Film & DVD Review: Watchmen

GRAPHIC violence, a healthy dose of female and male nudity and a fairly torrid sex scene gives Zac Snyder’s Watchmen its 18 certificate. Fair play to Billy Crudup who seems to have gone all the way through the entire film as Dr Manhattan wearing nothing but a coat of blue paint. Now that’s suffering for your art!

Watchmen DVD cover

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With the exception of Batman, most comic superheroes have superpowers. Superman flies and has X-ray vision, Spider-man can shoot webs out of his finger tips and the Fantastic Four have a variety of special powers. That’s not the case with the masked and costumed superheroes in Watchmen. They were basically just a bunch of vigilantes. The one exception is Dr Manhattan who possesses some extraordinary godlike powers.

Watchmen is based on Alan Moore’s DC Comics graphic novel. Moore has rarely been happy with film adaptations of his stories. He notoriously hated The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and V for Vendetta. True to form, he had his name removed for the credits of Watchmen.

One nice touch was that the film was set in an alternative 1980s where America won the Vietnam war and Richard Nixon became president for a third term. This set a strong background of tension between the US and an unreformed Soviet Union which takes the world to the edge of full-scale nuclear war.

In the midst of all this tension, someone is killing off all the former superheroes starting with The Comedian who is flung through a high plate glass window. These crimes are investigated by Rorschach another former superhero turned private detective.

The use of a virtual scrapbook and a number of flashbacks provide the fascinating back story to this confusing if slightly familiar alternative reality. Some of the superheroes turn out to have unsavoury histories quite at odds with their public images. Others are struggling with their relationships and their own sense of identity in a world that had rejected them.

This film is magnificent in its scope. It’s well acted and scripted with believable special effects. The superheroes have the endearing quality of being people just like us and even those with problems tend to have super problems. It all hangs together well.

You will need to pay attention, though or you’ll become confused. I was, but I’d be prepared to watch it again on DVD to pick up on the details I’d missed in the fast-moving story. I have no idea how true it is to Moore’s original story. If you’re a fan, go see it and make up your own mind. If not, the story stands well on its own. It’s one of the best movies of the year so far and bound to attract a hardcore cult following.

Reviewed by David Kerr

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