Okay, call it a fresh perspective, or just plain ignorance. But coming into a movie that carries extreme cult baggage preceding it like Watchmen and without any background knowledge of its graphic comic origins, does at least have the advantage of judging a movie on its own merits. So Watchmen purists aside, the movie gets points for being steeped in juicy, pungent dialogue apparently faithfully excised from the 1986 apocalyptic graphic novel, but engages in far too excessive multi-sensory overload layering a grim soundbite sense of history, with music video stylistics that upstage the storytelling.
Never less than imaginatively bold in subverting its referenced established superhero comic conventions, but overcrowding the screen with characters and agendas, hidden and otherwise, the raucous scenarios swirl around a fantasy Vietnam War postscript spilling into the Reagan era. But where Tricky Dick still presides into his fifth terms over a nuclear-nervous population during the continuing Cold War. An outlawed posse of dropout masked crimefighters get back to business after one of them is murdered, and suspicions loom that superhero homicide may be a macabre master plan in progress.
As Nixon’s anti-Soviet doomsday clock countdown drives a despairing population into submission, vigilante-prone Walter Kovacs/ Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) alerts the crew while urging them back into action, if not self-preservation. Including Hollis Mason/Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino), and Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), a more brains than brawn connoisseur of craftiness who knows a good self-franchising segue when he sees one. Then there’s morose, meditative Jonathan Osterman/Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), the former Pentagon egghead jailbird who got fried by accident, has lost his faith in the human race, and prefers to literally streak across the universe in stark glow in the dark guy nudity, weary with the weight of too many superpowers on his nuked to a crisp blue shoulders.
Watchmen director Zack Snyder, who honed his comics wizardry craft with Frank Miller’s 300, teams here with the illustrator Dave Gibbons, to pull off the ballsy in more ways than one screen adaptation of uncredited Alan Moore’s mythic epic, acclaimed as one of the 100 Greatest Novels of All Time. And while Warner and Fox Studios have been duking it out on the sidelines in their own planetary power play for screen exclusivity, this trippy, agitated and richly textured but overly ambitious, hyperactive history lite mega-production has managed to slip into theaters unphased, superheroics aside. Zack and Dave Make A Graphic Movie, and it soars, in all its darkest and cocky, kickbutt attention deficit disordered grandeur.
2 1/2 stars