The Watchmen heroes undertake this task in an intriguing plot based on the original material written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. The striking superhero/vigilante hero characters cavort amid epic visual environments within an alternative United States set in the mid-1980s. As you get a glimpse of each character’s life, you discover how each one factors into in the current declining state of the world.
Even after the beginning montage, you don’t get extensive character background initially, just gradual bits and pieces, especially during an exterior scene. The doomsday clock has become a symbolic representation of the current nuclear war threat between Russia and the U.S.A. The government-mandated Keane Act has kept the six Watchmen (each with a unique hero name) out of the public eye until now, as events spur this group into some incredible actions.
Jon Osterman (a.k.a. Dr. Manhattan), played by Billy Crudup, is the only character with real supernatural powers and has overriding authority over the group… and everyone else on the planet. “Superman exists and he is American,” says a newscaster hailing the doctor’s arrival in a flashback. Crudup holds your attention and does a great job delivering the layered dialogue as you get the most from his character arc. The huge scope of his powers eventually eclipses his social abilities with individuals, especially his girlfriend Laurie.
“Your mind goes to dark places and you wonder why I keep secrets from you,” he says to Laurie (a.k.a. Silk Spectre II). Malin Akerman handles herself well in the role, but Crudup’s performance definitely overshadows hers. Still, she conveys some touching emotions that illustrate how their heroic duties increase their social isolation. Laurie’s strained relationship with Jon prompts a reconnection with another fellow Watchman named Dan Dreiberg (a.k.a. Nite Owl II). “I didn’t know where else to go,” Laurie says to Dan, played by the multi-talented Patrick Wilson.
Wilson plays the role incredibly close to the original character — a smart, moral hero with a little bit of the “nerd” gets the girl infused into the plot. Nite Owl and Rorschach have the strongest friendship bond of the six, due to their initial crime fighting partnership, which partly creates the formation of the entire group. Filmmakers forge this partnership a bit further in the plot, especially during the satisfying variation of the film’s ending.
Jackie Earle Haley plays Walter Kovacs (a.k.a. Rorschach), who investigates a key murder while acting as the film’s main narrator when he journals his exploits. “It’s not God’s fault. We made the world this way,” he says while reflecting on experiences of violence, tragedy, and the overall state of the nation. This is one of many great lines of dialogue, but some audiences might strain to understand his every word as he talks through a hood over his head.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Edward Blake (a.k.a. The Comedian) a violent, coarse brute who exercises his own personal desires through a mask of justice and righteousness. Morgan certainly has the physical presence for the role, but doesn’t always hit the dramatic aspects on target.
British actor Matthew Goode also stars as Adrian Veidt (a.k.a. Ozymandias), one of the few Watchmen who reveals his identity. His corporate empire includes marketing Watchmen toys and other related products. Goode’s potentially star-making role makes a decent impact as his emotions definitely match the motives.
The first Nite Owl, played by 300 cast member Stephen McHattie, and Silk Spectre, played by Carla Gugino, have limited roles. Silk Spectre provides an important bridge between the previous Minutemen hero group and the present coalitions, while Mason also exists to bridge the past as the film omits his individual fate.
Filmmakers shed several supporting characters (soldiers chaperoning Dr. Manhattan, etc.) who have very short scenes with the Watchmen. Instead, they focus on important historical characters like Lee Iacocca, John F. Kennedy, Henry Kissinger, and Richard Nixon (well played by Robert Wisden), who is currently serving his fifth term as U.S. President.
Director Zack Synder sets the stage well with an expanded beginning which ebbs into a rich plot, then an improved ending. Synder does a great job adapting a graphic novel where style usually rules over substance. This film has the best of both worlds.
Tyler Bates’ musical score has an impact, but isn’t too intrusive and is complemented by popular songs from artists like Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Simon and Garfunkel. First time casting director Kristy Carlson does an outstanding job matching the actors with the characters while the striking set design has some great pieces, including a Nixon war room that echoes Dr. Strangelove.
Before seeing this film, I thought it would be hard to capture the emotional impact of the Cold War ’80s (a la Rocky IV) now, but some 9/11 type elements and themes fill the void nicely. The only element that really falls flat is the uncomfortably forced environmental agenda (it is thankfully short). Overall, the characters and the strong plot provide plenty of appeal. Filmmakers require audiences to make some assumptions, especially in a prison scenario, but mostly keep a simple action format filled with engaging dialogue. You probably won’t get lost, but too much knowledge and research before seeing the film might spoil the surprises, humanistic themes, and overall effect.
The original graphic novel has appealing character information among the chapters plus additional scenarios, so the home video version has potential for huge expansions and supplements for fans who might not like the limited, cameo role of the news vendor and the boy reading the pirate comic, which is already appearing as a companion animated short, Tales of the Black Freighter DVD (releasing on March 24).
Several possibilities for sequels, prequels (e.g. Nite Owl and Rorschach’s beginning fights against mob gangs, The Comedian’s relationship with Moloch, well played by Matt Frewer, etc.), and other related works should provide superhero-hungry audiences plenty of nourishment for a seemingly neverending fantastical feast.
A nice shot of originality for new audiences and deep appreciation from die hard fans make Watchmen a surefire winner. The two hour and 41 minute running time can be intimidating, but Watchmen plays very well with no real “slow spots”. Recommended (*** out of four stars) and rated R for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity, and language.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler