If you only read one graphic novel in your lifetime, make it Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I’ve been saying this for years, to the annoyance of my friends, but seriously—it lives up to its prestigious reputation. On paper, Watchmen is thrilling and complex, but as a movie it’s an ambitious mixed bag, as visually rich as you’d hope but still a dumbed-down adaptation of brilliant source material.
A group of masked avengers and one superhero are known as The Watchmen, crime fighters who not only nail criminals but assist the U.S. government in fighting the war in Vietnam. Years later, long after their glory days, someone is murdering them one by one, with the black sheep of the group, a psychopath named Rorschach, attempting to solve the mystery and put the team back together. This all takes place in an alternate world where, in 1985, America won the Vietnam War, costumed heroes are pop culture figures and Richard Nixon is still president.
Director Zack Snyder’s film has superb special effects, some engaging performances, haunting moments and one sequence, depicting the origin of Dr. Manhattan, that’s one of the most powerful of the year. Patrick Wilson and Malin Akerman make an engaging pair of crime fighters, Billy Crudup is hypnotic as the nude, creepy, god-like Dr. Manhattan, Jackie Earl Haley makes Rorschach both repellent and somehow endearing and Carla Gugino, though underused, has a great closing scene.
On the downside, some of the acting is uneven (Matthew Goode, cast as the world’s smartest man, looks completely bored), there’s too much slow-motion, the soundtrack choices are odd (like a murder scene set to Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable”), the actor playing Nixon looks like he’s wearing a bad Halloween mask and the film is very long, but somehow not long enough. This material needs more time to develop; several intriguing supporting characters are given cool introductions then shoved into the background.
The movie is also more violent than the graphic novel—please do not take keiki to see this. The R rating has once again been stretched to the breaking point.
Snyder apparently cut his movie by 30 minutes, and plans to release additional footage at a later date. But even if plot holes are filled and characters fleshed out in a longer cut, I’m not certain Snyder, with his style-over-substance approach, was the best director for this material. Had Ridley Scott or Tim Burton been at the helm, Watchmen could’ve been more risk-taking, challenging and better developed. As is, it’s merely a well-made comic book movie and not a classic. MTW