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THIS IS IMPORTANT: For every parental unit who only hears that Watchmen is based on a comic book, do not bring your 4 year old to the theater!!! This film is rated R for multiple reasons -- gory violence, full nudity (male and female) and lotsa 4-letter words. No kidlets!!!
The unnamed co-creator of the "Watchmen" comic is Alan Moore, who wanted his name off this work because, basically, he and his other comic book works have been savaged by the movie types who grabbed hold of 'em. Fanboys already know the major change in Watchmen, and we're not going there because you shouldn't need the source material to comprehend the movie. A whole messa minor tweaks kick the sex and violence up just a notch from the original collected novel (fanboys say it with me: "one of TIME Magazine's 100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century."] We'll let someone else on the 'net do the inevitable line by line comparison. It's inevitable. <g>
IN SHORT: Serious move. Not a comic book. No one under 15. Period. [Rated R for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language. 163 minutes]
So . . . what if there was a world in which costumed heroes were real? What would happen if one truly superhuman appeared among them. Could armageddon be avoided? Hurm. . .
Once there was a gathering heroes called "Minutemen." Mostly geeks or outcasts, with or without fetishes, all of 'em dressed up in brightly colored costumes to "fight" crime. Some, like Silk Spectre aka "Sally Jupiter" (Carla Gugino) were an inspiration to the troops fighting WWII. Most died sloppy deaths, as you'll see in the film. For a later generation, a new team of Watchmen kept order during the turbulent 1970s and its police riots, ensuring a never-ending string of terms for president Richard Nixon. Sometime in the early 1980s, the Watchmen were disbanded by an order of law called the Keene Act. Which brings us to now. 1985.
The oil crisis is peaking. Relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union have deteriorated to the point of war. That kind of War means nuclear annihilation. Paranoia levels are at record highs. What's that got to do with heroes? Well . . . that's just background to the story. Earth of 1985 faces certain doom. Unless someone (or something) heroic can save it. Heroes? Don't make me laugh. Watchmen is no disposable popcorn movie. For those that remember what the 80s were like for real, this alternate reality is about as close to "real" as any other film. It just happens to have costumed characters at its center. And it goes like this . . .
With public careers long in the bag, former heroes, like the Minuteman called The Comedian [aka Eddie Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan)] have gone legit as government operatives and let their guard down. That makes them easy targets. Even as it happens, Blake sees his murder as "inevitable". What he knows, but we won't until the very end of the film, is that everybody is being played. And so a conspiracy to murder super heroes begins to be revealed . . .
At least according to the sociopath Watchman called Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley). Rorschach, who ignored the Keene Act, searches out his fellow former Watchmen after Blake's murder, muttering "conspiracy". First up is Dan Dreiberg, aka Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson). Dreiberg inherited a fortune. Created all the tech that the Watchmen used. Now he does little but spend one evening a week drinking beer with the Hollis Mason (Clint Carleton), the Minuteman Nite Owl. Dreiberg listens to Rorschach, points out that one murder does not make a "conspiracy" and, while sympathetic, wants little contact with his former partner.
In short order we cross paths with other Watchmen: Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) is "the smartest man in the world". He went public before the Keene Act and merchandized his celebrity into a corporate organization that made him the richest man in the world. As the film begins, he and his scientists are utilizing the superhuman powers of one "Dr. Manhattan" to create a never ending energy supply that, theoretically, will eliminate the political tensions of this world. That doesn't stop an assassin from getting a shot off at Veidt, who reacts by fleeing to his laboratories in Antarctica. His own personal "fortress of solitude," so to speak.
Then there is Jon Osterman, the aforementioned Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup). A lab accident forcibly evolved Osterman into the only true super powered being on the planet; big and blue-skinned and almost as powerful as a god. Osterman -- "Doc Manhattan" is a name assigned for press relations -- won the war in Vietnam single-handed. His powers are the only thing keeping the Soviets in check. Only his relationship with girlfriend Laurie Juspeczyk, aka Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) helps keep him in touch with his humanity. For those keeping track, Laurie's mom is the aforementioned Minuteman original. Laurie's decision to return to her proper surname is a dig at, and a declaration of independence from, a mom who forced her into the hero game.Laurie has other reasons not to care about the murder of Edward Blake. You'll have to discover that in the film. Trust us, it's good.
While Rorschach mutters conspiracy, he finds that none of his former partners want much to do with the nutcase in need of a bath that mutters hurm to himself underneath the swarming patterns on his mask. Rorschach pummels the once most evil bad guy ever, Moloch (Matt Frewer), seeking more information. What he gets is a murder rap, an arrest record and a jail cell.
With all word of the conspiracy locked behind bars; with Dr. Manhattan run off the planet -- he settles on Mars -- the situation deteriorates, Dan and Laurie begin to see the pattern. The pair fire up the flying ship nicknamed "Archie," break their teammate out of jail and head for the Antarctic to pick the brains, as it were, of their former teammate. And, of course, save the world.
Again, Watchmen is a totally different kind of comic book film than Spider-Man. If there were no costumed heroes in it, it would be lauded as a brilliant conspiracy slash murder-mystery. But since it is from a comic book, some in our audience were waiting for the bad guy in a costume to show up. Well, sorta kinda. Watchmen is too grounded in reality, such as it is, to do that. So, no cheering the good guys at the end. But it is an eye catching film with a much, much better than average story.
We could be snide and diss director Zack Snyder for building a career adapting comic books, which are already storyboards in their original form, to film. We won't because he does it very well. With Watchmen he takes a four hundred page novel that was too dense to be properly filmed, and made a film which works properly and makes total sense. It does that by sticking like glue to the original Moore/Gibbons novel, lifting huge scenes and sections of dialog out nearly verbatim and keeping Moore's original soundtrack notes - this would be a good time for those who haven't read the novel to go out and get a copy to read. Well, after you see the film.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Watchmen, he would have paid . . .
A good hunk of the material that has been left out of the main adaptation has been adapted and will be available on DVDs later in the month. Do we need to comment on the genius of casting Matt Frewer in a film adapting a comic work? Brilliant.
Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic DVD animates Dave Gibbons' original comic art and is available now. Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter & Under the Hood DVD, which adapts or re-presents other material important as background to the original story, is available on 3/24
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