Dir: Zack Snyder
Star: Jackie Earle Haley, Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode

Alan Moore was probably right when he said of the graphic novel, "There are things that we did with Watchmen that could only work in a comic, and were indeed designed to show off things that other media can't." While Snyder has certainly made a good stab at filming what was long believed to be unfilmable, he seems to get too stuck in reverence for the source material, rather than realising the radical differences between the two media. Maybe he was scared of Moore, though if so, it didn't help as the book's co-creator said he wouldn't bother seeing the movie. Maybe he just didn't have three hours to spare? That's about what it takes for events to unfold, thanks in part to some lumpen pacing, as the retired (mostly) vigilantes try to find out who has been offing their colleagues. Among them are Rorschach (Haley), a borderline psycho who has continued despite them being outlawed; Silk Spectre (Akerman), continuing the career of her mother; Veidt (Goode), who revealed his identity and parlayed it into a business empire; and the godlike Doctor Manhattan (Crudup), whose powers allow him to basically do anything.

This all unfolds in an alternate-reality 1980's, where Richard Nixon is still in power, and the cold war between America and the Soviet Union is accelerating towards boiling-point. All of the characters have their own backstories, and while these are interesting, they do seriously bog things down on the main storyline - which is perhaps what Moore meant. An hour less, even at the cost of some of the background, would have been an improvement for those of us possessing only a passing familiarity with the graphic novel. I did admire the way Snyder went for the R-rating, and this is definitely a work "for mature readers," as it were, that does not soft-pedal the violence. There's also a good sense of a fully-constructed world, and this means that even if the plot is meandering off in another one of its directions, it's rarely dull, even at the length we have here. However, it does probably need a better core if it's going to pull off effectively the moral dilemma concept which is at its core (great power, blah-blah), and the need for things to go in multiple different directions leaves it unable to succeed on an emotional level in the way, say, The Dark Knight managed.

[February 2010]

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