Is ‘Watchmen’ the ‘Fight Club’ of superhero films?

March 10, 2009 | 11:52 p.m.


Some films are "must-see," but "Watchmen" is more than that: Zack Snyder’s masked-man epic is  the "must-discuss" movie of 2009.

Like some spandex-cinema version of "Eyes Wide Shut," "The Passion of the Christ" or "Fight Club," the movie has divided not only the critics but also the paying audience and, in a curious way, stirred debate among people who haven’t even seen it.

"Watchmen" is the torrid topic on Twitter, an ongoing soapbox subject at YouTube, and the inspiration of a free-for-all on Facebook. One of my old friends has changed his Facebook photo to a frowning yellow face to mourn the movie’s failure; one of my other pals has changed his image to the pulsing blue face of Dr. Manhattan to celebrate the film’s triumph. For fans of the bestselling graphic novel of all time, it’s not enough to see the $150-million adaptation, they must weigh in whether it is Epic Film or Epic Fail.

One fan’s view, left on the comments page here at Hero Complex: "Stunning, ‘Watchmen Is a visceral assault on the in the senses. Go see it You’ll like it." Another respondent was less inspired: "Worst movie ever." Fans couldn’t even agree on what they saw on the screen. One Hero Complex reader wrote: "I came out astonished. The movie is a great adaptation of that novel staying as true to its roots as possible." Another moaned: "Why change the story from the book?"

There are quite a few predictions that the movie will drop off considerably after the opening-weekend surge by hard-core comics fans and the mainstream-media reviews (which were not especially kind; check out the critics roundup I posted or just read Kenneth Turan’s sharply executed review, which is about the best I’ve read and representative of the widely held view that in essence boils down to the statement "If you’re a passionate fan of the book you’ll enjoy the film, but otherwise…"). But even the money-making performance of the film is open to interpretation, as you can see in Patrick Goldstein’s Big Picture column today.


Personally, I thought the film had outsized amibition, an obvious passion for the source material and some truly great moments (that staggeringly good early montage sequence, the sequence where Dr. Manhattan slides back-and-forth through time recounting his life journey and, well, pretty much any scene with Jackie Earle Haley) but long chunks where it feels somewhat hollow. I found myself wondering how anyone who hadn’t read the book could hang in for the loooong haul of the movie. I also winced whenever the actor playing Richard Nixon came on screen with his hambone imitation and rubber nose.

At the same time, I’m oddly proud of the film for even existing. It took a comic book series I adored since the day it came out and made it, with great reverence, into nothing less than the boldest popcorn movie ever made. Snyder somehow managed to get a major studio to make a movie with no stars, no "name" superheroes and a hard R-rating, thanks to all those broken bones, that oddly off-putting Owl Ship sex scene and, of course, the unforgettable glowing blue penis.

I think there’s a good chance that, like "Fight Club," this movie will echo in pop culture for quite a while and become a landmark moment that will take on different contours when viewed in hindsight. Not everyone agrees with me, of course …


Here are some views from Hero Complex readers. (I’m not fixing up the grammar or spelling, just giving you raw feed):

Adrienne was upset that she didn’t see the massive alien squid…

The Watchmen movie killed the meaning of the comic.  By changing the ending to a drab, easy-to-digest Hollywood canned finale, the entire meaning of the story became convoluted.  I was so angry when I walked out of the theater!  Good for Moore, he must have known that they would ruin his masterpiece in typical generic Hollywood fashion.  I regret having seen it actually. I understand omitting some parts as was necessary, but changing the ending killed the depth found in the novel.

Dodger, however, was thrilled that Snyder left the tentacles out…

Yes, the ending was changed. Thank the gods. The one part of the original graphic novel that always bothered me was the absurd notion that a society — even one with Dr. Manhattan in/near it, would believe the silliness of "Giant mutant brain creature from another dimension destroyed Manhattan" or that that should somehow make the world unify. It was always stupid. Yes, I love the graphic novel — until they were stolen I had the original separate issue releases of the whole thing sitting right on the shelf next to my Cerebus phone books…

Mike would have been fine if the movie stuck to lower Manhattan…

The only thing worth seeing in this movie is the nude superhero. And 3 minutes rather than 3 hours would have been plenty.

