Film Review – Watchmen (2009)


BOTTOM LINE: Long winded and meandering while simultaneously melding dark dramatic sequences with stupid looking costumed superheroes, “Watchmen” is a mixed bag of strong themes, incredible visuals, overall mediocrity and silliness.

THE GOOD: Hollywood is on the comic book/graphic novel bandwagon, turning to a vast array of published material for new films. Much like The Spirit which came out last year, “Watchmen” occupies an uncomfortable ground between maintaining the tone of the source material and creating great cinematic entertainment. Director Zack Snyder has certainly created a feast for the visual senses, forging an alternate reality on screen where President Richard Nixon continued to serve in to the 80s after being aided by a band of superheroes to win the Vietnam War. The enigmatic and god-like Dr Manhattan (Billy Crudup) is capable of bending matter and energy to his will, serving America but becoming increasingly detached from the human race as his vast knowledge and power grows.

The other superheroes are a mixed range of good natured souls such as Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) to the darker vigilante Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) and the immoral Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). The concepts in the film are certainly fascinating, least of which being an alternate take on history with America and Russia now on the brink of nuclear war in the 80s and the Watchmen who can potentially stop it all from happening. Cold war motifs run rampant, as do themes of annihilation and human endurance in the face of such catastrophe. The superheroes are not themselves immune from the darkness, with the smartest of them all, Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) hatching a plan which may save the world but destroy the Watchmen in the process. The second half of the film is where all of this comes to a head and makes for some more intelligent viewing than what you might expect from a film like this. “Watchmen” is a unique in its creation of an alternate reality with its original visual and storytelling sensibilities.

THE BAD: Although it is not nearly as bad, “Watchmen” has much in common with last year’s The Spirit in that the conventions of the graphic novel do not seem to translate as well in to the realm of cinema. The first half of the film jumbles together a myriad of storylines to introduce all the characters, and they all appear to have different tones and styles which do not adequately advance the storyline that well. The dark, internal monologue style of the Rorschach storyline that in many ways embodies a “Sin City” style tone does not meld comfortably with the almost silly 60s comic book like quality of the Nite Owl and Silk Spectre characters. The Dr Manhattan storyline appears to spring right out of a 50s B-movie sci-fi film, and the immoral antics of the Comedian seem to negate the whole reason why these guys are heroes in the first place. Ironically, the Richard Nixon character seems the most comic book of them all with his over the top nose extension to accentuate his iconic facial outline. Zack Snyder has not really given us a way in to these characters given the first hour is so long and meandering. The second half of the film becomes more interesting, but by the end of the two hour and forty minute run time, you are left wondering whether or not forty minutes could have been cut out of the film to give it more focus.

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Todd Murphy is a staff reviewer at the film/DVD review web site, – for all the latest reviews on the newest releases.

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