Watchmen is considered one of the most acclaimed graphic novels out there. The story of a world where the U.S. won the Vietnam War and superheroes/vigilantes actually existed. It is a comic that has spun a prequel and sequel comic and an HBO series.
But before those, the world got a 2009 movie directed by then up and coming director. This director, who had just come off of the heels of 300, took it upon himself to attempt to bring the Watchmen graphic novel to the silver screen. This director was none other than Zack Snyder. For you see, up until this point, Watchmen was considered unfilmable. Several failed attempts to bring it to the big screen would come before Zack Snyder’s take, and it would take roughly twenty years for it to finally hit theaters.
And while this movie can be a hit or miss for viewers, I would argue that Watchmen (2009) is a solid adaptation. It stayed pretty faithful to the source materials, the casting was great, and the changes that were made, fit the story really well.
Disclaimer: If this blog sounds familiar to you, it is because I did do a post talking about this movie. I just wanted to rework and reword it. Also, some spoilers ahead.
For the most part, Watchmen 2009 stayed pretty close to the source material. Of course, like any adaptation of a pre-established media, changes are bound to be made (which I will touch more on later). However, with that said, Watchmen 2009, for the most part, stayed pretty faithful.
All the major plot points were hit. It starts off with Eddie Blake (The Comedian) being killed by an unknown assailant. Rorschach decides to investigate, coining a conspiracy/theory that someone is targeting masks. We get to see Dr. Manhattan become increasingly more distant, driving Laurie to seek comfort in Dan. Dr. Manhattan leaves Earth for Mars and Rorschach is arrested for Moloch’s death. We learn about the characters background (barring the younger years of Dan and Adrian). Laurie and Dan break Rorschach out of jail, which leads to Laurie reuniting with Dr. Manhattan and Dan and Rorschach learning that it was Adrian who was behind Eddie’s murder and Dr. Manhattan’s desertion. And it concludes with Adrian executing his plan, Rorschach’s death, and the beginning of a new future.
While this is obviously a condensed version of the events of the movie, this is essentially what it kept from the canon throughout. And with an R rating, it was able to get away with a lot of the nitty gritty details that a PG-13 movie would not be able to get away with. And while the director’s cut and the ultimate cut are considered the better ways to enjoy the movie (which is better depends on the person), the theatrical release certainly did a solid enough job with the two hour and thirty-two minute runtime it had.
The casting was also something that this movie did right. Rather than going with “big name” actors, Zack Snyder went with actors who pulled off the characters really well.
Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are the go to actors who are praised for their roles as Rorschach and the Comedian respectively. I wholeheartedly agree. Jackie Earle Haley pulled off exactly what I would expect for a live action Rorschach and Jeffery Dean Morgan pulled off the Comedian perfectly. I don’t think I could see either character played by anyone else, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that.
That said, the rest of the main cast was great. At least in my opinion. Obviously, not everyone will think the casting choices were perfect. However, I think that it was for the most part.
Billy Crudup was a great Dr. Manhattan in my opinion. Not only did the effects for Dr. Manhattan look great (for the time and I’d argue since), but Billy Crudup pulled off Dr. Manhattan very well. He was able to pull of Manhattan’s soft spoken, intellectual and distant nature really well.
Matthew Goode, though maybe not everyone’s pick (be it the look/physique or his initial reaction to criticism), managed to pull of the charm and intellect of Adrian Veidt (a.k.a. Ozymandias) really well.
Malin Åkerman is another pick that I feel worked. I know I’ve seen a case made for her performance coming off not as strong as some of the others, which I won’t say is an unreasonable critique, but I do feel like she plays Laurie pretty well. She had the look and the general idea for the character. She certainly pulled off the role of Laurie well in my opinion and I don’t know who else I could see playing her.
One person that I haven’t seen a lot of talk about (though I’m sure it’s out there), is Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl. The biggest complaint I’ve seen had less to do with the performance and more with the suit and how it felt too Batman like. I don’t think I’d be the only one to say that Patrick Wilson did a perfect portrayal of Dan Dreiberg. He got the awkward quirkiness of the character down well as well as the initial nonconfrontational attitude towards certain characters.
