Well, my brain has finally restructured itself, and I think I can type some coherent thoughts.
My memory of the movie is a bit foggy, especially during the first ten minutes or so, which was mostly spent with the thought “THIS IS FUCKING WATCHMEN” running through my head repeatedly. Obviously, I have to see it again to make a detailed analysis from an objective viewpoint and not from the viewpoint of a seven year fan more concerned with not pissing himself than actually critiquing the movie.
The opening fight between Blake and the “mask killer” is stunning. It takes a few punches to get used to Zack Snyder's 300-brand signature “slow-mo speed up,” which doesn't happen nearly as much as I feared it would, but as soon as I got in the groove of the style I was swept up by watching this epic fight actually play out. Yes, it's a bit “over the top” in places like Blake punching through the corner of his fireplace or being strong-armed into his coffee table, but I got into the mentality of watching it as an exaggerated commentary on superhero fight scenes. You see things like this in The Dark Knight and other “serious” superhero movies, but nobody bleeds, there's no sense they're being injured. On the other hand, Blake's final moments had me cringe with awesomeness (and pity) at times because you can really see him getting the shit knocked out of him. Seeing him go through the window was chilling.
After this comes the awesome opening montage, a very Forrest Gump-like merging of the superheroes (Minutemen and Crimebusters/Watchmen) with various historical events. I'd already heard about most of them, but it was still intriguing to see them in context with the Bob Dylan song playing over the credits montage. After this we pick up in the main story. This is where the movie's main “problem,” the pacing, becomes evident. I say “problem” in quotation marks because this theatrical cut of the movie, at 2 hours and 37 minutes, is not the full movie, and not the “finished product.” Much of the little snippets that have been cut are from the middle chapters. This makes the movie's content very frontloaded—Chapters I, II, and III feel like an hour (and they might be, I wasn't checking the time) when you incorporate the flashbacks during Blake's funeral. The flashbacks, by the way, are very well done, and shot-for-shot from the book.
Dr. Manhattan's interview with the reporters feels truncated, and I understand that it's longer in the extended cut. At some points it feels that instead of hitting the “main points” of each scene, they simply go through 90% of the dialogue straight from the book as nods to the fans, but then leave the often-pivotal final 10% off suddenly as they run out of time. Again, all this will obviously be fixed in the director's cut version of the movie. It never really harms the movie that much, but I can tell where a scene is supposed to be longer.
Anyway, Dr. Manhattan's flashbacks are better than I ever expected they would be. They play along the disjointed time narrative just like the book, but this sequence knows where to take liberties from the book. For example, the slow-motion falling photograph is not in the movie: in a comic book with panels that can be done perfectly; in a movie it would look cliché. Adrian's assassination attempt is one of the first examples of a scene being done more dramatically than the book for the purpose of pleasing the fratboys expecting X-Men 4. At first I was iffy on this altered scene, but as I replay it in my head I like it more and more. Had this scene been done shot-for-shot like the book, it would have been very short and anticlimactic. Rorschach's arrest and prison scenes are some of the best in the movie, as are his flashbacks, though I wish the Malcolm Long interview was longer. It's not confirmed, but I bet this is one of those director's cut additions.
At this point I feel I should mention the violence, considering Rorschach's flashbacks. The violence is very Tarantino-style. Again, it's something you have to get used to, but it doesn't take long. You feel like it's being exaggerated for the purpose of deconstruction, again bringing back the TDK reference and how this movie is trying to show what actually happens when you bend someone's arm backwards or shove a cleaver in their head. I should also mention the music here because it fits very well into the movie. Having listened to the soundtrack almost continuously the past few days, I was afraid it would be embedded in my brain and not phase me during the movie, but I was wrong. Music is used in the right places almost all the time. I say “almost” because of one scene, the only part I felt was somewhat corny, where Dan and Laurie have sex on the Owlship. The music is “Hallelujah” (I don't know the artist, but it's that song from that part in Shrek). Because Dan and Laurie's scenes in Chapter VII are rushed a bit, it almost felt like a drawn-out or needless sex scene rather than the culmination of their relationship. Almost, but not quite.
The Mars scenes are clearly shortened a bit. Malin Ackerman as Laurie is the weakest link of the cast as I always predicted. She's not bad, but not the best Laurie possible. Speaking of being the best possible character, Jackie Earle Haley might as well change his legal name to Walter Kovacs, because he was born to be Rorschach. Patrick Wilson was a great Dan and I can't think of anyone who would be better in the role. Billy Crudup was a perfect Dr. Manhattan, and his voice was not “too quiet” as I was afraid it would be from clips released before the movie. He sounds perfectly disconnected and careless. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a wonderful Blake and he steals the show in most of his scenes. As my favorite character, I always had my own Adrian voice and my own preconceived notions of his demeanor, so I was always afraid, even before Matthew Goode was cast, that I wouldn't be able to like his character in the movie, but I was wrong. He comes off as a saddened man looking at a bleak future, just as he should. Even though the infamous “asshole smile” scene itself is not in the movie verbatim, there are plenty of other pefect moments where he acts smug and arrogant, taking the world's problems upon himself.
Anyway, back to the story. After Mars things start to pick up again. The confrontation at Karnak is perfect as Adrian explains everything; he really feels like he has to do this to save the world. Everything is played straight to the perfect climax where Adrian reveals he triggered it thirty-five minutes ago. Wait, triggered it? Yes, this infamous line change is in the movie, but it's no big deal. “Triggered it,” “did it,” it's not a huge issue, especially since the fantastic destruction of New York City happens immediately afterwards. I spotted the Bernies, and they're confirmed to have more scenes during the director's cut. As directly unimportant as they are, I hope the other minor New York characters have at least a line of dialogue or two in the extended cut. It helps drive home that Adrian killed real people with real lives and not faceless puppets. The notorious change that everyone and their mother has bitched about for five months straight works perfectly; the new “weapon” has a very sufficient backstory weaved throughout the movie so it doesn't feel shoehorned in. After this the final chapter plays out mostly the same as the book. Rorschach's death scene was very moving. There's an interesting addition to the ending which I can tell was demanded by the studio. It actually felt like it worked within the movie's more fleshed out relationships between certain characters and is much better than the horrid alternative present in many earlier scripts of the movie. After this everything happens mostly the same as the book's ending, and then...it was over. Two and a half plus hours flew by.
In conclusion, I thought this was pretty much the best Watchmen adaptation there could possibly be. Again, it's difficult for me to thoroughly critique the movie without seeing it a second time to actually “watch” and not just “see” it. If there's one thing that truly “hurts” the movie, it's the addition of nods to the fans that serve no other story role, like Bubastis, which could have been removed or sent to the director's cut bin instead of other scenes. I very eagerly await the director's cut, which will be 3 hours and 10 minutes (the cut with Tales of the Black Freighter will be 3 hours and ~30 minutes), as I know the pacing issues will be resolved with just a bit more substance. All in all, I give Watchmen a 9.5/10, with the safe knowledge that I can give it that perfect score when I've seen everything I'm supposed to.