To kick off this review, I'd like to include a little bit of background about my experience with the Watchmen story. I first picked up the Watchmen graphic novel around 1990 and loved it instantly. I thought that this was the way comics should be written from that point forward. It was gritty, real and had an ending that did not compromise and stayed controversial. After waiting nearly two decades for a movie version of this "unfilmable" story, the Zack Snyder directed Watchmen did not disappoint.
Ladies and gentlemen, THIS is how you make an adult superhero epic! Spoilers for both the book and the movie follow, so be aware before you continue below...and you may want to get something to drink, this is a long one.
I'm writing this review before I read any other reviews online or in other media so this is my own undiluted view of the film. I'm trying to convince my wife to write a guest review from the point of view of someone who hasn't read the book, or many comic books at all. She absolutely loved the movie by the way
Quickly before the review, those that know me know that I'm a movie trailer fanatic, so we got a new Transformers trailer (sweet), a Seth Rogen movie about him as a mall cop (meh) and a Terminator : Salvation trailer (awesome).
On to the review : The visuals are beautiful. I'm no film expert, just an enthusiast. The opening credit sequence was unexpected and enjoyable, and the general tone of the film is very dark but not overly so. Snyder uses the same slow-motion fighting techniques that he uses in 300 (which I'm actually watching while writing this) but he doesn't over-do it. In my opinion, it gives the fight scenes an amplified impact and really ups the ante on the brutality. And the movie is brutal...impressively so. I don't recall that much blood and gore from the book and that might be my only real issue with the film as it began to feel excessive at times.
As far as sound design goes, I was equally impressed. The music choices fit the scenery and lent a "real world" feel. The only one I found cheesy was the use of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" during the Nite Owl / Silk Spectre sex scene, which also seemed a bit drawn out but didn't take you too far out of the movie. During the excellent fight sequences, every impact is heard and felt by the viewer making them that much more brutal. This is used effectively during the prison riot scene and the final fight at Karnak.
With regards to the source material, many of my favorite moments were intact in the movie. Rorschach's morphing mask was well done, although without the explanation from the book which didn't really bother me. Doctor Manhattan's indifferent and detached attitude toward regular humans is dead on, as is his origin (for some reason I was always fascinated by the concept of a disembodied nervous system floating around). Even Ozymandias' genetically altered cat Bubastis makes a cameo but is never really explained, although given the tweaked ending that is understandable and not particularly necessary.
My favorite sequence in the book remains (mostly) unchanged, though. When Nite Owl and Rorschach confront Ozymandias in the end, Ozy lays out his master plan in true Bond cillain style. Rorschach tells him that they won't let him do it, to which Ozymandias replies (and excuse me if I get the wording a little wrong, I don't have the book in front of me): I'm not some comic book super-villain. Do you seriously think I'd explain my master-stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did (triggered in the movie) it thirty-five minutes ago. At this point, all hope drops from the heroes and they feel insignificant and helpless in the face of such a bold move. Nite Owl actually witnessing Rorschach's killing is a nice addition in the film and adds a great deal of emotional turmoil to an already disturbing ending.
About the ending, which is tweaked from the book : I had read, early on in the production, that they were not going to use the "alien squid" from the book. This bothered me at first because this book has one of my favorite endings in comics history. It recalls the old moral question "Would you kill one to save a thousand?" In the book, Ozymandias manufactures an alien creature using genetic research (hence his genetically altered pet) and fakes an alien attack on New York City in order to unite the world against a percieved otherworldly invasion. The basic plot is still there in the film, although the movie makes the threat more worldwide by involving other cities and makes Dr. Manhattan the scapegoat as Ozymandias uses Manhattan's powers to kick off his plan. After the attack, the world does indeed unite as one, ushering in an era of peace and unity, leaving our heroes to debate whether this is the best move for the greater good. The only hero that holds his moral ground, is Rorschach, who is silenced as well.
Bringing this to a close, because my fingers are getting tired, this was an exceptionally enjoyable movie from beginning to end and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has or has not read the book. not having read it did in no way detract from my wife's experience, and actually may have helped because she wasn't looking for certain things to happen. I am most impressed that the movie was not "dumbed down" for a mass audience, as these movies sometimes are.
UPDATE : OK, now that I've read some other reviews I'd like to address a few things.
1. CNN has a headline from one of their iReporters (the "i" apparently stands for idiot on this one) that reads "Watchmenis a great movie, but not for kids" Really!?! No shit? Was the "R" rating your first clue or did it take you until the end to figure this out?
2. One of the other things I'm seeing is a favorite occurence of mine in the comic book fanatic community, the "never happy" reviews. Die hard comic book reviewers have been complaining for ages that comic book movies stray too far from the source material and take too many liberties. I'm seeing many reviews for Watchmen that claim that Snyder sticks TOO CLOSE to the source material and that it failed as a film because it doesn't stray far enough. Seriously?
3. "People who didn't read the book will be totally lost." Bullshit, my wife never read it and she was as excited and pumped up as I was when we left the theater. Reason #852 why I married her :-)