**** (out of 5)
March 6, 2009
Malin Akerman as LAURIE JUPITER
Billy Crudup as DR. MANHATTAN
Matthew Goode as ADRIEN VEIDT
Jackie Earle Haley as RORSCHACH
Jeffrey Dean Morgan as EDWARD BLAKE
Patrick Wilson as DAN DREIBERG
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Zack Snyder
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Not since last year’s “The Dark Knight” has a movie had as much anticipation for it as “Watchmen” has. Based on the groundbreaking graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, “Watchmen” has been in the works for decades, finally brought to life by “300” director Zack Snyder.
I read the “Watchmen” graphic novel back in the 80s, but I gave myself a refresher course this past week, cracking open my old vinyl comic book bags and reading it again right before I saw it. This has given me a unique perspective because the original source material is so fresh in my mind.
This has also blurred my vision of this as an average moviegoer because, let’s face it, even though loads of people bought the graphic novel lately, I doubt that even half have finished it. (The book is pretty talky, after all, which is not unexpected for Alan Moore, who has made a point to distance himself from the project.)
“Watchmen” takes place in an alternate version 1985 in which masked vigilantes had once roamed the streets but have been outlawed by the government. The heroes aren’t in the comics, but in reality. The world is on the brink of war with Richard Nixon having extended his terms. The only thing that seems to keep the Russians at bay is the nuclear-powered super man known as Dr. Manhattan.
However, it seems that there’s a mysterious presence trying to kill off the masked heroes. Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) is one of the few vigilantes left, and he’s trying to uncover the conspiracy to kill his compatriots. He joins with several retired heroes to uncover the secrets behind the killings.
Coming at this film as the comic book geek that I am, I have to say that I am very impressed with Zack Snyder’s vision. He has captured almost flawlessly the world set forth in the graphic novel. He managed to condense much of Moore’s verbiage into flashes and recaps but retained the feel of the source. In fact, there are lines of dialogue and frames of film that are literally lifted from the comic book page.
The acting for the most part is impressive, with the highlight being Haley’s portrayal of Rorschach, as perfect as it can be. He steals every scene he’s in, and even though his morals are a bit twisted, you’ll find yourself rooting for him all the time. Other fine performances come from Patrick Wilson as Dan Drieberg, the Nite Owl. And Billy Crudup as the fantastic Dr. Manhattan is also lifted right out of the graphic novel.
Of course, not all the acting is well done. There’s the thespian black hole known as Malin Akerman whose delivery of dialogue is as flat as a sheet of glass. Matthew Goode, whom I normally like, phones in his lines with no passion whatsoever.
The film does run a bit long, clocking in at 163 minutes. The book had been trimmed considerably, but it could have gone a bit farther. And while it will be a film beloved by fanboys for generations, I’m not sure how much “Watchmen” is going to click with the mainstream crowd. It could become a monster hit, but I’m not certain that I’m believing the hype.
As much as I respect Zack Snyder for his faithful adaptations of comic books, his ego is getting a bit inflated. Some scenes are made more noticeably violent than the comic, and it’s not that the graphic novel pulled any punches. Also, there are four or five moments in the film where “Watchmen” turns into a “300” homage, featuring slow-motion fight sequences and a trippy sex scene. Thanks for the Malin Akerman nudity, Zack, but try something different cinematically next time.
The movie is dark and brooding, a cynical look at the human condition, which is precisely what the graphic novel was. Moore’s philosophizing has been reduced but is still very presence. The political commentary, which was contemporary at the time of the book, is still relevant today and remarkably doesn’t get too preachy. There are moments of brilliance with real political figures, but it sometimes does goes overboard, including godawful make-up jobs for figures like Tricky Dick and Lee Iacocca.
Overall, “Watchmen” is a brilliant piece of cinema and a fantastic adaptation of the original source material. It might not be for everyone, but for the fans, it will be the event of the year.