For those of you unfamiliar with Marvel Comic’s Watchmen, it takes place on an alternate timeline in 1985. The story is set in the United States, post-Vietnam war, and President Richard Nixon has just been re-elected for his third consecutive term. The only thing preventing a war between the US and the USSR (Russia) is Dr Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a human nuclear bomb who sides with the American as a deterrent.

The punishing three-hour running time begins with the murder of retired superhero, Eddie Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) also known as The Comedian. Despite all clues pointing to a robbery gone wrong, sociopathic masked vigilante Rorschach aka Walter Kovacs (Jackie Earle Haley), is convinced the death of The Comedian signals the beginning of a plot to kill all retired superheros. Rorschach warns his former costumed partners: the Batman-like Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), the super-smart Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) and his past lover, Silk Specter (Malin Ackerman). Dubbed “The Watchmen”, the group is sceptical of Rorschach’s theory until Dr. Manhattan is forced off earth and the possibility of a nuclear war with USSR is almost certain.

Much like The Dark Night in 2008, Watchmen is not entirely consumed with action and fighting sequences. While director Zack Snyder does bring an unrealistic edge to the action scenes by manipulating time through frame cuts and slow motion, these techniques become a means of deconstructing motion, like a comic book. For the most part, Snyder’s direction is precise and his style captures the original graphic novel’s graphics and layout. His work with the actors is equally accomplished. Jackie Earle Haley embodies a sociopath flawlessly, while Patrick Wilson’s portrayal of a retired hero longing for a greater goal in life is equally impressive.

Like all films, Watchmen has its share of flaws. While Snyder has drawn out the background of the individual characters and the past of masked heroes very well, one character that seems to be underrepresented is Nite Owl. While his background is established, it is not done so to the same degree as the other characters.

Overall the leading performances are impressive, with the weakest coming from Malin Ackerman as Silk Specter. However, her character is the most stereotypical in the book so may have been harder to work with.

Apart from few criticisms, Snyder has created an adaptation that is faithful to the original text without compromising elements of a successful film. Although many comic book to film adaptations are dissatisfying for their cult fan bases, Snyder has utilised the medium of film to demonstrate Gibbon’s original layout and graphical style.

First posted on Movie Nation: March 10th, 2009

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