I normally don't place a lot of weight on movie reviews. Hancock, for example. received horrible reviews but was one of the best movies of its summer. Likewise, I don't often attempt to write movie reviews, but I've been mulling over the Watchmen since seeing it this weekend, and I've decided that perhaps I should have heeded the declaration of cinematic poverty that was given it by the New York Times.
My initial response to the Times reviewer's complaint of gratuitous violence was, "Have you read the graphic novel?" The story is as violent as it is nihilist...it is also incredibly well-written, arguably the best-written graphic novel of all time. One does not have to agree with the world-view presented by the book to recognize it as a leading work of literature in its genre. So, I expected violence and sexuality...they are part of the story.
What I didn't expect was for the violence to be coupled with a level of gore that was on par with a slasher film. Nor did I expect the severe lack of imagination in the romantic scenes: instead of being filmed theatrically, they were reduced to something resembling soft porn, accompanied by one of the least tasteful choices of sound design in recent memory.
There were large liberties taken with the story, most notably an extremely intrusive change to the ending. Backstory was left out that could have been explained in 30 seconds of film (i.e.: the story behind the moving mask), and events were added that made no sense, such as attributing the JFK assassination to one of the characters. While the director stayed true to the graphic novel visually, the ultimate result of the movie was unsubstantive Hollywood pop culture, relying on shock value instead of script. If you haven't seen it, read the book and skip the film. You're not missing anything.