The opening fight in the Comedian's apartment was a bit overlong. But the movie swiftly go onto a better foot with the alternate-history montage showing the initial promise of the masked crimefighters and how things started to go very, very wrong. It was very effective.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan was dead on as the Comedian, reprehensible yet magnetic. He was one of the best things about the movie, and I didn't mind at all that his part took up a greater proportion of the movie than it does in the book.
Jackie Earle Haley did a good job as Rorschach, too, although his performance was more emotional than how I interpret the character when reading: I "hear" his voice as an affectless gravelly monotone, and he only shows visible emotion in two instances in the comic. He comes across as more sympathetic in the movie, while in the comic he's essentially a sociopath, a serial killer who happens to kill criminals.
I was pleasantly surprised Patrick Wilson's Dan Dreiberg. The previews and costume design made it looks like they were going to make Nite Owl II more of a conventional action hero type, but they actually kept him a bit of a pudgy, out-of-shape nebbish. I was less impressed by Malin Akerman's Silk Spectre II. Some of her line readings were a bit flat.
Dr. Manhattan was fair. He came off as more just soft-spoken than out of touch. Also, I think they could have stood to put him a little deeper into the uncanny valley; despite the CGI, he mainly looked like a guy with blue makeup.
Ozymandias bugged me a bit. He had an unplaceable accent for some reason, which I found distracting. Obviously they played up the hint that he may be homosexual (with the Village People/Studio 54 bit in the montage, and the "boys" folder later), while in the comic it's only Rorschach's suspicion, mentioned offhand once.
Some of my favorite parts of the comic didn't make it in, but I wasn't surprised. I love the newsstand/Black Freighter parts partly because of the clever use of the comics medium; it'd be impossible to film them in such a way that the narrative juxtaposition would come through effectively, and it was inevitable that the slice-of-life stuff would get cut in order to fit in the A plot. Also, the whole back-and-forth between Rorschach and the psychologist was cut down to a single interview and then the shrink cowering in his office during the prison riot. Again, that's a subplot that was easy to cut. Still, the loss of these scenes was detrimental: the explosion in New York loses much of its emotional impact if you haven't already spent some time getting to know the victims.
I didn't mind the change of mechanism in the ending. It may be true that the "alien squid" would have come across as too silly on screen, as some people claim, I'm not convinced (there have certainly been stranger things on screen that worked). However, it depends on a lot of subtle buildup throughout the comic for its impact, such as the missing writer and the Black Freighter. Switching the manufactured threat to Dr. Manhattan meant that it could follow directly from Jon's alienation and abandonment of Earth, streamlining the narrative. The only problem with the new ending is that the pacing seems off.
The changes to Rorschach's kidnapping case flashback were both necessary and weakening. Necessary because the whole bit about the handcuffed guy having to cut his own limb off with a hacksaw to escape a fiery death was lifted straight from the end of Mad Max (and, more recently, Saw resurrected the gag as the premise of the entire first movie of that series). However, having an obviously worked up (and breathing heavily) Rorschach just put a cleaver in his forehead has a very different dramatic impact from putting him in a deathtrap and then calmly waiting for him to burn to death. It makes it seem more like a "crime of passion" and thus more sympathetic, and does not illustrate as clearly the line of demarcation between what Walter Kovacs was and what Rorschach became.
The slow-motion Matrix-fu fighting was a bit out of place. And they went over the top with the gore: practically every fight scene had somebody's shattered bone sticking out of one or more of their limbs, shown in loving close-up. As bleak as the original is, it's only that grisly in a few places. It wasn't all that distracting, though.
Most of the music seemed appropriate. Playing "Hallelujah" during the Owlship sex scene, though, was pretty hilarious. And the My Chemical Romance cover of Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row" over the credits was just baffling. What's the point of a Dylan cover where you can't make out the lyrics?
I know it seems like I'm mostly pointing out problems, but really, I enjoyed it. As a movie, in its own right, it's entertaining and well-constructed. Better than I expected. I believed for a long time that Watchmen was essentially unfilmable: I still think the things that make it great rather than merely good don't translate to film, but we still got a pretty good flick out of it.
Before the movie, they showed a Kid Rock "music video" slash recruiting ad for the National Guard, and it was absolutely the most redneck damn thing I've seen in a long while. I'd assumed that Kid Rock must have died of a meth overdose or something by now, but no, apparently the talentless bastard is still breathing and allowed near microphones. The video switched between shots of the National Guard doing guard stuff (mostly patrolling somewhere in Western Asia, but also fighting a fire) and scenes of NASCAR racing with Dale Earnhardt Jr., punctuated with Kid Rock "performing". Somehow I don't think they were trying to say that people should join the National Guard to dominate Arab countries so we can have plenty of oil for NASCAR, but....
Also, one of the lines in the chorus is "Freedom makes us free". Seriously.