Watchmen

Short version #1: If you are a huge comics fan, DC or Marvel or other, old or young, then yes you should go see this film. But duh, you already knew that and probably already have.

Short version #2: If you are anyone else, should you go see this film? Maybe. Quite frankly, the film wasn’t written or shot for you, but for those other folks from #1. It’s going to be rough. Go into it like you would a foreign or subtitled or indie film, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. If you can do that, then you might enjoy it. Maybe.

Long version:

Yeah, every other review has focused on how painstakingly faithful the film is to the original graphic novel. And how well done the graphics are. And how the graphic novel was a breakthrough and celebrated work that changed the comics industry.

But here’s the thing: I doubt the work can stand on its own.

See, the deal with Watchmen was that the book was so different than anything else that came out in its time. But that’s just it: in being such a breakthrough, it’s irrevocably tied to the time and environment and climate in which it was released. If you can fully appreciate the mental state of the world in 1985-87 when it was written and released, and you can put yourself in that same state, then you can appreciate the work for what it was.

But now? Does the film, and the graphic novel, make sense more than 20 years later? More to the point, will it make sense to the 99% of the audience that isn’t going to bother getting into that headspace?

I actually think the points that were being made in the original novel are pushed a bit too far into the background in the film. People are all imperfect, even heroes. We want to believe in something bigger and better, and we keep searching for that even after we are continually shot down. Good isn’t always right, and bad isn’t always wrong, and sometimes you can’t tell the difference.

Those points were what made the graphic novel the breakthrough it was. But it wasn’t the points themselves, but the context in which the points were being made. At the time, comics were very different—much more happy and Technicolor and Super Friends, and much less violent. The Batman and Joker of the early ’80s were nothing like Bale and Ledger’s Dark Knight. If you take away that context, that gut-wrenching head-turning flip, does the point still stand on its own?

Eh. I don’t know. I don’t really think so. But maybe.

It’s not a bad film. The cinematography is good. The visual effects are excellent. The dialogue is a bit wordy and overdone, as is some of the acting, but not terribly so. It might be too violent or graphic for some, but we’re not talking about a grindhouse or Skinemax flick. If you can push past all of the pretty-shiny to get at the points that are being made, then you’ll probably enjoy it.

Oh, and the changed ending that you keep hearing about? Personally, I like the film’s ending better. It’s faithful to the original, and is effectively the same, but won’t give the non-diehards a headache trying to figure out wtf just happened.