It’s taken over 20 years for Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel to reach the silver screen but Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the superhero epic doesn’t disappoint. Watchmen has gone through a number of respected directors over the years; Paul Greengrass, Darren Aronofsky and Terry Gilliam (who claimed the graphic novel was impossible to adapt into a film) have all failed where Snyder succeeds.
Set in an alternate 1985 where Nixon is still the president, the Cold War is on the brink of becoming nuclear war and all superheroes are outlawed by the government. The film explores both the rise and fall of these superheroes as well as starting off a classic murder mystery after the retired superhero, The Comedian, is killed. In some places it departs from the graphic novel’s story-line, such as the introduction of ex-superhero turned business magnate Adrian Veidt’s search for renewable energy; a discovery he believes will end the impending threat of a nuclear holocaust.
The most compelling of the characters is most definitely the mysterious Rorschach, brilliantly played by Jackie Earle Haley. If you thought Christian Bale’s Batman was a dark and twisted superhero, you haven’t seen Rorschach in action. Another performance worth noting is that of Billy Crudup; his portrayal of Dr Manhattan, a man so powerful he has lost touch with his own humanity, is an impressive representation of the original. The decision to use a cast of relative unknowns as the main characters is a refreshing choice considering that most contemporary superhero films attempt to squeeze in as many A-list faces as the running time will allow.
The film’s opening montage that introduces the main characters as well as weaving the existence of superheroes into the fabric of American history is made even more brilliant by the Bob Dylan classic ‘The Times They Are A-Changin.’ As the film progresses, the audience is treated to more classic tunes such as Jimi Hendrix’s ‘All Along The Watchtower,’ Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Sound of Silence’ and (ahem) Nena’s ‘99 Red Balloons.’ Zack Snyder’s impressive direction generally keeps you immersed throughout, despite the fact the film is almost three hours long. He creates several memorable action set pieces that, like his previous adaptation of a graphic novel, 300, use slow motion in order to increase the impact of every bone shattering punch.
If you’re a fan of the graphic novel, this film is definitely worth watching. Although it is nowhere near as brilliant as the source material, it’s about as good an adaptation as possible. It would be easy to criticise the film for omitting certain aspects of the graphic novel. However, Snyder’s attention to detail ensures that the film is always visually stunning; whether it’s Dr Manhattan’s Martian palace, or the gritty side streets of New York. However, even if you’ve never read the graphic novel, the film is still a refreshing change to the normal superhero film, keeping you entertained from the enthralling opening montage up until the story-line’s startling conclusion.