I saw Watchmen this weekend, along with everybody else. I haven't read the book, and went in with expectations that hovered somewhere between the second Matrix movie and the third Spider-Man movie.
But it was better than both of those. The visuals were really cool and I liked the story's grim, Machiavellian attitude about fighting crime in a hopelessly self-destructive world, even if it didn't always make sense. And I loved the characters--they reminded me of the X-Men, if Xavier's and Magneto's respective posses had been fused into one morally ambiguous group of misunderstood outsiders.
But the best part was Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. This is the moment for Haley to get really, really famous. Before this movie, he was probably best known as the cool kid with the motorcycle in Bad News Bears (when he was 15) and for playing the released sex offender in 2006's Little Children. I also really love him as Moocher in one of my all-time favorites, Breaking Away.
This guy is a master of playing really intense, heartbreaking, compelling characters who are totally fucked in the head. I guarantee that, if you saw Little Children, his brief scene with Jane Adams freaked you out, and you might even remember it more clearly than the rest of the movie.
His whole performance in Watchmen was kind of like that. As the central narrator of the movie, and the only member of the original group who still seems to be living as a shadowy crime-fighter when all the rest have moved on to something else, he has to get the audience on board for the movie to work. Also, he's a paranoid sociopath with an especially perverse and gruesome sense of justice. But somehow he pulled it off-- I was right there with him through the whole movie, though more than once my jaw dropped open at the sick stuff he was doing. If his character had been any less interesting, the movie wouldn't have been anywhere near as good.
There were other good parts, too. The actors were mostly solid, except for the woman who played Silk Spectre II--flat as a flounder. Especially compared to the delightful Carla Gugino, who was awesome as Silk Spectre the First. What a tease! Couldn't she have just played both?
I haven't read the book, but I've heard from people who have that one of the few visual changes Zack Snyder made for the movie was to significantly expand Dr. Manhattan's weinus (of course he did!) which I strongly support.
Even at nearly three hours long, Watchmen pulled in $55 million opening weekend--pretty good, though still behind Zack Snyder's last movie, 300, which was the top March movie opening ever. If anything, I wish there had been more backstory and character development about Nite Owl and Ozymandias, though that would have pushed it to an insane original Kill Bill length, so maybe it's just as well.
During the 90's when his acting career was dead, Jackie Earle Haley was apparently a successful director of commercials. Here's a great, touching article about his big comeback in Little Children and All the King's Men. Next he's going to be an asylum inmate in Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. Can't wait.