For some films it’s hard to remain objective, a detached observer able to critique and analyse with an open mind. In this case, the Watchmen graphic novel made such a terrific impact on me as a teenager that there’s no way I could write an objective review of the film. Though completely separate entities, my enjoyment of the comic does colour my experience of the film which, primarily, strives to be as accurate an adaptation as possible, given the various limitations of film in comparison to comics.
Director Snyder was in a tough position making Watchmen. Would he truly adapt the graphic novel, cutting and editing a decidedly epic story that spans nearly six decades into a trim, cohesive and thought-provoking film or would he choose to follow the route previously set by 300 and make a near carbon copy of the comic, perhaps sacrificing a smoother-flowing film narrative for a more faithful translation? In the theatrical cut of the film, it’s clear he tried to do both, to varying success.
The major sequences from the comic are expertly represented, with matching composition and colours helping to create a seamless transition between page and screen. The characters are mostly how I imagined them and the world depicted is a familiar one from the comic. The problem lies with the fact that most viewers of the film won’t have read the comic and won’t be familiar with the world or characters of Watchmen. Snyder does a good job of quick exposition, not slowing the film down with a long history lesson, but there’s still a lot of nuance lost (not surprising considering the depth and complexity of the comic).
Where Watchmen stumbles a bit is in the action sequences. While entertaining and technically well executed, the fight scenes are slightly over-the-top, more akin to The Matrix or V for Vendetta. In fact, some of the film’s visuals are too slick, too glossy. A more realistic approach would’ve helped to ground the film further, creating a truly believable world and characters.
Ultimately, this film was made for the fans of the comic. For those not familiar with the world of Watchmen prior to seeing the film, Watchmen is an exciting, intelligent, dark comic adaptation filled with complex characters and moral ambiguity. For the full effect, however, you need to read the Watchmen comic and immerse yourself in the world created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Zack Snyder’s version of the world is good, but Moore’s is better.