IN SHORT: WHEN SHOULD YOU SEE THIS MOVIE? If you want a nice blend of The Dark Knight and The Thin Red Line, then this movie is for you. Beware of the theatrical cut, however, because that version is much worse and more confusing.
Usually when a movie comes out on video and they boast the “DIRECTORS CUT!!!” or “UNRATED VERSION!!” they are just words to sell more DVDs, hardly ever containing anything at all worth getting the deluxe edition. There are a few movies that make vast changes to the theatrical cuts, Donny Darko for example, and the Director’s Cut of Watchmen is definitely a much improved and more complete version of the film that will leave people wondering what the studio was thinking putting shortened version in theaters in the first place.
For those who haven’t seen the theatrical cut, the story takes place in an altered 1985 where starting in the 1930’s when the first hero comic came out, people started dressing up and busting villains in real life. In this 1985 Nixon is still President, America won the Vietnam War, and the Cold War against the Russians has reached its peak, where the total annihilation of life from nuclear war constantly looms. The movie covers the two different ages of heroes, much like the different ages of comics, there is the Golden Age or first generation who busted cheesy villains, kidnappers, bank robbers, and always gave a smile and said “stay of drugs kids!” Then there is the modern age second generation, who consists of a man with superpowers, high tech gadgets, and much darker and sinister criminals. The overall plot follows a brutal masked hero called Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) as he investigates the murder of a fellow Watchman called The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan.) As more and more Watchmen start getting taken out a much deeper and brutal scheme is revealed.
The story of Watchmen is a brilliant change in the superhero movie genre, just like how the graphic novel revolutionized comics. Following on the heels of The Dark Knight, this movie is a very dark and complex story that involves a vast amount of character development and most likely more than one viewing to get the full experience. Watchmen breaks away from the linear superhero plot of good struggling to conquer evil, and instead the lines between the two are blurred so much that by the end the audience is torn on what is the actual difference between good and evil? And what is the cost to truly save the world? Each character in Watchmen is so unique and detailed that you feel each one would have sufficed to carry their own movie. Doctor Manhattan (Billy Crudup), the only Watchmen with superpowers, is probably the most creative take on a “Super Man” to grace the silver screen, because his superpowers make it almost impossible for him to relate to humanity. It is a real treat watching him struggle to remind himself why he is even concerned with humans, who are nothing more to him than mere termites.
The additions Snyder makes to the Director’s Cut make a drastic improvement to the movie. In the original, there is a big lull during the second and third acts, and Malin Ackerman’s character Laurie seems like nothing but a beautiful cardboard cut out. With a few added scenes, there is no longer a lull, and Laurie becomes just as interesting as the rest of the Watchmen. There is also a very tragic side plot that is added which most readers of the comic know, but I don’t want to spoil it. Almost every single scene is extended by at least a couple seconds and a couple lines, which add even more depth to these incredibly intricate characters.
Snyder does well in creating this alternate 1985 with a combination of vibrant yellow’s and purples, and all of the special effects are up to standard. The acting is also brilliant for the most part. Haley as the cold and raspy Rorschach is absolutely perfect. Crudup, Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl 2, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan are also brilliant, even Matthew Goode as Ozymandias does a favorable job. The only glaringly bad performance in the original version was Malin Ackerman, but as I said above with her extra scenes in the Director’s Cut she improves her character by a vast amount. The soundtrack is also superb, except for one particular choice during a love scene. It incorporates brilliant classics from Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix, combined with an original score of haunting guitar riffs.
Judging the length of this review, the longest I have ever written, it is obvious that Watchmen is definitely long and enduring film, reaching about three hours. Also don’t expect a ton of action scenes like 300, Spiderman, Xmen, or Iron Man, because this is much more of a character study and a mystery story than an action movie. It is a lot like A History of Violence, The Thin Red Line, and The Assassination of Jesse James. The pacing of the ending could use a little improvement, and Snyder definitely should have included a couple more quick scenes at the end which could connect it back to the beginning.
Overall the Director’s Cut of Watchmen is a large improvement on an already good movie. Just like the motif throughout the film of an innocent yellow smiley face corrupted by a drop of blood, Watchmen raises a lot of moral questions about good and evil. However this movie isn’t for everyone; if you have a hard time watching a more artsy film instead of something short, fast, and loud like a Michael Bay production, stay away.Theatrical Cut – 6.5/10
Directors Cut – 8/10