As the director of “300,” a motion picture based on a graphic novel by artist Frank Miller, Zack Snyder is no stranger to the challenges of bringing a comic book to the big screen. His latest effort, “Watchmen,” presents a whopping hurdle for Snyder to overcome.
Since it was published over 20 years ago, “Watchmen,” the superhero equivalent of “Citizen Kane,” has struggled to find its way onto film. Many directors and movie companies have taken a crack at it, but the source material’s complex, multi-layered plot, superhero motif and demanding special effects have made it seem, on paper, unfilmmable. At the very least, Snyder should receive credit for successfully getting the work on film and in theaters.
That major hurdle passed, the end product is quite good and offers much for movie fans looking for a little meat to their escapist superhero flick.
Set in an alternate Earth in which Richard Nixon is still president and the United States has won the Vietnam War, “Watchmen” begins as a murder mystery and reveals itself as a character study of superheroes in the real world.
Rorschach, played by Academy Award nominee Jackie Earle Haley, is a psychotic masked avenger who investigates the death of hero/government stooge The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). It’s one sicko looking for the killer of another sicko.
Rorschach’s colleagues in crime fighting are just as messed up. The middle-aged Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) struggles with impotence and a general loss of purpose. The Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) is estranged from her superhero mom and godlike boyfriend Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup). Depicted as an eerily detached member of the Blue Man Group, Crudup’s Dr. Manhattan abandons humanity to its own devices and flees to Mars. This act pushes the U.S. and Soviet Union closer to nuclear annihilation.
These are not your parents’ Super Friends.
“Watchmen” offers much and demands much. At 2 hours and 43 minutes in length, it’s a dense film. Toward the end it gets a bit preachy and its action sequences are graphically violent throughout. The film earns its R rating.
“Watchmen” is quite watchable and rewarding to behold. It inspires and disgusts. It thrills and angers. It’s provocative and mundane. It’s trash fiction at its best and worst. But that’s what one should expect from a superhero film aimed at adults.