Posted at 5:48 PM on March 5, 2009
by Euan Kerr
"Watchmen" is a headspinner of a movie, but not in the way you might think. Zack ("300") Snyder's adaptation of the classic graphic novel explores the angst-ridden world of jaded former superheroes in a way which will gratify fans of the book, but could well mystify newcomers looking for a good superhero punch-up.
The story is set in a parallel universe in the recent past where Richard Nixon has taken the US to the brink of nuclear war with the Russians, and members of the now banned superhero group the Watchmen are wondering if they give a rip. They have been hiding behind their secret identities for years, and some days have problems believing they once donned costumes and masks to fight bad guys.
When one of their number called the Comedian meets a sticky end after being thrown through a very large and very high window by a masked assailant most of the Watchmen decide they do care, but they still aren't sure what to do.
Much of the story is told in flashback and we learn that all of the Watchmen have some dark secrets. There is Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) a semi-psychotic fireball whose mask is alive with ever changing inkblots, who has given up on society and is out to clean the streets of criminals.
There is Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) who has made a fortune out of using the talents of another former Watchman Dr Manhattan (Billy Crudup) who as the result of a nuclear accident has become a blue-skinned superhuman, and one-man nuclear deterrent. However Dr Manhattan is drifting away from his interest in humanity and spends a lot of time teleporting to the surface of Mars to think about his relationship with Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman,) another former Watchman who has some dark questions about her own place in the world.
It can get quite confusing, particularly when we meet long-gone superheroes in the flashbacks, but don't worry, it all works out in the end. The film is long, however. In being true to the book there is a lot to get in. I am a fan of the original comic, but I found myself ready for the film to wrap up.
The film is steeped in philosophy more than blood (although there is a good bit of that in certain places.) What is remarkable is the way the skewed visions of this off-kilter world make it easy for just about anyone to mask their own situation onto the philosophizing of one or other of the Watchmen.
Zack Snyder recently said that by the time he realized all the people who said "Watchmen" was unfilmable he was too far into it to back out. He's produced a film which will do well, and will lead a lot of people to read the original story. It's not a classic however.
I wish he would have read the original story though, because the group within it are most definitely NOT called "the Watchmen."