Lets generally sum up how I feel about it with this sentence: If the graphic novel had never happened and this movie was just a one off flick from an independent writer, I would call it the perfect movie.
Now lets break it down:
Watchmen is widely regarded as the best graphic novel to have ever been printed, and in a sense, it is just that. There had never been (up to that point) a superhero book worth reading where the writer gave actual life to the characters, as if they were real people living among us. Only “Kick-Ass” has come close to this level of bonding between character and reader. These are not superhero’s, they are every day individuals who have dedicated their life to making the world a better place and utilize small gadgets and flashy outfits.
But even the outfits aren’t outlandish, as most are, when you think about it from character to character. Rorschach where’s plain street cloths with a hat and a trench coat, only utilizing his mask to hide his identity. Same goes for the Comedian. Although he where’s somewhat cheesy American flag colored shoulder pads, they are reminiscent from the late 70’s (which is the time period that fits here) when war vets, newly returned, started putting American flag decals on just about everything. The rest of his gear is completely parallel to ex-military vigilante, utilizing all of the straps and pockets and belts provided for carrying extra resources for battle. The only “superhero-ish” piece in his ensemble is his mask, which he obviously chose the easiest and less interfering on possible, a small “Robin” mask.
The outfit for Nite Owl II is not as out of place either for a real world scenario. Many say it closely mimics the standard Batman outfit, and that’s not a far stretch. It’s primarily body armor from head to toe but with enough flexibility for effective hand to hand combat, as well as specially made night vision goggles reminiscent of Owl eyes. Speaking of the Owl design throughout the costume, it is obvious that the character modeled it after the original Nite Owl not for flashiness, but as an ode to his predecessor who so inspired him to become a hero. The cape, even, is not all for show. He can utilize it in a multiple attacker scenario to distract and intimidate the other assailants that he is not currently disposing of.
Silk Spectre’s flash garments are purely reflective of the characters history, being that it is based off of the costume her mother wore decades before her. It is purely a matter of fashion although it does serve the purpose of function as well.
Ozymandias is just as well wearing flash which is reflective of his personality. Believing that he is a reincarnation of Alexander the Great, along with his skills in combat as well as strength and intelligence brings out pure arrogance and self love. He carries himself as if he is the king of kings, and his outfit is purely for his ego, although (due to his massive intelligence) it is also fit to work with his dexterity.
The only anomaly in this story is of course Dr. Manhattan, but that’s the point. He is a chemically altered being capable of just about everything, a true representation of a God. He has what many would call “super-powers”, his skin glows blue, he is the perfect example of a comic book super human, and its perfect. The perfect piece of doubt to put in the back of the mind of all these characters. Every time they put on the suit to go fight crime there will always be the thought of “well I don’t really need to do this anymore seeing that we have a God on earth” and yet they do it anyway. The perfect point of self doubt to keep these characters emotionally on their toes.
The balance of characters is perfect, from their internal monologue to the way they interact with each other. The writing of this could have just been released as a novel and would have done just as good, if not better. Writer Alan Moore (V for Vendetta, From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentleman, Batman: The Killing Joke) proves time and time again that he is one of the best, most creative minds in the business, and the fact that his anti-capitalism ideals get in the way of him being better known is a shame. Not on his part, but on the part of the publishing companies who have not met his every demand. Alan Moore may not be somebody you get along with, but he is sure as shit somebody you treat with respect.
Moore’s writing coupled with the classic look of Dave Gibbons (Green Lantern, 2000A.D, and winner of two Jack Kirby awards) makes no doubt one of the greatest stories ever told through the comic book medium. Needless to say putting it to film would be a challenge. There are few directors who can accurately translate comic books to the big screen, but Zach Snyder is one of them, and he may just be the best.
By utilizing the comic itself as the storyboard for the film, as well as a talented costuming department, and the cinematography of Larry Fong (Lost, 300) makes for a near perfect adaptation. The casting as well had dramatic effect on the outcome, as it could have had many mistakes. As much as I could highlight each of the actors individually, but all you need to do is think about who was considered for each role over the years and the outcome speaks for itself:
Rorschach: John Hurt (may have been great in the 80’s) Robin Williams (never) Daniel Craig (blech) and Simon Pegg (are you kidding?)
Dr. Manhattan: Arnold Schwarzenegger (shoot me) Dolph Lundren (strangle me with a pillow)
Comedian: Tommy Lee Jones (meh) Gary Busy (WHAT?) Ron Perlman (definitely could have worked in the 90’s) and Tom Jane (meh)
Nite Owl: Richard Gere (just no) Kevin Costner (yes, as long as he didn’t direct it too) John Cusack (meh) and Joaquin Phoenix (ruination of a character)
Other considerations that MAY have worked:
Nathan Fillion as Nite Owl
Jude Law as Ozymandias
Hilary Swank as Silk Spector
All in all, an amazing film, but there was something missing. No, I don’t mean the original ending. It was something emotional, almost like I was thinking to myself “yes, this is perfect, but it’s just not quite right”. In afterthought, it may have been that because the comic was around for so long and I’ve read it so many times, that I knew every line and every scene before it even happened. But it may go deeper than that.
Allan Moore has stated that he doesn’t want his name attached to any film project of his work, and for purely the reason that it is a different medium. He’s stated before that there are certain things you are only able to evoke in a graphic novel or comic book that cannot translate to film because it is either physically or emotionally impossible. I think, to a certain extent, he’s right. Seeing one of the greatest stories ever told play out on film is wonderful, but in the same vain as “47 Ronin” and “Beowulf” it doesn’t feel complete, and for the most part, I can’t describe it. Its an emotional connection that is lost from the original version of the story, that is: The comic version. That being said however, a whole new connection is built with the cinematic adaptation. But one cannot replace the other, so to try to sum it all up in one sentence yet again:
I love the Graphic Novel, and I love the Movie, but they are not the same thing, and it is not the same love.
Reel Comics Podcast