Prohibited from using their powers in a parallel Earth in 1985, a band of superheroes unites to defend themselves when one of their own is murdered.

Year: 2009
Certificate: 18
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Billy CrudupJackie Earle HaleyPatrick WilsonMatthew GoodeJeffrey Dean MorganMalin AkermanMatt FrewerCarla GuginoStephen McHattie

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In the aftermath of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, it’s fascinating to revisit Zack Snyder’s other monument of superheroic revisionism, 2009’s “Watchmen”.

In an alternative 1985, the emergence of costumed vigilantes and one bona fide superhuman, Dr Manhattan, has helped America win the Vietnam War, given them the upper hand against the Soviets and kept Richard Nixon in power. Despite this, vigilantism has been outlawed, driving the remaining “heroes” to retirement, government work or hiding. However, the murder of one of his own brings the gravel-voiced antihero, Rorschach, out of the woodwork to investigate, and he comes to fear for the safety of his old teammates.

I just could not get on with Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore’s classic graphic novel on my first two viewings. I thought it managed to be somehow overstuffed and oversimplified. I thought that, in his pursuit of recreating Dave Gibbons’ iconic visuals, he lost all of the thematic depth that makes “Watchmen” the greatest graphic novel of all time. But, I was wrong. I was so wrong.

“Watchmen” is a masterpiece and the blinding pinnacle of comic book cinema. It takes the same questions asked by both Batman v Superman and “Captain America: Civil War” – just how would society cope with the existence of superhumans and vigilantes? – and answers them in the most mature, sophisticated, ambivalent, unsure, fearful, confident and, most importantly, human way possible.

David Hayter and Alex Tse’s fluid screenplay distils Moore’s epic tome without sacrificing the book’s breathtaking scope. The peerless breadth of the world Moore created with extracts from fake newspapers, comic books, medical reports and academic journals is instead hinted at with cameos from the book’s peripheral characters and meticulous production design featuring said publications, as well as TV clips and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them background details.

This attention to detail is matched by the world-beating work of cinematographer Larry Fong. Every shot, whether plucked directly from the page or stemming from Snyder’s own mind, is a true work of art, making use of striking angles, colours and textures. Combine this with brilliantly designed visual effects and William Hoy’s instinctual editing and you’re left with a huge blockbuster epic that plays like clockwork.

The casting is also superlative, with every wonderful character paired with an equally terrific actor or actress. The film stands as a glorious example of synergistic acting, as every pitch-perfect performance is in total service to the whole. Despite featuring the kind of roles that could so easily have been milked to scene-stealing effect, every turn blends seamlessly into this great canvas.

While it feels unfair to single any character out, Dr Manhattan was arguably the most challenging to get right. He is at the centre of what is quite possibly the greatest chapter of anything ever – Chapter IX: The Darkness of Mere Being. He is the posthuman who elicits such overwhelming moments of humanity, and Snyder, conducting the creativity of countless visual effects artists, Crudup’s vulnerable performance, Hayter and Tse’s moving words and Moore’s devastating insight, really does justice to one of the most mature comic book creations ever.

To those of you who love “Watchmen”, I’m sorry it took me so long. To those of you who don’t, I can assure you, it’s well worth a second (or third) look. Outstanding.

Have you seen this film? Let us know your opinions in the comments below and of course if there are any films on Netflix UK you want us to review let us know!


About Benedict

Freelance culture journalist and Film Studies graduate. Netflix is his happy place.

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