10) Weighing in at an arse-numbing 163 minutes long and featuring relentless close-up brutality in among scenes of near-rape, child murder and genocide – not to mention a supporting role for a outsized blue penis – Watchmen is unlikely to steal Slumdog Millionaire’s tagline of ‘The Feel-Good Movie Of The Year!’ But it’s searing, spectacular and simply unmissable.
9) It’s therefore a real shame Alan Moore is refusing to watch Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the twilight-of-the-superheroes classic he co-created with artist Dave Gibbons (rumoured to be receiving Moore’s share of the profits and in attendance at last night’s London world premiere) nearly two dozen years ago.
Unlike the simplified screen hack jobs which have mocked Moore’s incredible body of work – a misguided From Hell and a downright lousy League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen – this is referential to the point of being reverential. With the exception of the last 30 minutes – which we’ll address later – there’s barely a single shot or line of dialogue lovers of the graphic novel won’t recognise.
The great one-liners (“is that bean juice?” “Human bean juice”), the advert for Adrian Veidt’s Unforgettable perfume, the ill-fated dogs, a super-sized nuclear Superman Dr Manhattan vaporising the Viet Cong, the final doomed embrace between the newsvendor and the comic book fan… it’s all here.
8) And it looks amazing. Crisp and glossily dark rather than apeing the washed-out comic-book pastel tones of the original, Watchmen is set firmly in an alternative-reality 1985 New York (where Richard Nixon is entering his fifth term as President and the Twin Towers still stand) while cleverly posting itself alongside modern-day costumed adventurer blockbusters like The Dark Knight and Spider-Man.
It’s a necessary gamble to pull in an audience far beyond the 750,000 worldwide who bought Moore and Gibbons’ book, and Snyder pulls it off with an aplomb far beyond that suggested by his previous comic book adaptation, of Frank Miller’s 300.
7) Which should make Watchmen gratifyingly accessible to those who haven’t read the book. All the major characters (with the exception of the main villain, possibly weakening the whodunit element for newcomers) are granted the book’s rich explanatory back stories and the plot proceeds at a zip. Most won’t miss the major stuff that’s been excised for length – Hollis Mason’s murder, story-within-story Tales Of The Black Freighter – and most of it will be back for Snyder’s promised four-hour directors’ cut, available on DVD in September.
6) What remains, of course, are the book’s extraordinary set-pieces, brilliantly realised by Snyder, with the Rorschach-inspired prison riot and the exiled Dr Manhattan’s trip to Mars definite highlights as a sensational middle section of the movie proceeds towards its apocalyptic climax.
5) A climax that is – as fans will know – different to the book’s ending but is faithful to its spirit. Again, it’s a gamble Snyder wins. I’m not sure his romanticised reworking of Dr Manhattan’s reasoning for accompanying estranged girlfriend Silk Spectre II back to Earth from Mars is as successful, and I’m not sure either that he accomplishes much by throwing in non-book shots of Andy Warhol and the Village People. But most of the few surprises are welcome.
4) Like the bizarre realization that Big Figure – midget Don of the prison twisted vigilante Rorschach finds himself in towards the movie’s climax – is played by the same guy who was Cosmo Kramer’s aggressive friend Mickey Abbott in Seinfeld. While the equally ill-fated Moloch is Matt ‘Max Headroom’ Frewer.
3) Frewer therefore gets to deliver one of the comic’s many genius lines of dialogue, in the scene where Moloch is begging Rorschach not to throw away the illegal pain-killers he is taking to alleviate the pain of cancer:
Moloch: You know that kind of cancer that you get better from eventually?
Moloch: Well, that ain't the kind of cancer I got.
As others have said, the reliance on familiar dialogue does create a slightly stilted feel in the early going. So does the extreme faithfulness to the book. But it’s something that film and viewer quickly shake off as events escalate.
2) It’s hard to believe I’ve got to number two without mention of the tremendous sex scene between Nite Owl and Silk Spectre II aboard his ship Archimedes (and as I type those names, I realise how hard a sell Watchmen will be to non-comic fans). Guaranteed to do for Malin Ackerman what the opening few minutes of Betty Blue did for Beatrice Dalle – and not even ruined by the presence of the omniprescent Hallelujah. Not the Alexandra Burke version, thankfully, and part of a near-perfect soundtrack which also includes, as it should, Jimi Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower for the snowbound climax.
1) And we must end, as the film sort of does, with the amoral and yet super-moral Rorschach. Though there are other terrific performances in this movie – notably Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who gets bonus points for appearing on stage at the Leicester Square premiere actually looking like his character The Comedian – Watchmen the movie belongs to the man in the shape-shifting mask. It’s a masterly, always believable piece of work by Jackie Earle Haley, who was so good opposite Kate Winslet in Little Children last year.
As a whole, Watchmen was never likely to exceed the huge weight of expectation, but here is a performance which does. And the film itself? It’s closer than you'd think.
*new clip* Rorschach's first movie scene. Show him some love!
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