore had turned his back, Snyder was one of the faithful, Watchmen his Bible, and would treat it with a care unprecedented in the annals of Hollywood screw-ups. Every sinew of directorial effort has been bent on proving the author wrong.
Equal parts celebration, parody and exotic dissembling of an entire industry, the novel is dizzy with storytelling devices: not just comic-strips, but biographical chapters, diaries, newspaper reports, poetry quotations, medical files and a warped, ultra-violent story-within-a-story called Tales Of The Black Freighter (sensibly siphoned off by Snyder into an accompanying animated DVD release). It was less the Citizen Kane of graphic novels than the Ulysses — a vortex of astonishing ideas that could take you years to fully compute. Stick that into two hours of family entertainment then, Zack…

In this gloomy, alternative Nixonian America, an outcast superhero has been tossed out of his apartment window. Still, The Comedian, former member of the disbanded Watchmen, has some ugly secrets. Rorschach, a paranoid sleuth whose ink-blot mask eerily ebbs and flows with his moods, can smell conspiracy, but his fellow ex-Watchmen are hard to convince. Ultra-brain Ozymandias is locked away in his ivory tower solving the energy crisis, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre are fretting over freakish pasts, while Dr. Manhattan — the only genuine superhero, having been blasted in a freak atomic accident — has become detached from human emotion, capable of knowing his future and travelling to Mars on a whim.
It’s a whodunnit, although what exactly has been done is hard to say. It’s an action movie heavy on dialogue, although the movie styles up the punch-ups into slow-mo montages slickly edited to effective if anomalous tunes — a Snyder predilection that can lean towards the wearily hip. It’s an origin story, or rather five origin stories flashbacking through time. It’s a bleak, rangy tale of a planet beset with disorder, a parable about power, and a superhero soap that shuttles between multiple story arcs that almost divides the film into comic-book cells.

Greater reputations than Snyder’s have wrestled with the beast to no avail. Terry Gilliam, no stranger to whirling structures and otherworldliness, couldn’t figure it out. Paul Greengrass, no stranger to political subtexts and propulsive action, was abandoned by a sceptical studio. Amid the mud-hurling of the recent court case, the script was accused of being an “unintelligible piece of shit”.

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 towards 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 blood stains and midnight shadows, is superbly realised, 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.

In boldly keeping the book’s (then contemporary) 1985 setting fraught with Cold War paranoia — the plot teeters on the brink of nuclear war — the film becomes a less urgent period-piece. The political spine is now cute, as America taunts the Soviets as it has Dr. Manhattan as the ultimate deterrent. A hairless blue man with it all hanging out, he comes care of a mo-capped Billy Crudup that’s about 70 per cent successful — much better in close-up than the distracting mid-shots dominated by his blurry-blue CG cock.

Of all the Watchmen, it is Rorschach and Nite Owl who are most successful. Jackie Earle Haley finds the leery, psychopathic heartbeart of the faceless Bogart, and you half-wish Snyder might have stuck with Rorschach as protagonist rather than spreading the net so wide. No doubt the purists would have wailed. Patrick Wilson, too, is just right as the tortured Owl, a hero bereft in his own identity. It is Mathew Goode as oddball Ozymandias, and Malin Ackerman as Silk Spectre who botch line-readings, ill-at-ease in latex that is part suit and part joke.

Which should tell you Snyder has caught the novel’s provocative mindset. Fundamentally, Moore was asking how a universe of costumed crime fighters might actually work. A quest borrowed by Nolan for his Batman rethink. Here, though, there is dark satire: Batman (now Nite Owl) can’t get it up, impotent without his suit on; Wonder Woman (now Silk Spectre) carries the mountain of her mother’s guilt (a previous Silk Spectre marooned in old age); Superman (now Dr. Manhattan) has taken on the unreachable guise of a god. Best of all, there is Philip Marlowe (now Rorschach), with his do-or-die morality and Taxi Driver voiceover, the most hideously human of the bunch. Holed up in the clink, the inmates try to dispose of the despised crime-fighter. Unmasked and dead-eyed, Earle Haley turns to his foe and, shortly before dousing him in boiling chip fat, chillingly delivers Moore’s deathly magic: “None of you understand. I’m not locked up in here with you. You’re locked up in here with… ME!” And he’s the hero.


Verdict
Okay, it isn’t the graphic novel, but Zack Snyder clearly gives a toss, creating a smart, stylish, decent adaptation, if low on accessibility for the non-convert.


