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Keeping a Watchful Eye: Watchmen scores and falls flat on a grand scale 

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The making of Watchmen was besieged with controversy and problems from the get-go. Producers fought over rights, writer Alan Moore took his name off the project, lawsuits flew-it was a messy Hollywood legal battle on a grand scale begging the question: would it ever be released?

With Zack Snyder (Dawn Of the Dead redux and 300) at the helm, Watchmen is good for about two hours. There are amazing special effects, exceptional acting and some of the best dialogue I have ever heard, but then just when I told myself I could watch this all day, Watchmen took a turn for the worse and never wholly recovered.

This film reverently follows the graphic novel of the same name, an award-winning masterwork of literature comprised of a 12-comic book series illustrated by Dave Gibbons, written by Alan Moore (V for Vendetta and Swamp Thing) and published by DC Comics. The story follows a group of masked avengers who, after being outlawed, live empty and lonely lives. The film opens with "The Times Are a' Changing" by Bob Dylan while a montage of stills and clips tells a saga of politically motivated super heroes. it's the mid-80's and President Richard Nixon has been elected to five terms. This universe has a tradition of masked crime fighters, but these so-called vigilantes have been forced to retire - banned for using super powers, like ending the war in Vietnam - but they can still wear those goofy get-ups if they want. When a superhero (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), is brutally killed, his pal Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) wants to know why, and organizes a reunion of sorts with other outlaw super heroes. Together they stumble onto something much larger than he could ever have expected: racing against a doomsday clock and nuclear obliteration.

With its nihilistic approach Watchmen is really a character piece, filled with complicated, articulate stories told in flashbacks for each hero. There's Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup's weirdest performance) playing the big blue demi-god while treating us to some full frontal. Haley takes charge of his role as Rorschach propelling the story's intensity as he deftly plays the psychopathic, paranoid and complex character from behind a mask of shifting inkblots. Morgan has the most fun with The Comedian's "screw-you-life-is short" attitude, complete with smiles, muscle flexing and cigar chewing. Super-intellect Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) is an integral character but the performance is just sufficient. Night Owl (Patrick Wilson) is just a mediocre wimp. The poorest acting comes from Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre. Starting with an unbelievably bad rendering of her opening line, her acting is wretched throughout, proving to be a complete distraction.

The screenplay, written by David Hayter and Alex Tse, sticks like glue to the original for the most part, but then gets sappy, mushy and bogged down, retreating to a snail's pace. When, near the finale, the evil genius says, "I am not some comic-book villain!," I felt a communal rolling of the eyes in the theater. The filmmakers should've realized some ideas don't translate.

Despite its flaws, there's a lot to like about this movie. The music is remarkably cool throughout. Some great song choices during fight scenes provided dichotomy, like when "Unforgettable" by Nat King Cole plays while some massive head busting is going on. There is no skimping on the blood, guts and gore in this always bleak, dark look at life, riddled with hailing bullets and other forms of sadistic brutality. There are many great lines, the best one being when the Night Owl asks The Comedian, "What happened to the American dream?" The response from The Comedian is with an all-knowing gleam in his eye. "It came true." The social commentary and political satire is relevant to our contemporary issues and even takes on our dependence on oil.

While Snyder's version is a well-paced, extraordinarily shot and beautifully rendered vision that remains faithful to the source, it devolves to a dreary overly drawn-out soap opera that drowns itself in a metaphysical whirlpool.

Watchmen ★★★✩✩

Starring: Billy Crudup, Malin Akerman, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Director: Zack Snyder


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