Industry-watchers know how tough a time Watchmen has had on its way to the silver screen, what with its long and difficult development, directors jumping ship left and right, and the public disavowal of co-creator Alan Moore — not to mention that pesky lawsuit. Part superhero movie and part mystery, the epic novel follows a group of has-been crime fighters dusting off their latex suits in an alternate-history 1980s America, potbellies and psychological deficiencies and all; quite appropriately, Watchmen the movie earns its R-rating with decapitations, gore, and bone-crunching action — a comic book movie for adults.
Now that it’s finally arriving, most questions are concerned with one underlying issue: will Zack Snyder satisfy Watchmen‘s core fans? As early reviews come in from around the globe, the answer appears to be yes. In the upper range of the Tomatometer with 15 reviews in (get the latest Tomatometer updates here), Watchmen is off to the promising start that fans of the graphic novel had hoped for. Below, we round up the early Watchmen reviews.
How faithful is Zack Snyder’s film to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ landmark graphic novel, and how much do its differences matter? Critics agree that despite making some key departures from its source, this is as close to replicating Moore’s Watchmen — its characters, story, and world — as any filmmaker could have come. Although fans have been wary of a key change by writers Alex Tse and David Hayter at the end of the film, the new ending retains the spirit of Moore’s original one and, surprisingly, might even work better.
“Thoughtful without being didactic, glossy without being slick, and ultimately, cohesive without being entirely compelling; in other words, it’s as accurate and authentic as any single-serving adaptation of the source material is likely to be.” — Todd Gilchrist, H Magazine
“Snyder’s Watchmen captures the themes and the meanings and the characters that Moore and Gibbons created but makes them his own, turning the movie from being simply an adaptation into something that feels closer to collaboration.” — Devin Faraci, CHUD
“Unlike the simplified screen hack jobs which have mocked Moore’s incredible body of work — a misguided From Hell and a downright lousy League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen — this is referential to the point of being reverential.” — Steve Anglesey, Daily Mirror
“Is it more ‘Hollywood’? That’s a matter of personal preference, and one best left to the forums. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. The mood and the sentiment are preserved and it’s arguably a better fit for the screen.” Patrick Kolan, IGN AU
Casting Watchmen‘s key players was always a point of debate, but Snyder ultimately chose a group of up-and-coming actors for the roles of Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), and Ozymandias (Matthew Goode). His best-known actor, Billy Crudup, is ironically the least recognizable, transformed by a team of motion capture artists into a multi-dimensional blue being. And for the most part, Snyder’s choices work well — highlighted by standout performances by Haley and Morgan, though hindered by the sometimes-awkward line readings of Akerman and Goode.
“[Jackie Earle Haley] is, as is every other character in this adaptation, perfectly realised and uncompromisingly accurate — down to his speech patterns and short, scrawny build.” — Patrick Kolan, IGN AU
“Jackie Earle Haley seems born to play the role of Rorschach; most impressive is the way that he understands the dichotomy of the character, and how he plays him in and out of costume…When the mask is removed Haley becomes a coiled weapon, a switchblade about to be triggered at all times.” — Devin Faraci, CHUD
“Honestly, Akerman just can’t handle the material. She looks hot in latex, I’ll give her that. The big scenes are well done, but when we get into the actual story, the dialogue suffers, the tension falters and the film falls flat.” — Jenna Busch, JoBlo’s Movie Emporium
“It is Matthew 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.” — Ian Nathan, Empire Magazine
Next: Critics chime in on Watchmen‘s R-rated action and score
Critics are at odds over whether or not there is too much action, not enough, or just the right amount. As in his 2006 hit 300, Snyder plays with film speed to enhance fight sequences, and is unrelenting in his pursuit of an R-rating; even then, his fight scenes are relatively few, testament to the fact that Snyder’s focus is on his heroes’ psyches, and not their brawls. Critics note that Snyder seems to have actually added to the violent action of the novel, extending his fight sequences to pull no punches and show the brutality of Watchmen‘s “heroes,” who don’t hesitate to break bones and slice their way through enemies with graphic abandon.