Reviewed by Ian Nathan


Related Reviews
Books
Watchmen Guides
 
Sounds
Watchmen: Original Motion Picture Score
 
Watchmen: Music From The Motion Picture
 

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Watchmen
Empire Star Rating

Great

Probably my favourite superhero film of all time. While the dialogue IS it's main attraction and what keeps (most) viewers intrigued, it knows when to lay on the action. Character development is spot on, great film ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Seaan2 at 02:19, 11 August 2013 | Report This Post


Watchmen

I was initially unimpressed by 'Watchmen' but I gave it a second viewing and found myself warming to it, I still have some qualms though, for example the action at times is too stylised when the film itself wants to be gritty and deal with tough subjects (child murder etc). I just feel Synder was the wrong choice but had an admiral attempt. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by midnightrambler1 at 20:45, 30 July 2013 | Report This Post


Awful.

Awful. So long, boring, pointless and heartless that I had to walk out. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Madhava at 15:53, 16 April 2013 | Report This Post


Zack Snyder's Masterpiece is the best adaptation from a comic book ever?? DAMM RIGHT!

The great masterpiece of comic books by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons "Watchmen": the great revolution of comics in the 80's giving the world a darker and mature vision of "Heroes", can truly be Zack Snyder's masterpiece. Zack, with the help of David Hayter and Alex Tse (writers) could bring "Watchmen" to the big screen in an impressive way. The story of 12 chapters, about a world where superheroes really exist since 1930, all of them taking as inspiration the hero ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ralph25 at 22:50, 11 April 2013 | Report This Post


Zack Snyder's Masterpiece is the best adaptation from a comic book ever?? DAMM RIGHT!

The great masterpiece of comic books by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons "Watchmen": the great revolution of comics in the 80's giving the world a darker and mature vision of "Heroes", can truly be Zack Snyder's masterpiece. Zack, with the help of David Hayter and Alex Tse (writers) could bring "Watchmen" to the big screen in an impressive way. The story of 12 chapters, about a world where superheroes really exist since 1930, all of them taking as inspiration the hero ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ralph25 at 22:50, 11 April 2013 | Report This Post


Almost too stylish and comic book-esque. A few clichés and a few cheesy performances, but overall I felt this film exuded so much style, so much gripping darkness definitely deserved to be up there with other great comic book // superhero films, alongside The Dark Knight and X2. I Felt this was slightly underrated, but almost understandably. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by danfacey711 at 00:57, 29 March 2013 | Report This Post


Watchmen

The script won't gain the graphic novel any new fans, but the fun performances and impressive visuals make Watchmen a gritty and fantastic journey. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by norgizfox at 03:49, 19 July 2012 | Report This Post


Who will save us now?

I've wanted to see this for a long time. I then watched it 2 years after it's release. It was both confusing but highly interesting. Watchmen is one of those superhero movies that develops story and action into one. It isn't over-the-top and is very much a nerdier superhero film then THE DARK KNIGHT or SPIDER-MAN. Here, Snyder goes deeper then ever and, after 2 very good films (2004's DAWN OF THE DEAD & 300), he does deliver a good film. A good band of actors and the best anti-hero in a whil... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lostboys96 at 09:45, 03 February 2012 | Report This Post


Good, despite Akerman

Never have i seen such a wide range of performances in the same film, from the superb (Billy Crudup as Manhattan, Earle Haley as Rorschach) to the plain awful (Akerman). Crudup, despite it being almost just a voice part, perfectly captures Manhattans distance from humanity ( his scene where his backstory is explained is simply amazing, and the best sequence in the movie), while Earle Haleys growling, violent performance is exactly how i imagined Rorschasch while reading the novel. But Akermans ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Davmur121 at 01:03, 18 September 2011 | Report This Post


Director's Cut

I first watched the theatrical cut back in 2009 and though I was impressed, I knew that it required a second viewing to be judged fairly. This didn�t happen until a couple of months ago when I was treated to the Director�s Cut, a version extended by approximately 25 minutes. The funny thing about this cut is that it is hard to see the joins, which is obviously very good, as a lot of special editions have scenes shoehorned in and held together with sellotape. But this was a smoo... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by neopol at 12:40, 02 February 2011 | Report This Post


only needs one word excellent ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by earnest at 14:21, 20 November 2010 | Report This Post


