Starring: Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley
Directed by: Zach Snyder (“300”)
Written by: David Hayter (“X-Men”) and Alex Tse (debut)
There’s no denying the visual artistry and intensity of Zach Snyder’s film adaptation of the graphic novel “Watchmen.” While Snyder, who was recently named by Entertainment Weekly as one of the top 25 directors working today (surprisingly he landed at No. 16 ahead of auteurs like Pedro Almodóvar and Paul Thomas Anderson), has delivered one of the better horror remakes with 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” and the highly-stylized war epic “300,” it hasn’t been until now that he’s had a such a storied narrative to work from.
Based on the graphic novel by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore, “Watchmen,” a piece some considered un-adaptable for the big screen, takes the idea of comic-book mythology to another level by transporting our team of heroes into an alternate universe.
The story begins with the murder of a retired superhero. The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) gets a visit from a stranger one late evening and is tossed out of his apartment window. The crime causes other superheroes, who were once linked to him, to worry that there might be someone out there “picking off costumed heroes” one by one.
Through vivid flashbacks of these superheroes during their early years, we get a sense of where all these characters are coming from, what they have lived through, and how life as a vigilante has affected them emotionally. While many of these flashbacks work well, there are instances when too much reminiscing may have you wondering where Snyder and his screenwriters are actually on the timeline.
The superheroes themselves are the most memorable of the film’s nearly three-hour runtime, which doesn’t feel too long until the final 20 or so minutes when the story unfortunately transforms into an everyday end-of-the-world comic book yarn set on the backdrop of nuclear war. Overall, however, it’s not your typical genre-film.
Academy Award-nominated actor Jackie Earle Haley (“Little Children”) is spot-on as the masked Rorschach, and while actor Billy Crudup’s role as Dr. Manhattan is done mostly via special effects, his apathetic and sometimes poetic personality is evident through his glowing blue skin. Other Watchmen include Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) whose mother (Carla Gugino) was part of the Watchmen herself and had a regrettable history with the Comedian, and the world’s smartest man, Ozymandias (Matthew Goode).
Rich in all its technical aspects, “Watchmen” is at its best when it breaks all the derivative superhero-movie rules and stands on its own. Through its sometimes shocking graphic nature and attention to detail, it’s a well-polished example of what fun mainstream comic-book films should be about.