So, after all the hype and a 20 year wait, is Watchmen all that it should be?
Well it certainly has all the action up there on screen and director Zack Snyder has brought a grim and gritty beauty to Alan Moore’s dystopian alternate view of the 1980s, with Nixon on the brink of all out nuclear war with the Ruskies. The ace up his sleeve is Dr Manhattan (Billy Crudup), one of a group of has-been superheroes who have all hung up their costumes and masks.
But Dr Manhattan is different; due to a nuclear accident he really does possess extraordinary powers, and has been set the task of creating a machine that can counter anything Russia can throw at the USA. He is being assisted by two other ex-Watchmen, his lover Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), and Ozymandias (Matthew Goode).
Elsewhere in a dark and menacing New York, The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) has been brutally murdered and Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) enlists the help of Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) to find his murderer. What they actually discover is a twisting conspiracy that leads them straight back to the Watchmen’s own actions and their own, often ambivalent, morality.
Nothing is straightforward in this two and three quarter-hour long movie so you need to keep your wits about you to follow the changing dynamics within the group. There’s the morally upright Nite Owl, who seems uptight and holier-than-thou, before stealing Silk Spectre from Dr Manhattan; the quietly spoken but hard-hitting Ozymandias; the humanity-loathing Rorschach who can see only depravity and evil around him; and finally the enigma of The Comedian, who seems to find everything one big black joke. There’s less emphasis here than in Batman on gizmos and technology, more on people talking through their feelings, but the dialogue fair whizzes past and it never feels like the film is flagging. There’s also great use of music throughout the movie, and some stunning night shots of the city.
So, this dark and unflinching look at superheroes who are not so much flawed as emotionally crippled comes as a welcome antidote to more saccharine fare, but because interest is spread over too many different characters, it never packs the punch of The Dark Knight, where we get a more detailed view of one man’s monsters and demons.