by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

On an alternate Earth, the Watchmen used to be a band of superheroes until their activities were outlawed and they were forced into retirement. As the story begins in 1985, one of the old team has been killed, and another suspects that the murder is the beginning of a plan to kill all of them, so he begins his own investigation into the slaying and, in the process, comes into contact with all of his former colleagues.

In the greater sweep of civilization, Nixon is in his 5th term because the superheroes helped him win the war in Vietnam, and made him popular enough that the term limits had to be eliminated. Unfortunately, The Soviet Union is not quite falling into line so easily. International tensions are strained tighter than during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the world is on the very brink of nuclear annihilation. It seems that the only thing preventing the world from beginning the atomic shoot-out is the presence of a God-like superhero named Dr. Manhattan, who is so powerful that he exists outside of time and space, but is gradually becoming more detached from earthly life, and therefore less involved with the fate of the race he once belonged to.

What does the murder of a superhero have to do with international politics? That's a fair question, but rest assured that the two plots described in the paragraphs above do eventually merge into one, albeit uneasily.

Stop asking such questions. You should not try to apply any logic to the film. There is none. If logic prevailed, you might ask yourself these questions:

1. Granted that Dr. Manhattan could not stop every single missile launched in a nuclear war, why does he not take pre-emptive action by either removing all of the Russian nuclear capabilities or, for that matter, removing everyone's weapons before they have a chance to deploy them.

2. Why the hell did Dr. Manhattan belong to a superhero team? Given his nearly infinite powers, how exactly did the others, all basically human, further his efforts?

The presence of Dr. Manhattan in the Watchmen world is problematic in the same way that Superman's powers make it so hard to create any challenges or partnerships for him in the DC world. Sups and Doc are just so powerful that they make all plotting clumsy and unrealistic. The actual story line of Watchmen's "present" time does manage to get Dr. Manhattan out of the way quite deftly, at least temporarily, but there is simply no way to deal with the questions posed above as they apply to the past of their universe. You just have to accept everything posited about the history of this counter-Earth, even if it seems to make no sense. Live in the present with them.

Unfortunately, there's only about ten minutes worth of plot in the present, and the film is two and a half hours long. (There is a rumor that a special DVD version will add yet another hour to the running time.) The rest of the time is padded out with flashbacks and more flashbacks inside those flashbacks, all of which are needed because there are many characters to develop. If the many characters were familiar ones whose origins were already familiar to us, like Superman or Spiderman, the screenwriters would not need to bog the film down in back-story, but that's not the case here, so the film has to present the wherefores.

In attempting to present the necessary exposition, the screenwriters' choices were not always wise.


For example, there is a lot of running time devoted to the fact that Silk Spectre turns out to be the daughter of the original Silk Spectre and The Comedian, two people who supposedly hated one another. Yet when the Silkstress finally learns the secret of her paternity, our reaction is "so what?" It has absolutely nothing to do with either of the two main plots described above. All of Silk Spectre's back-story could have been eliminated without losing anything vital from the film, thus serving the double purpose of making the film both better paced and less confusing. The character of Silk Spectre's mother could have and should have been eliminated from the film entirely.

(end SPOILERS) I marked that as a spoiler, which it is, but it will not actually spoil anything for you. The secret of Spectre's paternity is of no interest before it is revealed and of no significance after it is revealed. In other words, it is an answer you don't care about to a question you never would have asked in the first place.

The film has its share of additional problems. Here are some major examples:

1. Some of the special effects are so poor as to be laughable. Night Owl's plane/boat contraption looks fine in repose, but in motion it looks like it was animated by either Ed Wood or those supermarionation dudes who created Supercar in the early 60s.

2. One of the central performances is just awful. The guy who plays Ozymandias, the "word's smartest man," is so weak that it's difficult to believe he's even a professional actor, and it's shocking that the director couldn't see that immediately. He comes off as a cross between Owen Wilson as Hansel in Zoolander and Mike Myers in "Sprockets." I kept expecting him to say, "Und now, vee tance."

3. The script quotes a lot of comic book dialogue and narration. Lines that look fine on the written page can often sound pretentious when real actors have to deliver them. (I'm dreading the Mighty Thor movie.)

4. The fight scenes are often clumsy.

On the other hand, the film has elements and moments of sheer genius:

* Jackie Earle Haley is brilliant and just downright terrifying as Rorschach, the sociopathic super "hero" whose view of humanity fills him with bitterness for a race in which nobody else can ever live up to his uncompromising standards. I never felt a real chill when Heath Ledger was on the screen as the evil Joker, but Jackie Earle managed to make me shiver while playing a good guy! His character is defined by this bit of narration: "The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout 'Save us!' And I'll whisper 'no'."

* Billy Crudup, with the most difficult role as a God unable to shake off his human origins, manages to create a Dr. Manhattan who is both detached from humanity and yet in tune with its core values. He manages to engage both our curiosity and our sympathy.

* The Nixon/Kissinger war room is a nice bit of homage to Dr. Strangelove.

* Patrick Wilson has some great moments as Dan, aka Night Owl, and the screenwriters gave him some great material to work with. Seemingly content as a peacefullly retired superhero, his wimpy facade disguises the fact that he is actually unhappy to have been castrated by society. His response to his loss of potency is another type of impotence, much to the disappointment of the female superhero, Silk Spectre. But when he and the Spectre decide to flout the superhero ban and get back in the fray, Owl's manhood returns to him. The more daring their adventures, the happier and sexier he becomes. After they save some people from a burning building and make passionate love, the renascent Night Owl suggests that they break their colleague (Rorschach) out of prison. Spectre tells him that blasting in and out of a maximum security prison will be much more difficult than putting out a fire, to which he responds "and much more fun," with a sense of delight that we had not previously seen from the reserved and professorial "Dan."

* Interesting score from song-poets: Dylan, Leonard Cohen, etc.

* Sci-Fi/Fantasy, the genre of superhero comics, has always been an arena in which interesting ideas are presented and examined. Watchmen is filled with daring ideas. Some of them are sheer lunacy, to be sure, and none of them are presented with any sense of balance. It may even be true to say that the vast majority of the ideas are just plain wrong. But none of that is as important as the fact that the ideas are both original and interesting. Let's face it, if we wanted sound reasoning, nuance and complexity, we wouldn't be watching a movie where the characters have names like Moloch the Mystic. We watch a sci-fi/fantasy movie to encounter the outré, the fantastical, the speculative, the wildly imaginative. In that respect, Watchmen is a triumph, if a slightly demented one.

Bottom line? I like this movie. It has a film noir grittiness to go with a sci-fi sense of imagination, sort of like Blade Runner, except it also has a truly nutty Dr. Strangelove overlay. It's one weird-ass and occasionally confusing movie, but one I found consistently fascinating, even though it seems to me like a good movie that should have been much better.

Blu-Ray Blu-Ray (Motion Comic)
Paperback Book Deluxe Hardcover Book


4 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
64 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
56 (of 100)

















8.0 IMDB summary (of 10)
B- Yahoo Movies












Box Office Mojo. It took in $55 million on its opening weekend, but precipitous, nearly record-breaking drops in the following weeks will keep it below $150m.









Plenty. This is not your father's superhero movie.
  • Patrick Wilson shows his butt.
  • Malin Akerman offers up some T&A in a couple of scenes.
  • Billy Crudup's character shows a blue penis and bum throughout the movie. That is CGI.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


A good movie that seems to fall short of its potential. The 8.0 at IMDb is just fanboys masturbating. That's how good it SHOULD have been, but the actual movie is not "Top 250" caliber. (See the 56 at Metacritic and the 64 at Rotten Tomatoes.)