3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language
“Watchmen” may be a superhero movie, but it’s got more in common with “Sin City” and “V for Vendetta” than the traditional caped crusader flick. That’s because it’s dark, gritty and built around a traditional detective story. It’s also because the movie is based on a graphic novel written by Alan Moore, who also penned “Vendetta.”
Fans of the “Watchmen” novel will notice that — aside from a tweaked finale — the film is a surprisingly faithful adaptation. The action starts with a superhero known as the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) taking part in a brutal, life or death battle that ends with him being thrown through a skyscraper window. Another hero, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), checks out the crime scene and decides someone has it out for superheroes.
So, Rorschach begins to warn his kind, most of whom are long retired thanks to a government ban on adventurers. Along with unraveling the mystery of the Comedian’s death, the film delves into the personal lives of key characters that include a Batman-like fellow known as Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), an all-powerful super-being called Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), and his significant other, the Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman).
The story is interesting even if portions are a little goofy, and director Zack Snyder does a fine job capturing the spirit of the novel. Surprisingly, because Snyder also directed the visually stunning “300,” the special effects are slightly off. Everything to do with Dr. Manhattan, who is phosphorescent blue and typically naked, is noticeably computer animated, and several backdrops were obviously faked.
Fortunately, these problems are relatively minor distractions in a film that is well plotted, extremely ambitious and always entertaining.