I must start by saying that I do not read comic books at all. Never have. I've only heard about Watchmen from comic book junkies who host movie sites on the internet. I went into this movie expecting to be entertained but not much more. Boy was I in for a treat!
This dark, brooding tale is set in a parallel universe in which Nixon is in his fifth term as President and the U.S and Russia are so close to nuclear war that it's practically inevitable. The story centers on a small group of retired "superheroes," or rather former crime fighters who wore masks and costumes and had cool names, like Rorschach, Silk Spectre, the Comedian, and Night Owl. These characters have no supernatural powers, except Dr. Manhattan, whose powers are explained with the usual comic book science (i.e. lab experiment gone wrong), and each one is very human, and flawed. They are thrown back into each others lives by the murder of one of their own, and while solving that mystery, they uncover a plot so sinister and bizarre; it actually forces them to question their common sense of morality (if there is such a thing) in light of the circumstances.
There's no way I can do the story justice with this short synopsis, and I almost feel that it was too complex and convoluted even for a 2hr. 42min. movie. The pacing was perfect during the first half, setting up the characters and the plot, letting the audience into that world; but I think the further down the rabbit hole we got, the more it began to spin out of control. That's really my only criticism. I wanted more time with these characters in that alternate reality, more time to take it in and to unravel the story methodically, not frantically.
The visual style that Zack Snyder made famous with 300 is back, and is actually better suited for this film. The extreme violence coupled with Rorschach's gruff voiceover is Sin City-esque, which in my mind is a good thing, and the special effects serve the story and the environment much better than the distracting CGI effects found in the typical summer blockbuster. I knew I was going to be seeing Watchmen because it's an "event" movie; I love standing in line with a hundred people for a movie on opening night! That said, it's really nice when the movie is not only entertaining, but has substance. Watchmen delivers on both accounts.