Something people misunderstand about a critic’s mind is that they walk into a summer blockbuster with low expectations, and nothing can change that. That’s not true. You can have massive explosions, and lots of them, as long as they follow the story or have a purpose. You can have brief scenes of character development, but they still have to be there.

Those are the marks missed by countless explosion-fueled films like Tranformers that send a critic out of theater weeping. On the opposite end, when something like Watchmen happens, they can stand up and cheer with the rest of the crowd.

Even in this director’s cut form, despite some minor pacing issues, Watchmen doesn’t waste a single scene. Action is brief, and most importantly, critical to the story. An early fight pitting the masked Rorschach against police is brutal, filled with stunning choreography that excites, but also serves the purpose of establishing the character as a renegade.

Zack Snyder, having previously helmed 300, knows how to flawlessly translate a graphic novels visuals to the screen. Watchmen is filled with gorgeous, even beautiful sights, aided by brilliantly disguised visual effects.

Watchmen, like the source material, is deep in terms of its philosophies and critique of mankind. This is meaningful despite the super hero exterior and costumes. Set in an alternate timeline in which Nixon has served four terms, Watchmen depicts a world trapped in Cold War fears, and the need for masked vigilantes has diminished. News reports enhance the real world feel, adding to the intensity of the story.

Without their costumed personas, the final set of Watchmen are lost, lacking a purpose to their own lives while they struggle with their own relationships. They lack tradition, breaking a mold that other groups of heroes follow. They have no leader, rules, or any reason to be. Most importantly, they are human.

When the story finally requires them back into action it’s a relief, and not for the audience, but for the characters. The entire film has been building, teasing even, their return. An immediate change in their attitude and mood is apparent. This what they are meant to do, and all of their troubled lives are forgotten as they make a rescue attempt at a burning building.

That’s a positive moment in a dark film, one which includes rape, a shooting death of a pregnant woman, Vietnam atrocities, and the murder of JFK. Graphic gore exists because of a need, not in an attempt to one up the latest slasher thriller on the market (see: the Saw series). The ending is also downbeat, obtaining peace at a drastic, emotional cost. A conversation before the final few scenes is depressingly thoughtful as consequences are debated.

Watchmen is, in almost every way, exactly what a sci-fi/superhero movie should be: insightful escapism. You leave Watchmen thinking, and not just about how the film crew made something explode, but about the world and its place. That’s how you separate Watchmen from summer movies that fail to establish a base of thought. There is nothing wrong in asking for more.

Movie ★★★★★ 

watchmen

Warner delivers what is, so far, the best live action Blu-ray encode of the year. Watchmen is brilliant to look at, with flawless, deep blacks. Sharpness is perfect without a moment of softness. Detail is remarkable in every shot, and the film’s texture is unbelievable as captured in this VC-1 encode.

Faces and skin are rich with pores, bumps, and other notable realities. Lavish touches in the environments are maintained without aliasing. The depth in this image is remarkable. Contrast is bright, delivering on all counts.

Picking out flaws is nearly impossible, but beginning near the 150-minute mark (during an office break-in), noise becomes a visible distraction. It runs for a few cuts afterwards, noticeable on white suits and backgrounds. Considering how brief the problem is, it does not negatively affect the encode overall.

Video ★★★★★ 

Powerful is the first notable impression of this DTS-HD mix. Punches, of which there are many, reverberate in the low end with force. Explosions are beefy, and the engines from Nite Owl’s ship are stunning. Watchmen excels in the high, mid, and low range every time it is called upon.

Tracking into all channels is masterful. Fight scenes are littered with small touches, including guns being kicked around into each speaker, glass shattering with amazing accuracy, and weapons being fired in the appropriate channel. Dialogue scenes handle thunderstorms and street level ambiance with remarkable accuracy.

Audio ★★★★★ 

Watchmen comes on three discs, the third being a digital copy which is either an extra or waste of space depending on your view. Disc 1 is the debut of Warner’s “Maximum Movie Mode,” an expansive picture-in-picture feature with extensive input from director Zack Snyder. He introduces the film by walking into the movie, and does in other spots as well.

Timelines, storyboards, video docs, sketches, and more are delivered when in this feature. Unlike other companies (*cough* Universal *cough*), many of these extras can be accessed through an easy to use menu so you don’t need to watch the entire movie to see them. BD-Live access leads to a rather annoying auto-play Watchmen trailer, and seven extra features including viral videos once you work around the latter.

Disc 2 houses four different pieces, the first of which is The Phenomenon. This is a half hour look at the graphic novel, its impact, and popularity. Real Super Heroes: Real VigilantesMechanics: Technologies of a Fantastic World focuses on the psychology behind the characters and their actions. deals with a physics professor who was brought on set to offer his thoughts. A music video is the final extra.

Extras ★★★★☆