Friday, 6 March 2009
A few years ago there was talk of a movie where Clint Eastwood would play an ageing
Batman looking back over his career with bitterness and arthritis. That kind of slant on the superhero genre is what you get in Watchmen, adapted from the hugely acclaimed graphic novel. With extreme violence, nudity and sexuality, this ain’t no Batman and Robin. Set in an alternate New York in 1985, this is a world where costumed heroes hit women in the face and are mostly retired; in an America riven by violence, on the edge of Nuclear war, and led by a President Nixon—who’s given himself a third term in office. Multi-layered and complex enough to be a mini-series, the story kicks off when a character called The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) falls to his death from his apartment block. Suspecting murder, an ex colleague, Rorschach investigates his theory that former members of the Watchmen group – vigilantes in costumes – are being bumped off one by one. Rorschach (Jackie Earle Hayley) is himself a figure so psychologically scarred that he feels no separation between his true self and his alter ego: in full gumshoe attire, with a fedora hat and a cloth mask stained by moving inkblots. He is also an horrifically violent psychopath: and in a sense he’s the hero! What of the supernatural you ask? One character, Dr Manhattan (Billy Crudup) would feature in more conventional comic book stories. He is a former scientist who after being de-materialised in one of those gamma ray/thingamabob accidents, reappears as a giant, naked and blue atomic man. He is able to teleport himself and others, and whilst he understands the true nature of particles, he does not relate to his girlfriend Laurie (Malin Ackerman) who also goes on the vigilante trail as Silk Spectre. Like this review, Watchmen tries to cram too much into its allotted space (163 minutes). By sticking faithfully to its source, it changes the rules of the game for comic-book movies by injecting morality, sex and relations, politics, satire and giving us strong female characters who are not just there to snap on latex. If there is a downside, the movie lacks a classic hero to follow and there are simply too many ideas floating about. This 18 certificate release is enigmatic, provocative, beautiful to look at and very nearly (but not quite) the L.A. Confidential of the superhero flick.