Director/writer Zack Snyder delivers Alan Moore’s epic superhero saga, “Watchmen”, to the silver screen with uncompromising vision and adoration. It won’t please everyone, and is by no means a masterpiece, but must be recognized as a significant achievement. Moore’s benchmark graphic novel was written as a serial in the Cold War dominated world of the 1980’s. It was a twisted allegory of war written at a very specific time. To bring these characters, and that world, to the big screen in the twenty-first century is no easy task. Snyder does not deviate from Moore’s heralded work. That is already a criticism from some. But you can’t please everyone, and if he had changed it too much, there would have been a lynching by critics and fans. This was no easy adaptation, and the final product must be lauded because the good far outweighs the bad.
It is an alternate America in 1985. Richard Nixon has been elected to office five times. The Cold War is on the brink of nuclear holocaust. Crime and apathy are rampant across the globe. In New York City, Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is beaten to a pulp and hurled from his high rise apartment. Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), a sociopath with a mask of ever-changing inkblots, investigates this murder. This one, out of hundreds, is different. Edward Blake was the secret identity of ‘The Comedian’ a psychotic vigilante and member of ‘The Watchmen’. The Watchmen were a group of masked heroes in the 70’s – The Comedian, Rorschach, Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre II (Malin Ackerman), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), the only true superhero, a scientist transformed into a blue super being – with the ability to change matter. This group was the second incarnation of a 1940’s group, ‘The Minutemen’, whose members disbanded or were killed. Only The Comedian remained to be a part of The Watchmen.
Rorschach believes that someone is killing masked heroes. Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias, revealed as the world’s smartest man – Adrian Veidt, were the only heroes to have their true identities known to the public. So the specter of something more sinister looms in the mind of Rorschach. He attempts to recruit his old partner, Nite Owl II, from retirement to discover the real villain behind this plot.
Watchmen is an incredibly complicated, very dramatic, dialogue heavy film. It runs at a whopping two hours and forty-five minutes. This film is not a Batman, or Superman, or Spiderman film. It is a dark, graphically violent, hard-R film. In other words, Watchmen is not a children’s movie in the least. You will be surprised and disappointed if you go to see this film and expect something like “The Dark Knight”.
Zack Snyder is known for his action and special effects movies. “300” and “Dawn of the Dead” had me convinced that Watchmen would look great. The question was the story. How would this be as an adaptation to, quite possibly, the greatest graphic novel of all time? I think he pretty much nails it. The film is wonderfully dramatic. Snyder cast great character actors, especially Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, and Billy Crudup. They have the acting chops to drive the complex storyline behind their masks and hero costumes. The film is so character driven; a subpar performance by any of the Watchmen would have tanked the entire thing.
Snyder does have a big failure in his adaptation. I am a fan of Alan Moore. I am a part of the diehard graphic novel fans. The revelation of the villain is masterfully done in the comic. It’s surprising, and deadly. This is very poorly done in the film. It is almost an afterthought. But, you can’t have perfection always. There are so many great things about Watchmen, it is irresponsible to be overly negative over one aspect, even an important one. I feel fandom will not be happy in that regard. Not to be missed in IMAX.