Watchmen is not a story for everyone. Unlike the traditional comic archetypes of a ‘hero,’ the characters are unlikeable; they aren’t empathetic or relatable on more than a superficial level, which is of course the idea – likewise, they can’t relate well to people, events, relationships – or, in the case of Dr. Manhattan, time or humanity. The story is filled with rape, sex, intense violence, and other elements that make this story very distinct from your run-of-the-mill comic book movie. But this isn’t a comic book movie – it’s from a graphic novel (with emphasis on the graphic), and these are costumed characters (save Dr. M) – NOT heroes.
If you’re not familiar with the story, you probably don’t want to see this film. It’s not a ‘sex/drugs/rock-n-roll’ story, although certain characters (most notably Rorschach) are similar to the vigilante anti-hero that style of story glorifies. The concept that we should not expect anyone, no matter how much spandex and gadgetry they may have, to determine our fate is a compelling one. We have always been conditioned to entrust ourselves to these types of characters because they are not human or are in some way supposed to be ‘better’ than us; why do we not trust human nature enough to create our own destinies, to have more faith in ourselves? Would we sit around and let the world die if a hero wasn’t around to save us from ourselves? After all: who watches the Watchmen?
If you are familiar with the story, then you will probably be amazed at how true to the original it is, but some of the changes left me a bit baffled. For instance, why did they change the watch that sets into motion the accident that transforms Dr. Manhattan? But overall the changes are few and slight, and it seems that they even made an accompanying Tales of the Black Freighter to be released on DVD (that story is not at all in the movie). The visual elements were well done overall; Rorschach looked amazingly true to the novel (even without the mask), and many of the small details will make it worth watching this film again (hint: look for all of the 80s ‘celebrities’ you can find!).
Overall, your enjoyment of the film will mostly hinge on your enjoyment of the graphic novel. If you haven’t read it, you probably will want to prior to seeing the film – not because you won’t be able to follow it otherwise, but because your expectations of a standard-fare superhero movie need to be altered beforehand. If you know what’s in store for you, this movie will pleasantly surprise you. If you just want to see boobs and explosions (and a glowing blue digital penis), it does have those elements, but the premise of the film and the lofty, existential concepts behind it will disappoint you.