Someone who calls themselves Me was offended by the movie…

would have never taken my daughter to see this if I had known. Super Hero Porn Movie is what this is and it should be rated RR

Carol was dazzled…

I went to the movie expecting disappointment.  I came out astonished.  I don’t believe Watchmen will only be appreciated by your typical "fanboy", it has general appeal for those that expect substance in a movie  Having said that I have come to the conclusion that those who walked out 2 hrs into the movie or who claim that it is boring obviously have not read the novel and were expecting something along the lines of Spiderman or the Hulk.  Watchmen is by no means a comic, it is an exceptional novel.  The movie is a great adaptation of that novel staying as true to its roots as possible.


Meanwhile, RC stormed out of the movie lobby…

worst movie ever. the movie sucks i should of asked for my money back. what a waste of my time and money

K. Castro liked some things, disliked most…

What "Watchmen" grossed this past weekend doesn’t interest me; I’ll tell you why it WON’T be among the top grossing films next weekend: This is a very badly made movie. …"Watchmen" was flawed in a big way, because throughout the course of the movie, the characters were developed in such a way, that by the time the movie ended, the viewer didn’t care one way or another if they lived or died (exception being Jackie Earle Haley’s character, whom we needed to see more of; and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character, who needed more interaction with the other characters in the movie to merit full interest).

Pat wants a do-over version…

If anything, I would love to see Watchmen done again in 10 years time as a 6-episode miniseries on HBO. This way, the serialization will give more impact to both the plot and characters, and severely improve the pace and structure of the story. While I will readily acknowledge that there are several scenes of brilliance, the general mediocrity and haphazardness of the rest of the film far outweighs those few moments of transcendence. Granted, I’d be curious to see the movie again, this time on Blu-ray, but if I had a choice between that and reading the over-sized Watchmen: Absolute Edition, I’d choose the latter any day of the week.

And, finally, Elizabeth Griffin sees a silver lining in a mess of a movie…

A positive thing happening because of the movie is that people previously uninterested are reading the graphic novel. I have a friend who is a comic store owner in the Midwest. He told me that they are selling all of the copies they can keep in stock because "nobody knew what the movie was about".
It’s something.

As you can, see the reaction is all over the place. The thing I wonder, will this debate push people to see the film in its second weekend or will it see a sharp decline? I know people want to talk about it, but do newcomers want to see it?

And what did YOU think of the movie?

— Geoff Boucher


Rohrsach_2"Watchmen" screenwriter David Hayter on "moral certitude"

VIDEO: "Watchmen," Saturday morning safe!

The movie’s first weekend: $55 million

"Watchmen" review by Kenneth Turan

Alan Moore on "Watchmen" movie: "I will be spitting venom all over it"

"Watchmen" ski masks? Alan Moore won’t be pleased

WANT MORE? All "Watchmen" coverage at Hero Complex

Credits: Top photo by Chris Pizzello/Associated Press, shows (left to right) Jackie Earle Haley, Carla Gugino, Patrick Wilson and Malin Akerman at the premiere of the film in Los Angeles, Monday, March 2. All images from the movie courtesy of Warner Bros

More in: Uncategorized, Watchmen, Zack Snyder


24 Responses to Is ‘Watchmen’ the ‘Fight Club’ of superhero films?

  1. Annabelle Enzer says:

    Watchmen is the best movie ever. period. end of story. If you have a problem with that than you have a problem. a SERIOUS one.

