Years ago when director Terry Gilliam was attempting to bring Watchmen to the big screen he left the project after stating that the famed comic book “wasn’t filmable” and that, if it ever were done, it needed to be a 5-hour miniseries. After watching the film I’ll say I agree with his latter assessment. Zack Snyder has managed to make a faithful adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal Cold War-era superhero drama but, with the story being such a dense, intricately-layered piece of literature and art, it falls short of providing everything it needed to fan and non-fan alike. I’m sure that in the hands of most any other director the plot would have been so drastically altered that it would have barely resembled the original story, nor would it have retained the essence of what made it work in the first place. I’m only disappointed that the film wasn’t able to be given the adequate breathing room it so desperately requires, although if you were speaking to someone unfamiliar with the comic series they would have argued against that sentiment. Watchmen is a curious film in that, if you’re a fan, Snyder couldn’t have possibly crammed enough information into the already lengthy 160 minute film, but those who aren’t will complain that the film is too heavy on the talking and too light on the action. Well, that’s what Watchmen is all about; it’s a group of regular people masquerading as superheroes, trying to prevent the world from total nuclear annihilation. They are dealing with massive global issues that can’t be solved by defeating a nefarious crime boss or “cleaning up the streets”. As a dramatic work of real world-rooted superhero cinema, much like The Dark Knight, it’s a visually impressive film with a critical message that is just as relevant today as it was when it was published back in 1986. Set in an alternate Cold War-era America in 1985, Watchmen follows a group of masked superheroes, most of whom have retired after masked vigilantism was banned in 1977, as they attempt to uncover the mystery of who killed one of their own, The Comedian. The story follows the path each member has taken since they disbanded some years ago, with most living under their true identities while one, Rorschach, has continued on with his old ways and thinks there is much more to the Comedian’s death than they all thought. Watchmen is such an esoteric property that I didn’t see it resonating with the masses like an Iron Man or Batman film would have done. Warner Brothers wisely chose to market the film as an action-y, visual-heavy film – sort of like a superhero version of 300, if you will. It’s a gamble that paid off with a solid opening weekend, but I’m willing to bet the film won’t keep up the momentum because audiences aren’t getting what they expected. This is a very dialogue-heavy film with some good action sequences, but it is far from being a typical superhero film. My personal complaint, as a newly-minted fan of the source work, is that too much was left out of the film that made it work so well in the first place. A typical objective view from the uninitiated is that the film is boring and too long. It seems that either way someone’s bound to be left disappointed. Most of this review will be written under the assumption that you’re either familiar with the source work, or that you’re interested enough to read on and decide if the film might appeal to you. Being that this is a character-driven film, casting the right actors is absolutely crucial to this property. Literally dozens of names have been loosely attached to this project since it first began development back in the late 80’s, so to say that fanboys have been rabid with anticipation of the who’s who would be an understatement. Most important here was the casting of fan favorite, and my personal favorite character, Rorschach/Walter Kovacs. I’m very pleased to say that Jackie Earl Haley nailed it, big time. Rorschach’s entire persona comes to life with Haley in this role. His voice, his mannerisms… everything is just as it was in the comic. I view Rorschach as the antithesis of the Joker from The Dark Knight. Both characters are an absolute; there is no grey area. The only discernible difference is that the Joker stands for complete anarchy, whereas Rorschach struggles to rid the city of all forms of illegal activity to retain order. He just happens to utilize the most brutal means possible to get the job done. His own personal hypocrisy is that he seeks to restore law and order by meting out his own personal justice by any means necessary. Haley does a superb job and he’s easily the highlight of the film. Also well cast is Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl II/Dan Dreiberg. Wilson perfectly captures all of the subtle nuances that Dreiberg possessed in the comic. He’s a semi-retired, paunchy vigilante who’s reluctant to get back into his old ways, but once he does it reminds him of how good things once were. Along with Rorschach, I thought Wilson was the best cast actor of the film. Billy Crudup dons the blue skin of the only team member with actual superpowers, Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman. I thought that Crudup really brought the Doc the life, and his voice perfectly captured the tone of the character. Jon was a scientist before he became a God among men, so it required someone with a soft-spoken demeanor to pull off. Considering