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Watchmen Review

By Joe Lozito

Risked "Watch"


It's hard to hate director Zack Snyder. He tries so hard to please - particularly when given the unenviable task of translating hallowed source material into blockbuster movies. He did it once with "300", his bravura adaptation of Frank Miller's homoerotic history lesson. And now he's at it again, this time choosing to adapt one of the most revered graphic novels in the history of the form: Alan Moore's cynical superhero epic, "Watchmen". Many have famously called "Watchmen" unfilmable (Mr. Moore himself removed his name from the film, only illustrator Dave Gibbons remains). But if you want a comic book put on screen, you can't ask for a better director than Zack Snyder.

Working from an impressive script, by David Hayter and Alex Tse, that deftly juggles the story's many characters and flashbacks, Mr. Snyder has created a film that should please all but the most die-hard Moore fans. Many scenes in the film are taken verbatim from the source. And, with the exception of an ending that oddly alters the villain's plot, the cuts are understandable and surprisingly few. If anything, the filmmakers could have gone further. At two hours and forty minutes, there's a lot of movie here. But then there's a lot of story to tell. One of Mr. Moore's characters describes the miracle of birth as "distilling so specific a form from such chaos". The same could be said of boiling down the original novel into a film.

The year is 1985. Richard Nixon is still President (term limits were eliminated when he won the Vietnam War) and America is on the brink of nuclear war with Russia. It all starts with the death of The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Mr. Moore's skewed version of Captain America. The Comedian's suspicious murder is chalked up as a burglary, but another masked avenger smells foul play. This is Rorschach, Mr. Moore's most indelible creation. Wearing a mask of ever-changing ink blots, Rorschach is a cynical crusader doling out harsh, unblinking justice. He's realized perfectly on screen, with Jackie Earle Haley bringing the character vividly, viciously to life.

Rorschach becomes the catalyst for the film, bringing the story's many costumed heroes out of their imposed retirement (they had been declared illegal years earlier). Through backstories, we're introduced to the Batman-esque Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson, perfectly schlubby), the group's lone female, Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman, sadly unable to bring depth to an important role), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode, appropriately aloof) - he's known as "the smartest man in the world - and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a god-like Superman-type who glows blue and is known to walk around naked.

Through these characters, Mr. Moore's novel painted a vivid portrait of the reality beneath our superhero fantasies, while at the same time casting a knowing eye at politics and the media. Mr. Snyder and his team do an admirable job distilling it all down to its bare essence. It's a testament to Mr. Moore's story that the remainder still works, but the resulting film may be overwhelming to all but the most attentive viewers.

To keep his audience interested, Mr. Snyder has made the film alternatively cheesy (the 80s dialogue, a gratuitous sex scene) and brutally violent (the opening fight, in particular, goes on far too long). And there are laughs to be had as well, many of which come from period cameos (stand-ins for Lee Iacocca and Henry Kissinger appear, among others).

"Watchmen" is not a disappointment. Those who love the novel will surely love seeing it so lovingly put to film. Those who don't know Alan Moore from Roger Moore, however, may be checking their watch (man). In fact, it's a monumental achievement that the film is as good as it is (frankly, I didn't think Zack Snyder had it in him). In the end, it may not be that "Watchmen" is unfilmable, it may simply be that a feature film is the wrong vehicle for the story. A multi-part miniseries may have been a better choice. But if we had to watch a "Watchmen" movie, you couldn't ask for much better than this.

What did you think?

Movie title Watchmen
Release year 2009
MPAA Rating R
Our rating
Summary That director Zack Snyder's vehemently faithful adaptation of Alan Moore's seminal graphic novel is as entertaining as it is counts as a monumental achievement. But that doesn't make it a great movie.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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