  2. MissAndrea says:

    As someone who did not read the graphic novel and was only peripherally aware of its existence, I went to see Watchmen on opening weekend with only vague expectations. Zack Snyder was really the only name I knew from this film, and I had LOVED 300, so I had every reason to expect to love this movie, albeit for different reasons. I was not disappointed. While the running time is a little hard to take at points where the pace seems to drag, I was still gripped by the story. Rorschach literally had me by the throat the entire movie – each time he was in a scene I tensed up, waiting for I don't even know what. At the final scene between Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan, I was almost in tears. But the movie is not for the faint of heart – or stomach. A couple points that I thought were excessively gory still did an excellent job in terms of character development. I will definitely see it again and think the whole cast did an excellent job – even the Comedian, who was truly reprehensible. I enjoyed the very skewed take on our concept of heroes. It's definitely a movie that will get you thinking and talking, even if you didn't like what you saw.

  3. oakmonster says:

    My friend who is the fan of the graphic novel gave it 4 out of 5. Much like you, there were points where she was left disappointed.
    I'm a general fangirl (hence my hanging around this blog) and did not read the graphic novel before the movie. But as a fan of the comic book/graphic novel movie genre in general, I was excited about it anyway. I came out of the theater a total Watchmen fan. I was left wanting more after the movie. I want to read the novel and find out everything I miss in there.
    Now, the movie. I love that violence wasn't gratuitous. Every blood drop has a purpose. I love Rorschach. Haley's work here eclipses everyone else and it was very satisfying.
    But you're right. Sex scene in Archie was awkward (oh god, that sounds even more wrong). The blue penis, MAJORLY awkward.

  4. Len Arends says:

    My only true criticism of the movie is that the "cool down" at the end is too long to allow you to just slide into standard scrolling credits without feeling an anticlimax.
    I would have enjoyed a montage end-credit sequence while "Desolation Road" was playing … maybe a rapid series of images from the novel involving each main character, followed by a full-screen still of original art drawn by Dave Gibbons, with the actor's name for that character. Would have given the fanboys one more chance to applaud their faves … and Haley/Rorschach would definitely be the closer!
    The movie did just about the best job it could with such a complex novel … I have no criticism of the changes … but by the time you leave your seat, your blood pressure has returned to normal, which leaves you feeling a little let down, regardless.

  5. Eric says:

    I thought Watchmen was great. Was it the best movie ever? No. The best comic book movie? As the most "true to original" adaptation that I'm aware of, maybe. But is it the best super hero movie? No (I reserve that for The Dark Knight, which was much more efficient in it's storytelling and had more emotional heft because it could concentrate more closely on the relationships in the film).
    I loved the subversive elements, and the tangled relationships. I loved that the movie had depth not typically seen in mainstream entertainment. And I love that the movie took chances, even if they didn't always succeed. This was by no means a "lazy" film. It worked hard to tell it's dense story, and it expected the audience to keep up.
    For all it's loyalty to the source material (and the fan boys can quibble all they want about the various changes they noticed), Snyder diverged horribly in one way that I have not seen mentioned by critics: The film should have been serialized into more than one movie (perhaps a trilogy). Telling the Watchmen in a single movie would be like cramming The Lord of the Rings into one movie — an admirable effort (perhaps), but not really the best way to tell the tale.

  6. JaySin420 says:

    What a ridiculous question to base an article on. To put it simply:
    Fight Club was incredible, Watchmen was incredibly disappointing.

  7. film guy says:

    This film was an epic triumph. Bringing a graphic novel as layered and complex as the Watchmen to the screen is no easy task and Snyder did a phenomenal job. I think some of the complaints people have about this movie is interesting because they are very contradictory. Some say the film is too short and some say it's too long. Some say that the movie suffers from sticking too close to the book and others say it's from not sticking close enough to the book. From beginning to end I can't say there wasn't a single moment when I checked the time. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this film. I went into this film with out having read the graphic novel and loved it. Then I read the graphic novel and saw the film a second time and loved it even more. This movie is probably the closest adaptation of a comic book to date. The spirit and the heart of the book is definitely present in every moment of the movie. This movie dares to be different from the rest. I think the problem for the non fans of the book is that they just thought this was going to be another X Men. THIS IS NOT THE X MEN or is it any other super hero film you have ever seen before. This is a risk taking super hero story. It's got the spirit of an independent film. It is truly unique. Yeah it still has the action and the fight scenes audiences have come to expect from a super hero movie and they are certainly impressive. Unlike other super hero films though the action scenes aren't what drives the story. This is a character piece. The film, like the novel, takes it's time developing the complex history of the characters and the world they live in. Each character is so rich and unique that it's very hard to find a favorite. The actors are perfectly cast to bring these characters to life. It is an experience that should not be missed. It's the freshest super hero story ever told. I totally agree that this is the Fight Club in the comic book film world. Fight Club was filled with themes and comments on society as is Watchmen. Both are viewed as controversial and spark debate. Ultimately the movie wins because the novel was meant to be controversial and create debate and the film has accomplished that too.