at one point Arnold Schwarzenegger was lined up to play the part, we should all be happy with how it turned out. Malin Akerman has been getting some bad press for her turn as Silk Spectre II/Laurie Juspeczyk but I really didn’t feel she did so badly. I think her delivery may have seemed a bit stifled because she was reading a lot of the lines verbatim from the comic, so that made her come across as a little wooden, but this was often the case with some of the other actors. More on that later. Aside from an awkward sex scene aboard the Owl ship with Dan, I didn’t have any qualms about her abilities in the role. She didn’t shine like Haley, but she was far from being the weakest link… That honor goes to Matthew Goode as Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt. He’s the only publicly-known member of the Watchmen, and he’s also known to be the world’s smartest man. In the comic, Veidt is portrayed as a man of incredible physical prowess, chiseled good looks and pragmatic thinking. In the film, Goode is hardly what you would call imposing and he looks more like a 70’s androgynous David Bowie clone than a costumed superhero. His performance felt restrained like he was hiding behind some self-effacing smirk to hide his evil genius but I just wasn’t buying it. For a role as crucial as his, Snyder severely miscast the part. On the supporting side, most everyone works here. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who keeps getting confused for Robert Downey Jr., works perfectly as the Comedian. Even though his old age makeup could have looked a little better, the guy really made the role his own. I kept thinking that, had he still been alive, the part would have been perfect for Robert Shaw. Carla Gugino plays Silk Spectre I, and she’s another one that got the part down just right. Again, her old age makeup wasn’t the best, but it’s not as horrendous or distracting as people have claimed. Matt Frewer pops up as Moloch, former arch-nemesis to the Watchmen. I like seeing him get more work; the guy is a solid actor. Zack Snyder obviously has a tremendous love all things Watchmen, but that fact is both a blessing and a curse upon this film. Just like he did with 300, pages of the comic are faithfully reproduced here on the big screen. While that works perfectly for visuals, it doesn’t quite work as well for dialogue. I think it’s ok to leave in some fan-favorite lines to keep fanboys happy, but comic book dialogue doesn’t work as well in a motion picture. A lot of the line delivery felt stilted and forced, and this was because it wasn’t written for a film; it was written for a comic book. Snyder should have allowed more breathing room for the words in the script to flow more naturally. This is a case where it isn’t the fault of the actors if a line doesn’t work. There may have been a way to maintain the integrity of the source novel without blatantly copying it word for word, but doing so might have pissed fans off. Either way, it’s tough to win with an audience. Snyder also decided to change the ending, which I was ok with since the comic’s ending did seem a little out of place. It would have been badass to see a inter-dimensional killer mutant squid munching on millions of people across the globe, but the film would have needed an extra 30 minutes just to explain how that is even possible. I hope the forthcoming Director’s Cut of the film will make things feel less claustrophobic. Snyder has said he cut around 30-40 minutes from the theatrical cut, plus there’s also the animated story-within-a-story Tales from the Black Freighter that will be integrated into the film as well. I’m sure it’ll help make more sense of the plot to Joe Six Pack, but it’ll also make the film a lengthy 3 hours and 40+ minutes and not many people can make it through movies that long. Given the limitations imposed on him by the studio, I think Snyder did the best possible job that he could have done. The film is extremely impressive. Tyler Bates’ score here sucks, plain and simple. I’m beginning to wonder if the guy has any real range in his scoring, or if he’s just a whore for Rob Zombie and Zack Snyder. I really didn’t feel like his musical choices hit the mark or fit the tone of the film. Thankfully, a lot of the film is full of pop culture tunes from the 80’s so Bates’ score isn’t all over the film. Most of the song choices work (best: Bob Dylan’s “The Time They Are A-Changin’” over the opening credits), but some really don’t (Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” during an awkward sex scene, Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower”). I don’t mind having good tunes pumped in over the visuals, but some of these felt shoe-horned in just to get them into the movie. That I don’t like. In the end, some things worked and some thing didn’t. Overall I really dug the movie and I’m sure it’ll hold up very well upon repeated viewings. Snyder did the best possible job that he could have and I think it’s commendable that he got a major movie studio to greenlight a brutal, graphic hard R-rated $100 million quasi-superhero flick based on an esoteric comic property from the 80’s. I can’t recommend reading the graphic novel ahead of time enough; so much more of the film will make sense if you do your homework. Also, if you can, see it on the IMAX screen. It’s incredible how good it looks and sounds in that environment.