Watchmen completely succeeds as a loving adaptation of a classic comic, but it comes up short as a movie.
Up until the current mini-renaissance in comic book films, the result of a comic adaptation was hit or miss. For every Superman or Superman 2, there were quite a few films like Supergirl, Ghost Rider, etc. Often the problem with these movies was that it was as clear as day that a film executive had optioned a brand name character and built a crappy movie around that hoping to make a buck on action figures, video games and other tie-ins. Probably since the X-Men movies and culminating in The Dark Knight, Hollywood got that you could make a movie true to the comic book without watering it down in dreck.
The fundamental mistake at the heart of Watchmen is that it is too faithful to the comic. Director Zack Snyder tried to replicate what he did with 300 and what Robert Rodriguez did with Sin City. The problem, I think, is that the source material for those previous works by Frank Miller were cinematic in nature. By comparison, I think Alan Moore's Watchmen is a creature of the comic book world. It is a masterful thing, but essentially of comics.
As a result, the movie is a chore for those who aren't diehard Watchmen fans (As I am, even though I didn't read it until a few years ago). Which is a shame, because the movie is pretty darn cool. I'm amazed at how much like the comic the movie is, especially the costumes and the vibe of an almost-dystopian 1980s New York. The only technical distractions were that the age makeup on Nixon and the original Silk Spectre were a little to noticeable.
Other than a little too much male frontal nudity (Seriously Dr. Manhattan, put on some pants! Even some underoos!), I liked Watchmen. I just felt that it too often felt like a fan film with a giant budget - essentially impenetrable to an audience of non-fanboys. And that does not make for a great movie.
Rating: 3 out of 5