  8. wow gold says:

    I recommend that you don't read the graphic novel before watching the movie. For a non-fan like me I thought I had to read the novel first before watching the movie and thats what I did. It only caused me to be disappointed after the long dragging movie.

  9. Michael says:

    I had not read the graphic novel before seeing the movie, but I am now after seeing it. I thought it was a great movie. It was visually stunning and I love the way Zack Snyder does action scenes. I guess I don't really understand how people can say the movie was bad, considering it had a strong driving plot and well-developed complex characters. Generally that's enough for any movie to be considered "quality." It's also a complex movie with lots of elements to discuss and analyze. Watchmen is thought provoking and highly entertaining for the senses. Is it the best movie ever made? No, but why does it have to live up to that standard? It's a great movie that compliments a great graphic novel. People should just relax and enjoy it.

  10. Craig Ranapia says:

    Annabelle Enzer wrote:
    Watchmen is the best movie ever. period. end of story. If you have a problem with that than you have a problem. a SERIOUS one.
    I reply:
    Oh, you really wanted to go there? Yes, I have a serious problem with the kind of aesthetic and moral cretinism where a women being kicked in the ribs, thrown over a pool table and raped (and nobody really wants to try my patience by saying "it was an attempted rape — that's different") has no more weight than any other bit of ultra violence in the film.
    So did the people who walked out of the theatre.
    And for all the people drooling over the supposed fidelity of the movie have some real explaining to do about the pathetic cop out ending. I guess it's A-OK to "kill millions to save billions" when all you see is people getting vapourised in a pretty flare of computer-generated light.

  11. Craig Ranapia says:

    Oh, and am I the only person who is more than a little creeped out that a CGI penis excites more fanboy (and girl) comment than the relentless exploitation and abuse of women? You know, the kind of casual and pervasive comic book sexism Moore was deconstructing and criticising in the first place?

  12. Rich Thigpen says:

    I loved it! I actually thought the changed ending was more believable than the original. And the acting and special effects were awesome!

  13. Greg G says:

    The Fight Club comparison is the perfect one. Both movies disguise themselves as something else while making deep philosophical points. Watchmen actually has a bit of a leg up on Fight Club because more people know the Watchmen graphic novel than knew Chuck Palahniuk's book. I remember talking to more than one person who went to see Fight Club and was confused and angry about it. The same thing is happening with Watchmen.
    Now that you mention it the source material for both movies has a lot in common. Moore and Palahniuk seem to have a similar world view in some ways judging by the issues they tackle. Both also have a tendency to use graphic violence in ways people aren't used to.
    Good observation.

  14. thebaglady says:

    I thought the Ride of the Valkyries was a homage to the Under the Hood excerpt where Hollis says that the saddest thing he knows is the Ride of the Valkyries. The Vietnam War was also pretty sad.

  15. karlito says:

    I enjoyed the movie. I went into it with the expectation that I will be entertained and on this note it hit the mark. Was it the greatest super hero movie? I don't believe it was. Was the blue penis really necessary? It added absolutely nothing to the movie.

