WATCHMEN, directed by Zack Snyder, written by David Hayter and Alex Tse, 160 minutes, rated R.
Zack Snyder’s unfortunate take on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ popular graphic novel, “Watchmen,” is so pretentious and long (nearly three hours of tedium), it collapses under the weight of its own bloated ideas.
This pseudointellectual mess is self-indulgent, self-important and, worst of all, boring. It’s flat and unconvincing, an overhyped dud that’s one major disappointment, not to mention a waste of time.
From David Hayter and Alex Tse’s script, the film — and this is a review of the film, not the novel, a distinction some of the novel’s more passionate fans will overlook — is such a misfire, it’s no wonder Moore himself removed his name from the project. He didn’t want to be directly associated with something he knew wouldn’t translate well onto the screen.
Turns out he was right. While Snyder achieves a dark, beautiful-looking movie that complements Gibbons’ surreal illustrations, the dense story line remains made for the page. It’s there that one’s imagination can take root and fill in the corners, and where layers may not only deepen, but thrive.
Film, however, is a literal medium, and that’s problematic for a story as complex and as arch as the one offered here. Moore saw that, and so he stepped away from it. The result is a project crippled with a host of shortcomings, not the least of which are the performances from a cast saddled with unremarkable characters and even worse dialogue.
In its most streamlined form, “Watchmen,” set in the mid-1980s, is concerned with the ramifications of one man’s murder, and how it affects those who were close to him. The doomed person is Edward Blake, aka the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a cigar-chomping former superhero who is snuffed at the film’s start. Who killed him and why? His friends want to know, most of them former superheroes who were outlawed years ago by the government but who now find themselves covertly back in the game.
They include Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) and Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), the latter of whom is the only one of the group not to have assimilated back into everyday life.
Also in the mix is Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a hulking, glowing nude beast who has real superpowers thanks to a technical mishap, and who is involved in a subplot that involves another mishap — Richard Nixon. Thanks to Dr. Manhattan, Nixon has made it through five terms as president, and now he is eager to enter into a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. Since Dr. Manhattan isn’t exactly against that idea (neither is somebody else here), complications ensue as the end of millions of lives draws near.
All of this is just a taste of a plot that’s stuffed to the brim with much of what you find in the novel itself — romantic triangles, moral dilemmas, a startling run of violence, rape, the graphic mutilation of a young girl by dogs, and the ultimate question about whether it’s worth annihilating much of the human race in an effort to save humanity from itself.
It sounds heavy, sure, but the execution is plodding and preachy. Goode, in particular, is awful as Ozymandias. Whenever he’s onscreen, he’s like a peacock, preening and rustling his feathers at center stage. You want to shoot him. At the film’s midpoint, there’s a sex scene between Nite Owl and Silk that’s supposed to be hot, but it’s the most awkward piece of soft-core porn you’ve ever seen. Worse still is the thick, rubbery makeup used to age some of the actors, which looks cheap because it is cheap.
To be fair to the movie, one performance does connect — Haley as Rorschach — and the action sometimes is well-executed. But in the end, it’s not enough. Not unlike Dr. Manhattan’s eyes, which are blank, empty spheres burning white within an attractive exterior, the same proves true for the movie itself.
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.