“Action was certainly there and really overdone. The attack on the Comedian in the beginning went on far too long and the fight at the end did as well. It made the rest of the film suffer.” — Jenna Busch, JoBlo’s Movie Emporium
“Fights are graphic, often far more impactful and grotesque than originally rendered on page. Bones snap through skin, a man’s head is repeatedly cleaved with sickening viscerality — and yet, it is handled delicately, not indiscriminately.” — Patrick Kolan, IGN AU
“Watchmen is unquestionably the most brutal comic-book movie ever made: bullets puncture skulls, faces crunch, a man is burned to death with cooking fat, splatty eviscerations leave blood and bones dripping off the walls and ceilings… Fantastic Four this ain’t.” — Total Film
“What it does from a thrill-ride standpoint, it does thrillingly, demonstrating the same technical virtuosity that made Snyder’s 300 and Dawnof the Dead such indelible adventures. But other than those cranked-camera showdowns and standalone set pieces, it doesn’t seem like it’s really trying to be a thrill ride, which will surely disappoint those who are attending primarily for that sort of satisfaction.” — Todd Gilchrist, H Magazine
For the perfect score and soundtrack to compliment his specific period setting, Snyder turned to frequent collaborator Tyler Bates, who he’d worked with on Dawn of the Dead and 300. Using a combination of evocative instrumentals, Bates’ soundtrack draws comparisons to Vangelis’ Blade Runner score while injecting the film with story-puncutating, iconic American pop songs (like Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing,” Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” Nena’s “99 Luftballoons” and a muzak version of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”) — a combination that enhances Snyder’s film while begging to be noticed, perhaps distractingly so.
“If a comparison could be drawn, Watchmen’s score sidles up against Vangelis’ work for Blade Runner. It’s evocative stuff that feels suitably worn.” — Patrick Kolan, IGN AU
“The choice by Tyler Bates to score the film like it was made in the ’80s pays off with a soundtrack that could sit next to the Vangelis ‘Blade Runner’ and the Wang Chung ‘To Live And Die In LA’ easily. ” Drew McWeeny, HitFix
“Even the soundtrack feels deliberately excessive, punctuating moments of sadness, liberation or reflection with such crass precision that it’s impossible to take seriously…” — Todd Gilchrist, H Magazine
Next: What’s the deal with Dr. Manhattan’s blue wang?
For many critics, one crucial element of the Watchmen tale proved particularly distracting. Yes, we’re talking about Dr. Manhattan’s blue junk, on display throughout the film. (It should be noted that his is not the only nudity in the movie, thanks to a steamy sex scene featuring other characters. But it is the most glorious.) To those who would be distracted by Dr. Manhattan’s member, including British critic Robbie Collin, who uses the colloquialism “todger” to describe it, HitFix’s Drew McWeeny has one thing to say: get over it.
“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 c***.” — Ian Nathan, Empire Magazine
“Not only does he have God-like dominion over space and time, but also the far more terrifying ability to stride around naked with his nuclear todger on display, like a porno version of Blue Man Group.” — Robbie Collin, News of the World
“Yes, Dr. Manhattan spends some of the movie walking around completely naked, but it’s about as erotic as a trip to see Michelangelo’s David. He is the idealized male form made real, and if you get hung up on the sight of the penis (like when a certain online columnist was inspired to wretched poetry by the mere thought of it), you may need to spend some private time exploring why the penis has such power over you. ” Drew McWeeny, HitFix
After The Dark Knight (and, before it, Batman Begins) paved the way for the comic book movie to be taken seriously, critics now ask: Is Watchmen more than just a genre flick? Given its sensitive and adult content — murder, attempted rape, explicit sexuality — it’s certainly more grown-up than the label would imply. Can Watchmen build upon the new legacy that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight began? Many early reviewers think so.
“There is unwanted pregnancy, erectile dysfunction and deep sexual anxiety too. Patrick Wilson’s Nite Owl, for instance, cannot ‘perform’ unless he has beaten up some criminals first, while Billy Crudup’s fluorescent blue Dr. Manhattan, complete with exposed genitalia, offers kinky yet loveless sex to Silk Spectre. Add to this some startlingly incisive monologues on fascism, free will and American democracy, and you have a movie that is reaching utterly beyond the confines of its genre.” — Kevin Maher, Times Online
“The best compliment I can pay Snyder’s work, which is visionary but not flawless, is to say that it’s original, or matchless by any standards of comic book pictures, including the ‘Batman’ franchise. ” — Emanuel Levy, EmanuelLevy.com
“It’s dark but not realistic, serious but hyper-stylised. From Nixon’s prosthetic nose to the rain-soaked artificial backdrops, Watchmen always feels like a comic-book movie.” — Total Film
“Zack Snyder’s visually orgasmic film might just be the best-written, best-performed and most meaningful superhero movie ever made.” — Clint Morris, Moviehole
“I’m absolutely seeing it again, but disappointed nonetheless.” — Jenna Busch, JoBlo’s Movie Emporium
“One of the finest superhero movies ever made, hands down.” — Patrick Kolan, IGN AU
“A glorious, epic, exciting, mind blowing piece of art.” – Devin Faraci, CHUD
“Watchmen is an easy film to admire, but a less easy one to enjoy.” — Todd Gilchrist, H Magazine
“Uncompromising, uncommercial and unique.” Total Film
“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.” — Ian Nathan, Empire Magazine
“Visionary but not flawless.” — Emanuel Levy, EmanuelLevy.com