A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this non-animated adaptation of the beloved cult graphic novel isn't just another superhero story and is absolutely not for kids. Even the director has said that he purposely made the movie intensely gory to make a point about the consequences of violent behavior. Sex is paired with graphic violence in a near-rape scene, and characters act in ways that seem highly amoral. They also swear constantly (including "f--k" and "s--t"), smoke, and drink. There's plenty of nudity, with some very graphic sex scenes and a computer-enhanced character who walks around nude (sure, he's blue, but he still has a normal male anatomy). Both the novel and the movie examine complex issues of morality, humankind's basic nature, and the specter of nuclear holocaust. Not light stuff, and certainly not for anyone who expects a simple good vs. evil story. If your teens can tackle heavy philosophical questions, they might be mature enough to make sense of the film's complicated plot. Finally, the movie clocks in at 2 hours 41 minutes most of which are chock full of in-your-face violence, darkness, and peril.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In an alternate version of 1985 -- Richard Nixon is still president, and Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union have never been hotter -- a surprisingly fit senior citizen is thrown from a high rise to his death. The victim turns out to be the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a gun-toting retired crime fighter known for his keen bloodlust. His former colleagues come out of hiding to find his killer, led by Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), a cloaked avenger with a blotchy, shifty mask. Rorschach thinks the murderer is working down a list of crusaders, and he and the rest of the crew -- including Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), and Silk Sceptre II (Malin Akerman) -- are on the hook. Even Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), the only one among them who's truly gifted with superpowers, may be in danger. Who's watching the Watchmen?
Is it any good?
Purists, take heart: This big-screen adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' revered graphic novel hews fairly closely to the written page, right down to the darkly beautiful world it renders. But that may be its biggest downfall. For no matter how respectful it is to the novel (save for a tweak here and there, including a simplification of the ending), WATCHMEN is curiously unenergetic. Much of it is told in flashback, and the plot moves from one back story to the next. Plus, the dialogue falls flat -- lines like "Here I am, spilling my guts to my archenemy" are best left on the page -- and scenes meant to be climactic are decidedly not. That's not to say that director Zack Snyder didn't try. In fact, he amps up the fight sequences so much that they're martial arts-movie-worthy and even gratuitously violent. That's actually a departure: Watchmen is famously cerebral -- the action isn't the point, and by focusing on the superheroes' battle prowess, the film undercuts the novel's attempt to humanize them.
The cast is uneven. As Sceptre II, Akerman is wanting. She struggles to plumb depths and pales in scenes that pair her with the deeply serious (and, not surprisingly, first-rate) Crudup. But even he is outshined by Haley, whose continued success is heartening (it's good to see him cement the comeback he achieved with Little Children). Haley's Little Children co-star, Wilson, is also fantastic, perhaps because he, too, has opted for a palpably realistic performance, instead of the stylized one that Goode unfortunately adopts. All of that said, Watchmen deserves to be watched. The special effects are impressive, the cinematography admirable. Just don't expect the same thrill that fans of the novel must have experienced when they first cracked open the book.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's portrayal of human nature. Are people good? Bad? All of the above?
If your teens have read the book, ask them how the movie is different -- and what impact having real people in the roles has on the story.
According to director Zack Snyder in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, "I wanted to make sure everyone understood: This is not a kid movie. Violence has consequences. And doing that with a PG-13 just dilutes that message." Do you agree? Does the violence in this movie have more impact because it's not illustrated?
- In theaters: March 6, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: July 21, 2009
- Cast: Billy Crudup, Malin Akerman, Patrick Wilson
- Director: Zack Snyder
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 163 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language
- Last updated: March 14, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.
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