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SYFY WIRE Watchmen

Critics say HBO's take on Watchmen is ambitious, heady, and a bit dense

By Josh Weiss
Watchmen HBO

In a lot of ways, Watchmen is a sacred, almost Bible-like, text for many comic book fans. Along with some help from Miller's Dark Knight Returns, the seminal graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons reshaped the way we think about the medium, which, up to that point, had become a sluggishly bubbling pot of tired tropes and cliches.

If you thought Zack Snyder caught a lot of flack for literally translating such a sacrosanct comic to the big screen in 2009, imagine how much of a challenge Damon Lindelof was facing when he announced that he'd be using the beloved source material as a jumping off point for a wholly new story?

With that introduction out of the way, official reviews are now in for the Lost/Leftover vet's remix of Watchmen, and despite promising first reactions from NYCC, some critics are more enamored with the grounded superhero series (premiering this weekend on HBO) than others.

While it's definitely a loving tribute to the graphic novel that inspired it, Lindelof's adaptation reportedly isn't a show for novices who have never read the source material. If you can get past that by giving yourself a crash course in the comic, however, you will be treated to a wildly ambitious project that tackles heavy and relevant topics through the unconventional lens of vigilante justice and raining squids. None of the reviews can deny the sweeping scope and creativity on display in Watchmen, but some are concerned that the series, which jumps around in the alternate timeline — sometimes by decades — can be a little too lofty and Icarus-like for its own good.

For others, that's not really a problem, especially when you've got such engaging performances from the likes of Regina King and Jean Smart who lead an ensemble cast of Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Louis Gossett Jr., Jessica Camacho, Andrew Howard, Jeremy Irons, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and others. In particular, King is playing Detective Angela Bar, a modern cop who dons the hero persona of Sister Night to take on a terrorist cult inspired by the writings of Rorschach.

Irons (famous for voicing Scar in Disney's animated Lion King) is playing an older version of Adrien Veidt, aka Ozymandias, the man who forcibly brokered world peace from the shadows of the Cold War more than 30 years ago. The teaser released at SDCC also promised us the return of the blue-skinned Doctor Manhattan, but since critics are remaining pretty mum on that front (after all, they've only been allowed to screen the first six episodes), we're hoping for an explosive reveal by the end of Season 1's 10-episode run.

Watchmen: Official Trailer | HBO

Before Watchmen premieres on HBO this coming Sunday at 9pm EST, find out what critics have been saying below...

"To tackle the meanness and violence of history in a truly serious way — with superheroes or with mere magnificently brave mortals telling the story — demands a focus Watchmen simply lacks, and attempts to make up for with a tone of increasing dudgeon. What Watchmen sets out to do, taking the opportunity of an artwork perceived as unadaptable and writing a whole new story, is admirable. But both that original artwork and, more crucially, this story deserve better. They deserve, perhaps, less." -Daniel D'Addario, Variety

"Right out of the gate, Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen announces itself as a series that has some shit to say. An impressive act of world-building reverentially structured around the events of the beloved graphic novel, the new HBO‌ series may not be what diehard fans are expecting, but it’s a vital update and doting love letter to the original that marries the spectacle of a high-profile cable budget with gripping philosophical storytelling, awards-worthy performances, and first-rate technical accomplishment across the board." -Haleigh Foutch, Collider

"Credit Lindelof and his collaborators for telling a hyperbolic story shaded with good humor and sweet emotion. Like Lost, it’s a sci-fi tale shrouded in theory-provoking mystery ... Like The Leftovers, it’s a vividly felt tale of generational sorrow, tapping deeper weirdness and structural experimentation as it goes along. Watchmen doesn’t overdose on nostalgia, like so many franchise extensions in our reboot-soaked decade. It’s dangerous, and invigorating. Like the proverbial Space Squid, it blew my mind." -Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly

"Watchmen will be utterly confusing without at least some passing knowledge of the origin story. This is a tale that begs for context, no matter how compelling and wonderfully baroque Lindelof's telling is ... Does it all work? Well, let's just say that it's creatively bold and superbly written and acted, but those last three episode will be crucial to it all making sense if there's no second season. Watchmen is a tour-de-force, no doubt, but there's a landing that definitely needs to be stuck." -Tim Goodman, The Hollywood Reporter

"Watchmen finds fundamental truths about an America divided by a lack of faith in itself, its people, and its institutions. The series’ scope is astonishing given its subject matter, and even more so given its relentless entertainment value ... Watchmen asks how we move forward from there; how we evolve, how we coexist, how we trust one another again. There’s no easy answer, but you’ll be shocked at how rewarding the search can be while watching this Watchmen." -Ben Travers, IndieWire

"This Watchmen is a huge undertaking, a complex story with as many plot threads as a squid has tentacles (and yes, there's a squid). Like the original, it has a lot to say, and is gorgeously realized with strong writing and performances, particularly from stars Regina King and Jean Smart. But its messaging is somewhat muddied. Like much of Lindelof’s work, Watchmen has conflicting themes, selective points of view and multiple timelines, which in the six episodes made available for review are balanced fairly well. But a show juggling so many elements always has the potential to come tumbling down." -Kelly Lawler, USA Today

"We really don’t need more examinations of the police that aren’t honest about the organization’s own history of racially-driven terrorism. Watchmen should be more than that. In the end, the series could very well end up doing an excellent job of unpacking all of these things with the kind of care, grace, and honesty that the story (and audiences) deserve, but also, it may not. You can’t really get a definitive sense either way by the first episode’s end, which very much seems to be the creative team’s questionable intention." -Charles Pulliam-Moore, i09

Watchmen Trailer Breakdown