Zack Snyder‘s stylish adaptation of the Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons graphic novel has certainly taken a long time to reach the silver screen. Has it been worth the wait though? Oh yes. The film follows closely to the graphic novel, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have appeal to those who don’t know the story – it does.
Set in a very different version of the 1980s to our own, relations between America and the Soviet Union are reaching fever pitch. This culminates in a very real potential of nuclear attack. Nixon takes a historic third term in the White House, whilst costumed heroes remain a part of society – albeit an outlawed one thanks to the Keene Act – which makes their very existence illegal.
In this extremely charged climate, the Doomsday Clock creeps ever closer to demonstrating the threat of nuclear war. In this backdrop, a masked crime fighter investigates the death of a former hero which leads to the discovery of a huge conspiracy that has far-reaching consequences for the whole of mankind.
Many years after the original Minutemen (costumed heroes) – Captain Metropolis, Mothman, Nite Owl, The Silhouette, Silk Spectre, Dollar Bill, Hooded Justice and The Comedian – a new breed of heroes takes up the mantle in the form of the Watchmen. The Comedian being the only hero remaining, he is joined by Nite Owl II, Silk Spectre II, Ozymandias, Dr Manhattan and Rorschach.
The film begins with an amazing action sequence, as The Comedian is systematically attacked by an unknown assailant and eventually thrown out of his apartment, resulting in his death. This leads to the violent vigilante Rorschach following a trail that leads him to a truth showing that one hero is anything but.
Dr Manhattan has been wonderfully realised in the film as the only character with true powers – although his powers are almost unlimited as a near god. His complex relationship with the other characters (including his lover Silk Spectre) and humanity as a whole leads to a conclusion of the film that is slightly changed – though the overriding sentiment is the same.
For me, Rorschach is clearly the highlight of the film. Played by Jackie Earl Haley, his subtle actions and stilted dialogue show the pained soul that is behind the mask. The fight sequence where he is rescued from the prison is truly breathtaking, with slow motion used to great effect (much like Snyder did in 300).
The overall tone of the film is quite dark, with some stylised violence throughout interspersed with some comedy moments (such as the flame thrower going off at the end of the love scene). Bear in mind, this is not a film for children. A violent rape scene and sequences involving torture are not pleasant and the film deserves the 18 certificate it received in the UK.
Watchmen is clearly a labour of love for Zack Snyder and if you’re a fan you’ll be able to see that immediately. Some of the scenes are literally frame for frame, whilst others have exactly the same dialogue. Most of the depth remains in the story and the action sequences will appeal to the modern cinema visitor.
The uniquely flawed ‘heroes’ in the film are unlike any others you may have seen and for that reason alone it’s worth watching whether you’re a fan or not. However, do be ready for the whole 162 minutes – this is not a short or easy going film.