After reading all these reviews that complain that the film is too faithful to the original, or that it’s nothing more than a faithful adaptation, with nothing else to offer, I have to reiterate the tagline from the graphic novel: “Who Watches The Watchmen?” Certainly not these critics, to be sure. One of the biggest problems with watching an adaptation of any kind, but particularly one of a comic book, is the problem of fidelity, and the challenge of going in with preconceived ideas about the film. I have read the novel, and I had heard repeatedly that the movie is ok, but not great. I watched as a fan, but also with an eye toward someone who hadn’t read the novel, and I must say that I really enjoyed it.
Yes, it is faithful, and yes, it is good. David Edelstein said that the 1980s setting makes it seem dated; he even used the word “embalmed” to suggest the lack of life in the preservation of the comic. While it is set during the Cold War in the 80s, and Richard Nixon is still president somehow, the film speaks to contemporary issues and fears, which I will get to in a minute.
First, the cinematography is beautiful. The film looks a lot like the graphic novel. The soundtrack is well chosen, consisting in large part of popular songs from the 80s. Narratively, it follows pretty closely, with a lot of flashbacks and character development, which means that there isn’t really any masked crimefighting until almost two hours in, and which might be the factor that most contributes to the mediocre reviews this film is receiving.The special effects are good without being overwhelming. The fight scenes — well, they’re fight scenes (I’ve never been real big on that sort of thing and one must wonder how such long-retired heroes can suddenly spring back into action in acrobatic fight scenes, defeating dozens of foes without missing a beat, when I can’t even run around the block without stopping and gasping for air).
About the relevance to today: the film is set in the 80s, and/but there are several shots in which the twin towers of the WTC are very conspicuously displayed. In one of the early scenes, Veidt gives a speech about power and fear and enemies, with the twin towers behind him, as a blimp slowly travels in the direction of one of the towers. During the entire shot, I couldn’t take my eyes off the blimp, waiting for the impact, which, of course, never happens. The speech he is making (and I will have to edit this later to include more specific reference to it, as I have already forgotten the details) has obvious connections to global terrorism and our response to it. Later, Veidt lectures a bunch of investors about the evils of fossil fuels, and how they are the root of the world’s problems. Linking oil and terrorism is nothing new, but the film posits many other connections to today’s geopolitical situation, and the conclusions it (along with the original) draws are not very uplifting.
I realize that the above analysis is clumbsy, but suffice it to say that the film is rich with complex philosophical and political allegories, as well as being well made and fun to watch, at least especially for those who have read the original.