In 1985 where former superheroes exist, the murder of a colleague sends active vigilante Rorschach into his own sprawling investigation, uncovering something that could completely change the course of history as we know it.
In a gritty and alternate 1985 the glory days of costumed vigilantes have been brought to a close by a government crackdown, but after one of the masked veterans is brutally murdered an investigation into the killer is initiated. The reunited heroes set out to prevent their own destruction, but in doing so discover a deeper and far more diabolical plot. Written by
With 300, Zack Snyder had the problem of having not enough meat on the bone - Frank Miller's violent graphic novel was short and in-your-face, with director Snyder compensating by spending pretty much all of it's two hour runtime in super-slow motion. Here the problem is reversed: Alan Moore's unfilmable, complicated and very, very deep graphic novel seemed simply too dense for any director to take by the horns and be successful. Hell, even Moore himself deemed it so - so much that he disowned the film entirely.
Here, Snyder has two audiences: those familiar, and those who aren't. If you're the latter, Watchmen is a masterwork of literature, telling the story of a group of masked avengers who, since outlawed, live empty and lonely lives. When one is killed in his apartment, Rorschach, who dons the famous ever-moving mask, takes it upon himself to get to the root of the real reason for the death, but stumbles onto something much larger than he could ever have expected.
It really is a character piece. Each one, filled off-screen with complicated, articulate back-stories is brought to life on screen by some of the most heartfelt acting I've seen in a long time (save perhaps Malin Ackerman as the latex-wearing Silk Spectre II), particularly from Billy Crudup who plays the blue, often naked (and well-hung) demi-god who is the only superhero with real superpowers.
Although the star of the show is Rorschach himself. Despite being behind a mask for the large majority of the film, Jackie Earle Haley is beyond perfect for the role. His husky voice commands the voiceovers from Rorschach's journal (recited in many cases word-for-word from the novel), and plays the psychopathic, paranoid and immensely complex role with such a force that you simply can't tear your eyes away from him.
Snyder made himself known with 300 - the ultra-violent story of the Spartans who went to war (and lost miserably). However, Watchmen makes 300 seem like Mary Poppins - this has got to be one of the most violent films I have ever seen. All the book's action sequences are there, just bigger. More badass. Gory as hell. And, for some reason Snyder decided to place a porny, cringy 3 minute sex scene set to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" slap bang in the middle of the film. Sure, it was in the book, but it was shorter, and the soundtrack was most certainly not this poncy.
However, this discrepancy is the only gripe (and this is a very minor gripe) that I have with the film. It's hard to watch in places - a rape scene here, a pregnant woman killed there - and even pulls the heartstrings in others (Doctor Manhattan's backstory most definitely (almost) brought me to tears). The book is majorly complex, deep and meaningful, and in it's transition to screen, a lot of that is lost in translation. But what we get is a fantastically artistic, fast-paced action epic. Snyder was aiming for two audiences who are polar opposites, and comes free with an adaptation of which even writer Alan Moore should be proud.
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