  16. Jimb says:

    My brother and I saw that movie at the IMAX. At the end, we were both tempted to ask for our money back.
    Watchmen sucked. The acting was laughable, except for the actors playing Rorschach and Nite Owl. The special effects were special…for 10 years ago. The musical selection was abysmal, and the volume of the music even worse.
    The ending was no more appropriate for today then the squid of the graphic novel. Even worse, the premise of the new ending relies on the occurence of things which did not actually occur earlier in the movie b/c only the ending was changed.
    I expect Watchmen to do well again this next weekend, but after that, it'll be lucky to break $125M.

  17. Sean K says:

    I'm 35 and read the COMIC BOOKS (I don't know why they keep saying 'graphic novel'… I hate that term.. just admit you read a comic book for crying out loud) when I was in high school. I pretty much agreed with Mr. Moore's position that the story was unfilmable. All these critics claiming to have read the original never seem to even mention the left out side story of the man on the raft of dead people, which makes me think most of them flipped through it and looked at the pictures a week ago or are just flat out lying. After seeing the movie, I have to say it wasn't as butchered as I thought it was going to be, but it can summed up in two words… BIG DEAL. The Dark Knight movie that won Mr. Ledger the Oscar? BIG DEAL. I'm not saying they were terrible, but I've been a comic fan all my life, and what works in comics DOES NOT make sense in a movie. People wearing super-hero outfits can only allow me to suspend my disbelief in DRAWINGS, not in real life. I kept wanting to slap batman's rubber headgear to see if it made his bat-ears wiggle. All comic book movies are 'watchable' at best and insultingly stupid 90% of the time.

  18. Sean K says:

    The main problem is that the pacing is so rushed by trying to put as much as possible from a 8-12 hour reading experience into just under three hours that the story seems cramped and nonsensical in movie form. The comics were unbelievable. The movie is dis-believable. I can just imagine the guy in the back of the theater thinking, "Come on. A 100 foot naked blue guy blowing stuff up with his mind? This is stupid." And without the in-depth character development and context you get from the comic books, who could blame him? All he saw was a weak 3 or 4 minute explanation about some stupid typical comic book style 'science experiment gone wrong' scenario. I agree with those who said it would have been better off as a mini-series, but I still say seeing live-action actors in superhero costumes always comes off as silly and kind of embarrassing. Should have left it alone.

  19. AaronJV says:

    Watchmen is a BAD MOVIE.
    Here’s why:
    1. A problem with all comic book adaptations is the origin of the hero, which must be explained to the audience. Watchmen compounds the problem because there are multiple origins to explore. The graphic novel got away with it through the brilliant use of the ancillary material at the back of each issue, e.g., “Under the Hood” excerpts. The movie had to compress origins and backstory into brief expository scenes, a la, Doc Manhattan’s “memory jolt” on Laurie.
    2. Opportunities to develop character were squandered or worse, cut to make more room for extended fight sequences. The opening fight between the Comedian and his attacker went way longer in the movie than in the comic. What’s worse, it doesn’t allow for the Comedian to have a character arc. He was crying at Moloch’s, yet he still fought for his life when retribution came knocking at his door? That’s like Han Solo shooting Greedo first. Ruins the character.
    2a. Rorschach was ruined when he butchered the child murderer. Part of the great dichotomy of Rorschach is that he DIDN’T kill anyone. Not directly, anyway. The way he took care of the child murderer in the book was far better. Also, by staging the prison riot right in front of Rorschach’s cel instead of far away in solitary confinement (as in the graphic novel) takes away the power of a terrifying scene in the book, a great match of Rorschach’s ability to never surrender, no matter the odds. This moment was also ruined by long fight sequences with Laurie and Dan fighting prisoners. Completely unnecessary, and took time away from Rorschach vs. Big Figure, or the biggest crime, short-changing Rorscach’s psychological evaluation.
    3. The music choices were bad. The most egregious was “Ride of the Valkyries” during the Viet Nam sequence. Please. Stop making homages to old movies (APocalypse Now).
    3a. Speaking of homages, why design the Nixon war room to look just like the one in Dr. Strangelove?
    4. The climax of the movie was horrendous. Doc Manhattan and Rorschach…and Nite Owl (!??!) What could have been a great dramatic scene debating the merits of Ozymandias’ scheme between three people turned into a perversion of the original source material. Why did Nite Owl need to be there? Why didn’t he say or do anything to stop either Rorschach or Doc Manhattan? And to collapse to his knees and bellow “NOOOOOOOO!!!” If my heart wasn’t breaking, I would have been howling with laughter at such a cheesy scene.
    5. The movie gutted the heart and soul of the original material. The original was about REAL PEOPLE who put on costumes and fought crime, with one notable exception. It was the infusion of reality into comics that made Watchmen one of the greatest works of literature ever. Yet the movie pulled that out: these guys cold punch with such force bodies break kitchen counter tops, fly back twenty feet, jump out of Owlships sight unseen into burning buildings, etc. Their costumes didn’t look real, their performances (with the exception of Rorschach and almost Nite Owl) even less so. Especially because Snyder and the editor didn’t allow the actors to act, to allow us to linger on their faces and reactions. Everything was rushed through so we could squeeze every panel from the book into the movie.
    Ultimately, the Watchmen movie is an expensive, elaborate action figure playset manipulated by an overgrown teenager.

