Circumstances of watching it: cartesiandaemon's friends T&R invited us to join them to watch the film. We saw it the Grafton Centre Vue, which is a fairly generic commercial cinema. They had a pick-n-mix counter but nearly all the sweets were full of gelatine so I ate honeycomb flavour icecream instead, which was nicer but not as good for nibbling at while the film was going on. If I'd been on my own I'd have chosen an earlier screening; for me, a three hour film starting at 8:30 is a bit much to take.
Verdict: Watchmen is cinematically impressive even if it's not really my thing.
I'm not the best placed to appreciate Watchmen as I'm pretty ignorant of the whole superhero genre that it's commenting on, both comics and films. (cartesiandaemon had to explain some common tropes to me so that I could understand The incredibles and this is obviously far more sophisticated.) For an inexperienced viewer, though, I thought it did a good job of both being an ultra-violent, ultra-sexy, shiny big screen action film, and of commenting on the passion of audiences for that kind of melodrama.
The plot is very complex, to the extent that it's close to the limit of what I can take in on screen. But I never found it confusing, in spite of the jumping about between timelines, and the pace of revealing information really helps to build tension. The other thing that carried me through the film was that I really cared about the characters. They have believable relationships and emotions and interactions with eachother; you could really believe you're seeing people with full superhero careers behind them, and emotionally marked by their whole history. And really amazingly well acted, particularly Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach; insane characters are always difficult and this struck me as a particularly successful portrayal.
It's definitely too violent for me, with lots of gore and people beating eachother up and loving closeups of mangled bodies and an onscreen rape scene. It wasn't helped by the fact that the sound in the cinema was turned up slightly too loud, and it's a very noisy film anyway, so a lot of the time it was just physically uncomfortable to the point of being distracting. Still, the great majority of the violence is literally cartoonish, with choreographed fight scenes and loud thwacks when you can see that the combatants aren't even touching eachother. At the same time it's emotionally engaging enough that you actually believe people are getting hurt; like other aspects of the film, it provides spectactular violence and adrenalin thrills while simultaneously questioning the morality of enjoying that kind of thing. markedformetal complains about the "sneak fake-fuck attacks"; I found the sex scene, while explicit, absolutely laughable. Although we were both annoyed when it showed up on screen, her because it was too porny and me because it was ridiculous and broke my suspension of disbelief, on reflection I think that was the point. The narration was telling the viewer, you showed up for a film adaptation of a comic book, and you were expecting a payoff of sexy women in fetish gear being pornish, so here you go, see how much you like it.
There were bits that didn't quite hold together for me, particularly the final scene between Laurie Jupiter and Dr Manhattan. Since we'd only seen their relationship going sour, I didn't really believe that his true love would be enough to make him care about humanity. Plus the speech about how unlikely it is that a particular pair of gametes come together to form a new person is amazingly stupid and fails to notice that you can't calculate the probability of events that have already happened. I also didn't see why the revelation about Laurie's father was such a big deal.
The ending didn't at all go where I was expecting it to. I mean, yes, I worked out fairly early on that one of the ex-superheroes had actually turned rogue and was the villain all along, that was pretty predictable. But I really didn't expect that the villain's plot would succeed. I think some of the impact of that arc is too closely tied to the Cold War mentality and feels a little anachronistic now, but the emotional buildup of the rest of the film means that the ending still packs a major punch. I was really left reeling by it and I still don't quite have words for the emotional effect of that ending.
siderea argues, rather persuasively, that:
There is something faintly criminal in how Hollywood tried so mightily to make this a sexy action adventure flick.I am not sure I agree, though; to me, it was perfectly obvious that the film was in fact questioning the morality of the whole superhero genre. It is sexy, it has to be sexy to draw an audience, but it is also extremely conscious and self-critical. Perhaps it was easier for me to see that side of the film since I'm not a superhero fan. I don't actually get off on ultra-violence, and I don't really find women in tight, revealing superhero costumes particularly attractive. It seemed obvious to me that the characters are extremely morally ambiguous; indeed, I was leaning towards admiring the skill with which despicable people are made at least partially sympathetic, rather than seeing it as a portrayal of flawed heroes. Reading around the web, though, I have come across people who found even Rorschach unquestionably cool and admirable, which does reinforce siderea's point. For me, a lot of the point of the film was the exploration of The Comedian's nihilism, Rorschach's paranoia, and Dr Manhattan's disconnection from the world of ordinary mortals so far below his level, and the violence addiction of both characters and audience. Like Cyteen, the film presents someone who has the power to become a world dictator, and a clear demonstration of how much this is a problem even if the would-be dictator has some redeeming qualities and isn't just a hand-rubbing melodramatic supervillain. Perhaps I'm giving it too much benefit of the doubt, though; I had a problem with superhero films going in, so I assumed that the film was addressing the problem that was already in my mind.