Masterpiece

What a prefect blend of hardcore story plot lines and back to basics old-school action. Rorschach vigilante deal really carries the whole movie forward and i also enjoyed the gradual change into superherodom of night owl and the minutemen flashbacks. Shot brilliantly with a tense and gripping story it really is one of the nest superhero film of my generation ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Zayd Awan at 21:25, 13 November 2010 | Report This Post


Excellent movie

Despite the movie not having an excellently adapted script the director really displays the story in a great way and the story is well portrayed in it. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Hydrola at 13:03, 27 August 2010 | Report This Post


Divided Opinion Forever

Opinion on this one will be divided forever. Forever! My rating puts aside my biggest criticisms of the film (namely the Richard Nixon Caricature, the acting of wilson, akerman and their "scene" music) this is a good adaptation of a complex literary work. Rorschach and the comedian are wonderfully realised on screen and, as per Snyder, the action scenes are awsome. This film will always divide because of the previously attached director names (I wanted Gilliam) but Snyder will be remem... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by bnicholson50 at 22:52, 13 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Long and boring

The Ultimate Cut really is the best way to watch Watchmen. The film has better pacing (even though its almost 4 hours long) and with the Black Freighter it seems more of a complete film. ... More

Posted by DazCoops at 08:41, 03 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Long and boring

The Ultimate Cut really is the best way to watch Watchmen. The film has better pacing (even though its almost 4 hours long) and with the Black Freighter it seems more of a complete film. ... More

Posted by DazCoops at 08:40, 03 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Long and boring

L: Horrorguru Only worth watching for that lass getting shagged in her costume. ahaha!  So much disdain in that remark.  Love it. ... More

Posted by The Todge at 03:02, 01 August 2010 | Report This Post


RE: I didnt like the comic!

L: Sledge Hammer Now, I know I am going to get shot down for this one, but I think its only fair I put my statement in context. hy would you? Believe it or not, many of us think it's rather good too. quote]And then we have the ending. Really? I thought the movie ending made a lot more sense and worked much better. was around when Watchmen originally came out and that last issue did come in for a fair bit of criticism at the time too. Many felt that last issue was a bit rushed and a ... More

Posted by KeithM at 20:31, 31 July 2010 | Report This Post


I didnt like the comic!

Now, I know I am going to get shot down for this one, but I think its only fair I put my statement in context. I watched Zach Snyders movie about 4 weeks ago and thought the film was excellent. I enjoyed it immensely, and unlike some reviewers on the movie review thread, I found the story (movie version) coherent, compelling and generally excellent. After then going on to the movie review thread, nearly all and sundry were going on about the differences and how the comic was so much... More

Posted by Sledge Hammer at 10:06, 30 July 2010 | Report This Post


the end is nigh...don't worry, these moron's will save us!!!

a bit overlong and dull but excellent filmmaking ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by newblue11 at 15:36, 21 May 2010 | Report This Post


the end is nigh...don't worry, these moron's will save us!!!

a bit overlong and dull but excellent filmmaking ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by newblue11 at 15:36, 21 May 2010 | Report This Post


Inaccessable to newcomers

Watchmen is a technically fine film. The acting is very capable and Zack Snyder does a perfect job of bringing his unique vision to life. And since that vision is so unique in nature, the writers should have been kind to us newcomers and created an experience which is slightly more dedicated to the non-initiated than fans of the graphic novel. As it is, Watchmen strangely feels like a sequel to a film that never existed, and suffers for it. So, if you are familiar with what the film is about an... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by djphilips at 23:42, 09 April 2010 | Report This Post


Long and boring

Only worth watching for that lass getting shagged in her costume. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Horrorguru at 14:58, 17 March 2010 | Report This Post


One of my new favourites

Whenever I watch the film, I always forget where I am I saw it at the cinema 3 times and forgot I was there each time :) F@ck the purists, I freaking love how he wasn't afraid to put in a sountrack. The cast was perfect, the acting was perfect. I have no problems with this movie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by monkeyhumour at 03:48, 15 March 2010 | Report This Post


Don't watch the Watchmen

OK fanboys, uber geeks and avid followers of the comics - get your acerbic wits sharpened in defence of what I'm about to espouse. This film is CRAP. It tries and fails miserably to get somewhere near Sin City, but unfortunately the casting, the acting, the direction and the script are all fourth rate. This is one strictly for the die hard comic book fans. Anyone else looking for movie superheros, watch the Christopher Nolan Batman films, or Iron Man, but for God's sake AVOID THIS TOSH at al... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by C K Dexter Haven at 20:44, 12 March 2010 | Report This Post


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