Through a brief introduction sequence illustrating Americas historical triumphs and tragedies we are introduced to a rag tag group of crime fighters who, despite the lack of "super" abilities have taken upon themselves to don masks to become "heroes". The self proclaimed Watchmen, led hard drinking, and hard living antihero named "The Comedian" band together to Watch over humanity and alter the course of history by seemingly any means necessary. As the decades pass , new Watchmen take on the call of protecting the lives of people at the behest of the government.
Fast forward to 1985. Masked heroes are outlawed by "third term" president Richard Nixon and the Watchmen are living their lives mostly in obscurity. Without warning The Comedian is murdered by a dark mysterious vigilante and the last of the Watchmen think they , for some reason, might be next. Donning their costumes once more the remaining heroes seek out The Comedians killer and unravel a plot to wipe out much of humanity.
Sounds like decent Superhero fare. The problem lies in the pace at which the story is told, in which the disjointed back stories of the characters serve only to slow the progression to a mediocre climax. None of the Watchmen come off as particularly interesting. "Rorschach" , who's mask inexplicably shifts to mimic different inkblot patterns, is the main stories narrator via his journal entries. Once he is defiantly yet all too easily brought in by the cops and evaluated (by, get this, a Rorschach test!) we see his dark past. Despite some cool, quotable lines the characters motivations come off as flat and his ultimate fate is unexceptional.
Then we have the preposterous "Dr. Manhattan". A blue, glowing, specter of a man who can manipulate physical matter, bend space and time, grow to gargantuan sizes and pretty much strike ultimate fear into the hearts of men and nations. Good thing he is on our side. Born of a nuclear experimentation gone wrong in the 50's, Dr. Manhattan is employed by the government to deter other world powers from gaining in the arms race of the cold war.
But, like all gods, Dr Manhattans got problems. A whiny girlfriend, (female Watchmen "Silk Specter II"), visions of the Apocalypse, and a lack of comfortable underwear (he's naked throughout) keep Dr. Manhattan up at night. For some reason, when he gets really upset with humanity he travels to Mars where hes buried a giant clockwork style floating space ship thing. Finally coming to terms with human nature after an unemotional, unintentionally laughable revelation to Silk Specter II he returns to earth for the final showdown where her and the other Watchmen make their final decisions on the ultimate fate of each other and the world.
Throw in the mix some over choreographed fight scenes and an affair between lonely Watchman "Nite Owl II" and "Silk Specter II" (who can no longer relate to Dr. Manhattan) and some tedious exposition between the two before they decide to "get it on" both literally and figuratively. Add a dash of overdone stop and go slow motion bone crunching violence and you have all 163 mind numbing minutes.
With no clearly defined antagonist despite, maybe, humanity itself the motivation for one to care about the fate of the characters is simply lost.
What might have been a deep, dark, emotionally gripping film comes off as hollow, cheesy, and ultimately forgettable. Despite the emotional ties to its graphic novel counterpart, Watchmen will be a footnote on the comic film adaptation genre. Perhaps the legacy of the initial box office success of the Watchmen will be to open to doors to more projects being green-lit by studios. As it stands on its own however, you'd do better watching something, anything, else. Sorry, fans.