Watch Out For “Watchmen”

Watchmen, released on March 6th 09, is the eagerly anticipated film adaptation of the 1986 comic book series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. It was directed by Zack Snyder, screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse and with a running time of 2 hours 40 minutes. The story is set in a 1985 alternate reality where America is at the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, Richard Nixon is president and superhero vigilantes – a common fact of life – have been forced into retirement by the government.

The scene opens with the Comedian, a former masked crusader, aging alcoholic in costume with a mixed past portrayed by Jeffrey Dean Morgan who bears a striking resemblance to Robert Downey Jr. His dark side revealed in flashbacks, as his violent murder, is being investigated by a former colleague crime-fighter, Rorschach, played by Jackie Earle Haley with a distinct narrative resembling Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry, “Go ahead, make my day,” in a low, angry rebellious voice, head covered with a burlap bag with Rorschach images in constant flux.

Malin Akerman, superb as Laurie Juspeczyk/Silk Spectre II, plays every one’s love interest and is a surprising dead ringer for Lucy Lawless as Xena, warrior princess without a breast plate. She is in a relationship with Dr. Manhattan, a somewhat blue omnipotent being who wears only a thong in some scenes or nothing at all in others and reveals appropriate anatomical correctness and empty eyes, often evoking the image of a CGI Silver Surfer, Herald of Galactus. Manhattan is characterized by special effects and Billy Crudup, although it is difficult to say what is computer generated and what isn’t.

Patrick Wilson, as Night Owl II, provides some credible acting although his costume is so reminiscent of Batman that its hard to see anyone other than Bruce Wayne playing this character. However, Wilson’s emotional struggle torments him as he flirts with donning his mask and cape, an impulse that urges him forward despite his overweight paunch and provides some of the genuine tension, but the acting in general is so over the top and comic at points that it makes it difficult to take these characters or the film too seriously.

This adaptation has so many plot twists and deviations, often confusing as it abruptly slips from one story line to another, that it is hard to keep up or see any cohesion in the way it is told. Even the gory fight scenes and overbearing violence could not awaken the middle aged man sitting in the audience a few rows in front of me. He had begun to snore about ten minutes into the film, reflecting the way others were reacting, utterly bored and disinterested. It had even occurred to me to leave the theater before this monstrosity ended, but hey, no one ever said that an alternate reality had to be interesting.

Although I never read the book version – it should not be necessary if the film was well done – a good film is never too long if it retains the interest of the audience, which is not the case here. This one had onlookers squirming in their seats.

For a full cast of characters see the IMdb database.