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At best, ‘Watchmen’ reminds audience of comic

Jack Thornton | Tuesday, March 17, 2009

“Watchmen” is the only graphic novel included in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 greatest novels of all time. Unfortunately, the film version of “Watchmen” will probably never be on anyone’s list of the greatest movies.On the surface, Alan Moore’s novel is about masked vigilantes trying to solve a murder and prevent a possible nuclear war, a very common plot for any superhero movie or comic. What separates it from the rest of the pack are the complex characters and the depths that Moore goes to get inside their heads. The characters’ philosophy and psychology propose questions to the reader that are not found in any other superhero story. If there were masked vigilantes in the real world, why assume that they would be squeaky-clean citizens like Superman or Spiderman? What is it that would actually motivate a person to dress up in a costume and fight crime? If a person did don a costume and fight crime, what would this do to his or her psyche? Would society react positively or negatively to costumed heroes working outside of the law?The answers to these questions unfold in the gritty, intense and depressing world of “Watchmen.” Almost all the heroes have major psychological problems, and their opinions of humanity are so negative that they allow themselves to operate almost completely free of conscience. The paranoid, crazy Rorschach tortures random people to get information from them and inflicts punishment on the criminals he captures without any real authority. The brutal Comedian tries to rape one woman, and murders a former lover. The god-like Dr. Manhattan almost completely loses touch with humanity and feels little motivation to help prevent nuclear holocaust. The development and revelation of the vigilantes’ characters through flashbacks are both gripping and repulsive, making “Watchmen” a thought-provoking book.Sadly, the movie almost completely fails to go past the surface of the “Watchmen” story. Occasional glimmers of the novel’s themes come through, but on the whole it is merely another entertaining superhero movie, albeit a very dark, harsh and violent one. Although almost every frame in the movie directly corresponds to a panel of the book, the movie fails to capture the intricate philosophical themes that make the book so riveting. Director Zach Snyder uses deeply philosophical moments from the book as mere excuses to throw in some stomach turning violence. Snyder is very good at filming action sequences, but in matters of heart or head he fails to capture the book’s brilliance. The philosophical insights into human nature illustrated by the characters are lost in a whirlwind of graphic violence and sexuality (the latter peaks in one awkward, unnecessary and painfully long love scene between Silk Spectre and Nite Owl). The only character in the movie who comes close to the emotion and intensity of the book’s version is Rorschach (Jackie Early Haley). A few other actors convey glimpses into their characters’ true psyches, namely Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian), and Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan), but these moments are few and far between. The other actors are mostly average, except for Malin Akerman (Silk Spectre II), who might be the worst actress on the planet. The best part of this movie is how it reminds the audience of the comic book’s brilliance. The film is not brilliant in itself. It seems that Alan Moore was correct when he insisted that his story simply could not be adequately portrayed on film