  20. Gentlemen, lets face it.
    You're all only proving that this movie is much-discussed. With so many differing, and even sometimes extreme view of the film, it has proved to be very polarizing.
    Snyder has certainly achieved something. Not a most universally-liked movie, but a movie that does make you think, and does make you discuss.

  21. Kate says:

    //And for all the people drooling over the supposed fidelity of the movie have some real explaining to do about the pathetic cop out ending. I guess it's A-OK to "kill millions to save billions" when all you see is people getting vapourised in a pretty flare of computer-generated light.//
    This is the reason why Watchmen is not for every person who is used to comic book movies like X-Men, that justify any violence the hero is doing with him being the perfect good guy with some small grittiness to him. People seem to be unable to find any of the complexity and ambiguity in any comic films these days, even when it's obviously put in there.
    Not, it’s not right OP. It’s not meant to be looked upon as right. It's not means to make you feel like it was right. You not supposed to say, "Well I completely agree with what they did there, and see it could go no other way." It’s basically asking you, do the ends justify the means. I didn't even read the graphic novel, and I still understood that.

  22. Ethan says:

    I loved the movie. To all of those who say the Watchmen is unfilmable, I'd agree. The film can never replace the comics. However, having read the original, I don't NEED to have the back story. The film should not have to explain every detail behind every character to the general public. If you know the story, what Zack Snyder did is perfectly acceptable.
    About the ending, I too was disappointed. But that being said, I understand the change and in the end, it doesn't completely change the theme of the novel.
    Lastly, to those who couldn't stand the gore and the sex: this wasn't made for kids; the original wasn't exactly tame either. While some parts seemed unnecessary, I'm glad Snyder did not feel obligated to purge every scene of adult material. To conclude, if the movie was at all unsettling, Mission Accomplished. Hopefully nobody left Watchmen (the comics or the movie) feeling good inside.

  23. Julia 18, Denmark says:

    I hadn't read the comicbook before watching the movie, but it was what made me curious, and I purchased it shortly after.
    After just watching the film-adaption, I felt the ending was too rushed, like all the theories and complexities of characters and plot put forward in the story, didn't really manage to unite in the end, and lift the viewer to a higher state of understanding. Although I thought it was visually stunning and with an oddly clever soundtrack, it left me with the impression of being told something important, but having missed the point entirely.
    Now, having read the comic book, its an understatement to say that a story like this should never be made into a movie. That is not to say that I'm not glad someone did, because at least it leaves an impression of what it would look and feel like, if somebody did, in some alternate galaxy far away, where a story like this is just another day's bore.

  24. Nick says:

    Nitpickers……..Be Quiet! The Snyders and Crew HAVE created an Epic Triumph! Visually, Culturally,Literature-wise…….it's All There. But, then….. I really go for the stories that address The Great Questions AND I've always loved The Comics. Even those who just didn't like it, have to admit that this movie scores high in every quality category. it IS a Great Artistic Achievement.

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