Watchmen has been called unfilmable when adapting its comic source material. The comic’s legendary creator Alan Moore has been firmly against anyone adapting his work from the comic medium to anything else.
Being the only comic graphic novel to have hit Time magazine’s top 100 list gives you some idea it is not for the fainthearted.
Zack Snyder before going on to suck the fun out of the DC Cinematic universe filmed the unfilmable by adapting Watchmen to the big screen. Although it had its detractors from the fans it is an almost slavishly faithful shot for shot adaptation and got far more right than it got wrong.
I must admit I was personally skeptical when I heard Lost’s Damon Lindelof was writing a “Remix rather than a Reboot” series to Watchmen. But after seeing how Blade Runner 2049 had honored the source material and brought something new to the table I was interested to see what would happen as it had some big blue shoes to fill.
Watchmen takes place 25 years after the original story and is a direct follow on from the comic not the film adaptation. So when the giant squid shows up in flashbacks don’t be surprised, the movie used a different plot device in its place.
The world of Watchmen is one where superheroes are real and the timeline has taken a very different turn from the one we know as a result.
Technologically and sociologically and ideologically it diverges from our timeline but it maintains threads from real historical events. Such as the shocking Tulsa massacre which was a very real and grim moment in American history which had been largely overlooked.
The super powered to the point of godhood Dr Manhattan and Ozymandias “The world’s smartest man” and architect of the events of the Watchmen story are both missing.
Central to the plot in the original story was an engineered apocalypse try defuse cold war tensions and bring about a new utopia. The series shows how this played out and the utopia eroded into a dystopia. The corruption of Eden is a theme that echoes throughout Watchmen.
Regina King as Angela Abar / Sister Night, the focal character of the Watchmen series. Her mysterious family legacy is a central thread that gets unraveled as the series progresses. Regina King puts in a solid performance but she does come off as very much a closed book although this is set up in her backstory to why.
Don Johnson as Judd Crawford, the chief of the Tulsa Police. Don Johnson was great and really brought a lot the character for the short amount he was in the series. It would have been nice to have a few more episodes with his character to get more of the moral complexity of the universe.
Tim Blake Nelson as Wade Tillman / Looking Glass, a Police interrogator who wears a reflective mask, a literal mirror of Rorschach. Looking Glass also mirrors the PTSD of the events of the original Watchmen story on America.
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Calvin “Cal” Abar , Angela’s husband is one to watch with his matter of fact pragmatic approach. He is definitely one to watch closely during the season.
Louis Gossett Jr. as Will Reeves, kicks off the events and has a connection to Angela’s past. Although being a very central figure to the plot we don’t get a lot of time with him until the end of the series.
Jeremy Irons as Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias, the “smartest man in the world”. Jeremy Irons is great however his portrayal of Ozymandias seems overly pompous where his comic version was a lot more cold and calculating never letting his emotions get in the way of his actions.
Jean Smart as Laurie Blake), formerly the second Silk Spectre and Dr Manhattans Ex is now an FBI agent and member of the Anti-Vigilante Task Force. Jean’s portrayal of Laurie is quite believable as Laurie years down the track compounded with bitterness at how masked vigilantes have caused so much pain in her life.
Hong Chau as Lady Trieu, the owner of Trieu Industries, steals the show as the Trillionaire genius that you know is puppet master to the bigger scheme in some way.
The Bad Stuff
I really wanted to love this show but I am also very invested in the source material it comes from.
My impressions are Damon Lindelof thinks his script is being ground-breaking with its inclusion of divisive subject matter but he isn’t as nearly as clever as he thinks he is in his handling of it on Watchmen’s scriptwriting.
I gave Watchmen the benefit of the doubt until I had seen its conclusion play out in the final episode. It vaporised all of the morally grey nuance of the Graphic Novel with as little ceremony as Dr Manhattan turning someone into red goo.
In the tradition of presenting the audience with existential terror, Watchmen clumsily attempts to reframe “God exists and he is American” by upping the ante with the prospect of “God exists and is a person of colour other than blue” which just comes off as feeling forced. Is that something that should be shocking in 2019? I am fairly certain religions have had gods of the entire spectrum for thousands of years already…
I am all for challenging subject matter in fiction that makes you think differently about the world you live in. Black Mirror for the most part is an excellent example of social commentary as entertainment.
However Watchmen’s in your face commentary on race and gender although trying to be timely just comes off as too on the nose.
Lindelof wants watchmen to be bold and controversial with the questions Watchmen raises but it is the one celebrating its own cleverness than actually showing you. To quote Peter Griffin “It insists upon itself”
The Good Stuff
Watchmen’s soundtrack by Nine Inch Nails front-man and Oscar winner Trent Reznor is transcendent and possibly the best score for any TV series ever. Every scene is elevated by its moody atmospherics or driving electronic beats. Standout tracks like “How the west was really won” and “The Brick” will be on my Spotify playlist for quite some time.
Visually Watchmen looks great, is well shot and cleverly directed with some nice action set pieces.
The costume and production design are also well realized often loaded with subtle details fleshing out the world.
Lindlof digs deep into the lore of the Watchmen universe including many references and Easter eggs to the comic so there is a lot to unpack in each episode beyond the foreground story.
The performances of the main cast are very good and they try their best to sell the at times shoddy scripting.
Watchmen ultimately doesn’t do its source material justice. Its liberties taken won’t please all fans of the Graphic Novel, it will likely confuse and confound casual viewers and alienate ones that are burnt out on identity politics.
Its not so much the politics of Watchmen as that’s always been a key part, the depth and moral questions are entirely absent. Particularly disturbing is the Abu Ghraib style interrogations and treatment of the suspects although presented as shocking is never commented on or painted as anything other than justified to the viewer.
It feels like Damon Lindlof borrowed Alan Moore’s favorite action figures and returned them with limbs missing and all the paint scratched off while shuffling his feet and trying to say they were this way all along.
DC comics Doomsday clock comic series has just wrapped which set Dr Manhattan against the rest of the DC heroes. This managed to do what the Watchmen series was attempting with a far better understanding of the characters and the universe and ultimately a more satisfying conclusion.
The evolving world of Watchmen is the most interesting part of this series in spite of the heavy handed moralizing.
Watch it if you:
Are looking for something offbeat with a a lot of edge.
Enjoyed Titans or Gotham.
Aren’t bothered about controversial subjects in your series.
Skip it if you:
Want something that honors the source material.
Expect the moral shades of grey of the Graphic Novel.
Not keen on the heavy one eyed squid view of current politics.