Watchmen

2009
Warner Bros & Paramount Pictures

Directed by Zack Snyder
Produced by Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin and Deborah Snyder
Screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse
Based on the comic book limited series and graphic novel created by Alan Moore (writer) and Dave Gibbons (artist)

If you were reading comic books back in 1986 then you probably read the twelve issue limited series WATCHMEN right from the beginning. You were in on the ground floor of a work of art that has come to be called ‘The Citizen Kane of graphic novels’. Actually that should be ‘The Citizen Kane of comic books’ but I’ve noticed how hard the advertising is stresses that WATCHMEN is based on a ‘graphic novel’. It’s as if Warner Bros. and Paramount are trying to hide the comic book roots of the material. They’ve got no reason to. Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, the comic book version of WATCHMEN was far more than men and women in brightly colored spandex beating the piss outta each other. It was a political thriller/satire, a murder mystery, a deconstruction of the superhero concept and an examination of the psychology of those people in the brightly colored spandex. And thankfully, the movie version of WATCHMEN is the same.

Thanks to a really cool credits sequence we’re introduced to an alternate world where superheroes came into prominence during the World War II era. Although costumed crimefighters such as Hooded Justice, Captain Metropolis, Silhouette and Dollar Bill are called superheroes they actually have no real superpowers. They’re ordinary men and women who put on masks, wear costumes and go out to fight crime. It isn’t until the 1950’s that the world gets its first real superbeing: Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup) who, like a lot of DC and Marvel characters gains superpowers due to a scientific accident. Ironically, its Dr. Manhattan’s creation that intensifies the Cold War between The United States and Russia. The Russians are kinda spooked that America has a glowing blue god who can reshape matter and energy at will. Thanks to Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian/Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) the Vietnam War is won in a week. Both Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian go to work for the U.S. government while other costumed heroes are forced into retirement due to legislation outlawing superheroes.

Things heat up rapidly when The Comedian is brutally killed and his murder is investigated by Rorschach/Walter Kovacs (Jackie Earle Haley) a vigilante who ignored the ban on masked heroes. Rorschach believes someone is out to kill all the retired heroes and goes to visit them one by one, hoping to persuade them to join him in his investigation. Silk Spectre/Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman) thinks he’s crazy. Dr. Manhattan doesn’t care. Nite Owl/Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson) thinks he’s paranoid. And the richest, smartest man in the world, Ozymandias /Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) is too busy trying to create a new energy source to be bothered. But before long events will drive all these former heroes back into their costumes as it soon becomes apparent that the world is on the verge of a nuclear holocaust and they may be the only ones who can prevent it.

For years WATCHMEN has stumped some of the most creative directors working in the industry today. We’re talking about guys like Terry Gilliam and Darren Aronofsky, both of who thought the graphic novel was unfilmable. And then along comes Zack Snyder who does such a terrific job and is so faithful to the source material that you wonder what the fuss was about. All of the characters look as if they stepped right out of the graphic novel and Zack Snyder recreates scenes in such detail it’s scary. And there’s plenty of Easter Eggs all through the movie for those of us who have read our copies of WATCHMEN to death but that won’t prevent those of you who haven’t from enjoying it.

The acting in this movie is top notch. Jackie Earle Haley easily walks off with the honors in this one. Rorschach is an extremely disturbed and dangerous man and Haley plays him that way, with no sugarcoating. I remember first seeing Jackie Earle Haley way back in 1983 in a raunchy comedy called “Losin’ It” which also starred Tom Cruise and Shelly Long but Haley stole that movie from them easily. He’s got great people to work with in this one such as Patrick Wilson. He plays Dan Dreiberg in such a way that you at first have a hard time imagining this overweight, quiet guy was ever a superhero. But once he puts on that Nite Owl costume his transformation is remarkable to see. And Malin Akerman is nothing short of amazing. I just couldn’t take my eyes off her anytime she was on the screen. Her character occupies a unique place in the superhero history of this world and one of the most interesting aspects of this movie is to watch her complex relationships with the other characters.

So should you see WATCHMEN? Absolutely. It’s not just a great superhero movie. It’s a great movie, period. The characterizations and story aren’t just excuses to have golly-gee-whiz special effects and big fight scenes. Even though the movie is complex and there are flashbacks and flash forwards it’s never confusing. And it’s truly a pleasure to watch a director at work who knows how to film action/fight scenes and doesn’t take the lazy way out by resorting to shaky-cam. It’s a movie with intelligence and one sign of its intelligence is that the superheroes don’t fight supervillains. They’re fighting something even more deadly: social conditions and their own moral values. It’s an amazing piece of filmmaking indeed and between this and “300” Zack Snyder has a place in movie history.

163 minutes:
Rated R:  This is most definitely a superhero movie for adults. There’s graphic violence, nudity and language.  Send the kidlets to bed before you watch this one, folks.

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