Don't Watch These Men 

Brilliant comic book isn't super on screen

Watchmen presents a different side of superheroes than we've ever seen before, and it's not a perspective we really needed to see. What a grim, dark and ponderous movie this is, a bold exercise in visual flair that lacks cohesiveness and heart.

The movie is based on a graphic novel by Alan Moore (who hates Hollywood and demanded his name be taken off the film) and Dave Gibbons, and it's worth noting that the work is one of the most revered graphic novels ever written. But just because something stays loyal to its source material doesn't mean it's good, especially when so much of the dialogue tells us character histories and fails to move the story forward. When a 163-minute movie lacks an antagonist for the first two hours, something is desperately wrong.

The year is 1985, but it's not quite how we remember it: Richard Nixon is president, nuclear tension between the United States and the Soviet Union is at its peak, and a ban on wearing masks in public means all superheroes have been forced into retirement. The story follows a masked vigilante named Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) as he investigates the murder of a former superhero known as the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

Rorschach goes to his old crime-fighting comrades—the all-powerful Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), his girlfriend Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) and Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson)—but none of them believe that someone is trying to murder old superheroes. Not even the supposed smartest man in the world, another former superhero named Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), sees credence in Rorschach's conspiracy theory.

If Rorschach's investigation were the only story line, it would be plenty. But there's more. Much more. Too much, actually. Director Zack Snyder (300) delves deep into each character's history and, as a result, spends a lot of time in the past revealing information that isn't relevant to what's happening in the present. A more streamlined and focused approach is sorely needed.

But even then it may not have saved the movie. The Comedian is presented as a thoughtless murderer, and Rorschach is a savage. Indeed, these are difficult heroes to root for, and those we do like (Spectre II, Nite Owl) don't have much charisma. What's more, the bone-breaking and blood-splattering (both of which appear on screen multiple times) violence is done in a raw and gritty way, which brings realism to a story that's anything but realistic.

Watchmen will likely satisfy fans of the novel, if for no other reason than that they know what they're getting into. But if you're not familiar with the source material, don't bother—the movie doesn't live up to the hype.

For more reviews, visit Did you know? Due to a legal snafu, 20th Century Fox received nearly $10 million from Warner Bros. and will receive an additional 5 to 8.5 percent of the box office take. It seems Fox still owns part of the distribution rights to the Watchmen story, even though its right to produce the film expired in 1991 and it contributed nothing to the Warner Bros. production.

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