First, a confession: I am not a fan of comic books in general or “Watchmen,” the wildly successful graphic novel on which the movie reviewed here is based. But when done well, comic book-originated movies can create a captivating world that offers a welcomed escape.
At first “Watchmen” achieves this by drawing you into a dark alternate reality version of 1985, with Richard Nixon serving a fifth term as president and presiding over a raging Cold War against the Soviets that has left the superpowers at the brink of nuclear war.
Until a federal law banned them years earlier, this world was also inhabited by a group of costumed heroes. Now most of them live as regular people with fond memories of a bygone life. But when one of them is brutally murdered, the group is forced to consider that someone is out to eliminate them all.
As is the case with all movies adapted from beloved source material, the filmmakers have a huge dilemma before them - satisfy the often rabid, loyal fan base or please the general moviegoing audience?
At least for its first 45 minutes, it seemed that “Watchmen” would be a definite hit for fans and non-fans alike. The setting, though gloomy, is wholly original with layers of political subtext that feel just as relevant today as when comic book first hit the stands in 1986.
But a little further along in the film it hit me - where the heck is the story? We’ve had plenty of flashbacks and montages sharing the characters’ histories, but precious little about where they are headed and, more importantly, why we should care.
As stylized and epic as it was, this meandering continued through the film’s entire 2 hour and 40 minute runtime.
I don’t care how epic your source material is - a good film needs a forward-moving story. It also helps if the filmmakers have the courage to face the potential wrath of hardcore fans and edit down to a reasonable length.
They could also have considered some less obvious soundtrack choices, fewer gratuitous blood and guts shots, and the elimination of what is possibly the most awkward sex scene in recent years.
The real superstar of “Watchmen” is Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach, who roams the night in a sociopathic rage aimed at wiping up the scum of the earth, all the while hiding behind a shifting ink-blotted mask. Haley grumbles and seethes with tremendous power – even with a mask on most of the time.
Of course, this review is from the perspective of a non-"Watchmen” fan. Since seeing the movie, I’ve perused the graphic novel and was truly impressed with just how close the filmmakers came to capturing the look and feel depicted on the pages. I can’t imagine any loyal fan finding the filmed version anything but awesome.