Movie Review: Watchmen

By Matthew Huntley

March 14, 2009

Newspapers can't be a dying medium if the Comedian reads them, right?

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I've seen Watchmen twice now and I'm still not convinced any filmmaker could have perfectly adapted Alan Moore's graphic novel for the cinema. The plethora of ideas, subtext and topical themes that inhabited Moore's words and David S. Gibbons' illustrations were so broad and captivating, it's possible no one film could hold them. Nuclear war, sexual liberation, sacrifice, love, rape, murder, child abuse, impotence, revenge - this is a lot for one movie to handle, even if it is nearly three hours long.

With that said, Watchmen is still a fascinating movie on many levels. Not all of it works, but it is a faithful adaptation of its source - sometimes too faithful - and anyone familiar with the novel will inevitably link the movie to the book and either condemn it for not getting it right or applaud it for trying. I'm of the latter mind. For those who have never read the book, the movie will probably be overwhelming and perplexing, which is why, in this case, literature is the better medium to tell this particular story.

In the movie, there's so much going on, a simple plot summary wouldn't do it justice, but I'll try my best. In an alternate United States, it's October of 1985 and Richard Nixon has just been elected to his third term as president. "Tricky Dick," as he's called, has outlawed masked heroes, called Watchmen, who first emerged in the middle part of the century as volunteers to fight crime and win wars (namely Vietnam). The Watchmen are not superheroes, but ordinary people with incredible strength and agility. They have more in common with Batman than Superman (all but one of them at least).


One of these heroes, The Comedian, a.k.a. Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), sits in his upscale New York City apartment channel surfing and smoking one of his signature cigars. Suddenly, a masked man breaks in, beats The Comedian to a pulp, and throws him out the window. The Comedian wears a smiley face pin that gets stained with his own blood, which becomes the story's lasting icon.

Investigating the murder and keeping a daily journal of the events is Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), a black-and-white masked vigilante and one of The Comedian's former colleagues. Rorschach's investigation propels the rest of the story as he questions the other heroes from their justice league, including Nite Owl II, a.k.a. Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson); Silk Spectre II, a.k.a Sally Jupiter (Malin Akerman), who inherited the role from her mother (Carla Gugino); Ozymandias, a.k.a. Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), now a billionaire businessman seeking to produce infinite resources of energy for the world to share, which he believes would end all wars; and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a.k.a. Jon Osterman.

Out of all these characters, only Dr. Manhattan possesses superhuman abilities. A nuclear accident disintegrated his body, but he was resurrected, bald and blue-skinned, with a perfectly toned body. He now has the ability to manipulate energy and particles with the simple pointing of a finger.

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