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Posted: March 11, 2009 12:30 a.m.

Dark heroes for dark times

Warner Brothers/Paramount Pictures/

Dr. Manhattan

Few book-to-film adaptations are as true to the source material as "Watchmen," a beautiful, uncompromising look at the true nature of masked vigilantes.

Based on Alan Moore's genre-busting graphic novel of the same name, "Watchmen" is set in an alternate version of 1985 where Richard Nixon is still president, nuclear war with Russia seems inevitable and a history of masked avengers is part of society. Through a nifty montage during the opening credits, the audience receives a quick history of the rise and fall of two generations of these heroes.

The film begins when a retired member of the Watchmen, called The Comedian, is brutally murdered and the still active Rorschach takes it upon himself to uncover the killer's identity. Though the basic plot can be summed up in one sentence, "Watchmen" may be the most dense and complex popcorn film to ever grace the silver screen. At just under three hours, the movie jumps back and forth in time covering nearly 30 years of the lives of more than a dozen characters.

These are not your normal good guys and gals. Instead every character is twisted and complicated from The Comedian, who attempts to rape a fellow Watchmen hero, to the Nite Owl, who can only become sexually aroused after saving someone's life. The film's only true superhero, Dr. Manhattan, has become so disconnected from the world that he finds more interest in movements of dirt on Mars than saving humanity. Next to "Watchmen," "The Dark Knight" looks like a Care Bears movie.

Director Zack Snyder ("300") has crafted a visually stunning film, from the intricate costumes to the rundown city streets of a world in chaos. The casting was mostly dead on, with stand outs Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Rorschach and The Comedian. Both actors seem to embody their psychotic characters. In contrast, Malin Akerman as the Silk Spectre II and Matthew Goode as Ozymandias both give wooden, flat performances that are as one dimensional as the drawings they are based on.

Filled with extreme violence and graphic sex, "Watchmen" is not your average kiddie comic book movie. Instead, it is a smart, if a bit overly long, look at what might drive real masked avengers. "Watchmen" should not be missed.

Grade: A-
Rated R for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language. Runtime 163 minutes.


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