As previously mentioned, this movie did change a few things from the graphic novel. Some including, Dan visiting Adrian about Rorschach’s Masked Conspiracy, the execution of Adrian’s plan, and Dan witnessing Rorschach’s death. And while them changing the alien squid to explosions laced in Dr. Manhattan’s signature (which may have been due to the CGI/effects of the time), I’d like to discuss two changes that worked really well. The conclusion to the Blair Roche Case and Dan being there for Rorschach’s death.
The Blair Roche Case is the case that changed Rorschach forever. The case that stopped him from being so “soft” and taking up his more absolutist mindset. During his evaluation with Dr. Malcolm Long, we learn about the case of six year old Blair Roche, who was kidnapped initially due to the perpetrator thinking she came from a wealthy family. Rorschach takes on the case and finds out that she had been killed and feed to the man’s dogs. In the comic, Rorschach kills the dogs and burns the house down with the perp inside.
In the movie, we get a slightly more gruesome and conflicted approach to the death. There is a particular video that discusses why this first kill worked and why the movie did it better than the comic (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kWt8YhBIro), which I do see as a good argument. In it, it discusses how (as the viewer) we get to understand what Rorschach is going through thanks to music cues and the body language and expressions Jackie Earle Haley was able to convey despite not speaking or showing his face. Where as in the comic, we only get to see how it plays out panel by panel with it only being read.
These cues are exactly what was needed to understand what Rorschach was feeling in this moment. The silent inspection as Rorschach’s monologue sets the scene, the ambiance of the dogs fighting over a bone, and the horror of finding out what really happened to Blair. And then we get the moment where Rorschach has the killer tied to a chair. Having already killed the dogs and used them to prove his point, Rorschach’s body language shows signs of hesitance at killing the man. However, he ultimately swallows whatever hesitance he has before hacking away at the man with a meat cleaver.
This scene was certainly done wonderfully. Though maybe a bit more graphic than the comic, what it gave to the character was well done. The mood, music, and body language is what sells this scene and gives Rorschach a complexity that may not have been as easily inferred the comic (not to say it couldn’t, but the movie added that layer it needed).
The next scene I’d like to talk about is Dan witnessing Rorschach’s death. While both the comic and the movie pulled of his speech and death spectacularly (with Jackie Earle Haley’s performance being amazingly directed), there was one thing the movie had that the comic didn’t. Nite Owl witnessing it.
For context, Dan Dreiberg and Rorschach were partners prior to the events of Watchmen. They had grown apart after the passing of the Keene Act and Dan deciding to retire, where as Rorschach stuck to vigilantism. Though these two seem like opposites, their partnership was one that worked. And when they are eventually reunited and Dan finally puts his down in regards to Rorschach making a passive remark about how Dan “forgot how they do things” and was “too trusting, especially with women” comment, we get to see another side of their partnership. Not only does Rorschach apologize, admitting he knows he can be difficult, he admits that Dan is a good friend. And more than likely, Rorschach’s only friend.
I only bring this up because of where Dan was when Rorschach died. In the comic, Dan was getting cozy with Laurie and some might argue that he shouldn’t have in that moment. That’s also why some people may like the ending in the movie a bit more than in the comic. With a friendship that was firmly placed by this point, one would think that Dan would be there when Rorschach tries to leave. After all, despite being hesitant towards Rorschach’s Mask Killer conspiracy, Dan still made sure to have his back, going as far as to break him out of prison.
The emotional range Dan had when witnessing Rorschach’s death were realistic too. He’s traumatized by seeing a friend, who he had not seen in years, die right in front of him. Dan lashes out at Adrian, throwing a few punches at him, for pretty much being the reason that he died (an not entirely liking Adrian’s plan). It’s a change that I felt was necessary and gave depth to the situation more so than the comic.
Watchmen (2009) is a movie that most people will either love or hate. However, as an adaptation, I think it did really well considering when it was made. It was pretty accurate to the source material, had some great casting choices, and had some noteworthy, but fitting changes. It’s a movie that I would certainly recommend if you’re looking for a good superhero movie, a good Zack Snyder movie, and/or a complex movie about choices, morality, and what it would be like in a world where superheroes actually existed.