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Movie Review: The Watchmen

The Watchmen DS 1 Sheet Movie Poster Style A

“The Watchmen” gets rave reviews from Catharine Monk at Canada.com.

Despite a double pretzel of a plot, a heavy running time and a sprawling cast of characters who each get their moment in the spotlight, this Zack Snyder adaptation of the Hugo Award-winning Watchmen graphic novel series is entirely entertaining – as well as intellectually stimulating.

They said it was unfilmable – and whoever “they” were, “they” were right.

A thickly layered graphic novel that moves back and forth through time to challenge our current assumptions about everything from the laws of physics to the moral boundaries separating right from wrong, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s landmark Watchmen series has so many backstories, characters, conflicts and intricate emotional dilemmas, a cogent screen adaptation seemed highly unlikely, if not outside the realm of the possible.

But there it is. Undeniably, skilfully and wholeheartedly realized by Zack Snyder, the impossible now exists: Watchmen isn’t just a movie, it’s a great movie.

Though a hair on the long side at 161 minutes, Snyder’s film pulls you in from the moment the opening credits seize the screen to the rasping strains of Bob Dylan.

Snyder establishes an alternate universe through a carefully constructed montage that introduces us to The Minutemen, a ragtag group of costumed humans who came together in the 1940s to combat crime, and stay on top of the nascent nuclear threat.

By the 1980s, when this movie takes place, The Minutemen have morphed into The Watchmen – a group that includes Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) and the only “superhuman” of the bunch, Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a nuclear scientist who was transformed into a walking illustration of quantum mechanics in an unfortunate accident.

In this understanding of reality, the Cold War continues, Nixon is entering his third term in office and Dr. Manhattan is considered the world’s primary nuclear deterrent because, as pure energy, he can move through time and space and presumably change the outcome of human actions.

The only problem is: What happens when your nuclear deterrent and central superhero undergoes a profound existential crisis?

Dr. Manhattan once loved Laurie Jupiter/ Silk Spectre, but now that he can see strands of energy and unlock the secrets of the universe, corporeal love with a human feels entirely inconsequential. To think things through, he heads off for some serious alone-time on Mars, but while he takes leave of the planet, another potent force threatens to unleash nuclear Armageddon – and without Dr. Manhattan speaking to the cameras affirming his loyalty to God and Country, he’s immediately suspected as a traitor.

As far as typical superhero plots go, Watchmen does offer up villains and heroes, as well as a dramatic thread concerning the ultimate struggle for world domination.

But that’s where Watchmen’s genre markers end, because this Hugo Award-winning piece of graphic literature isn’t really all that concerned with the surface elements of plot, and how the alleged good guys stop the supposed bad guys.

Watchmen is obsessed with inner conflict and the base face of human nature.

Using the comic book form and its convenient concept of masks and costumes to manifest different sides of the human character, the movie explores the essence of 20th century literary angst.

Offering a nod to everything from modern psychoanalysis in the ambiguous character of Rorschach, to the Nietzschean concept of Superman via Dr. Manhattan, Watchmen has all the intellectual sophistication of a graduate thesis, but it also has a killer sense of fun.

Thanks to Snyder’s near-hallucinogenic visuals that revel in smart details and pay homage to everything from Dr. Strangelove to Apocalypse Now, Watchmen is a lot of fun to take in – even when it’s almost impossible to follow.

The frames are laced with inviting textures, the plot bristles with prickly satire and the actors find a way to sell the whole ball of latex by gravitating to the ambient pathos in every scene.

The brief encounters with sex and full-frontal male nudity don’t hurt the entertainment factor, either. Better yet, they don’t destroy the feel of the film or come off as gratuitously oily, or gratuitously sexist.

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