Who watches the Watchmen? Well, it made just over twenty-five million at the box office this weekend, but I’m not sure how many watchers that makes. Lots, anyway, and still not even quite as many as predicted, actually.

Who watches the Watchmen? Well, it made just over twenty-five million at the box office this weekend, but I’m not sure how many watchers that makes. Lots, anyway, and still not even quite as many as predicted, actually.

Hollywood has been good to all the comic geeks lately. I admit it, I’m one of them. So the fact that recently we’ve seen Iron Man, Fantastic Four, 300, Ghost Rider, and of course the Spider Man franchise has been really cool as far as I’m concerned. Even so, I was a little nervous about this particular adaptation. Watchmen first came out in 1985, and there have been murmurs about a movie version pretty much ever since. Usually, when it takes that long to decide to make a film, the end result is iffy at best. But this movie version is the exception that proves the rule (whatever that’s supposed to mean).

They left it set in 1985, and that was a good decision, but it isn’t quite the 1985 you might remember. Presidential term limits are gone, and Nixon’s been in charge forever. He’s sort of hapless and Big Brother-ish all at once, and has the scariest nose I’ve seen since Gerard Depardieu’s in Babylon A.D. He’s also outlawed costumed heroes, so the Watchmen are actually all either retired, working for the government doing plausibly deniable Black Ops missions, or dead. Shortly after the movie starts, one person from the second category is placed violently into the third, and that’s what sets everything off.

The dead hero… for lack of a better term… is The Comedian, who says everything is a joke yet only laughs at violence as far as I can tell. He generally has a faintly disturbing grin on his face, though, even while he’s doing the most awful things. None of the Watchmen are quite innocent there, though — except for Rorschach, no one gets even close to sinking to the Comedian’s level, but none of them are above the occasional burst of bloody, over the top violence. But such is the life of a costumed vigilante, I guess, even retired ones.

Rorschach is the conspiracy theorist of the group. In the Comedian’s brutal death, he sees the beginnings of catastrophe, and he looks up the old gang to convince them that he’s right. His only super power seems to be the fact that when he wears his mask, basically just a white fabric ski mask without any eye or mouth holes, he can make black Rorschach-style blobs shift and change on it. It’s really cool and very disconcerting. Really, though, none of the team have super powers in the usual sense — they’re more like a bunch of Batmans, highly-trained humans who mainly have luck and determination on their side. Still, they edge towards the impossible several times, and you’re never quite sure if they really are just skilled humans.

The only actual super is Dr. Manhattan. No, his first name isn’t Project, sadly. He was a nuclear physicist, who, thanks to the traditional Terrible Laboratory Accident, was bombarded with some sort of blue energy, dissolved, and ended up coming back as some sort of embodiment of that energy, which they imply is radiation but looks more like electricity. He can do, well, practically anything. He seems to have some sort of matter control power, which sounds dull but is in fact one of the most versatile powers in the Marvel Ultimate Powers book. Unfortunately, he can make people explode in extremely messy ways, and frequently does, so be warned. The squeamish will have to look away a lot.

The members of the team that you actually wouldn’t mind hanging out with are the Nite Owl, aka Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson, the husband from Lakeview Terrace, being just as nice a guy here), and Silk Spectre, aka Laurie Jupiter (not Juspeczyk for some reason, like in the comic) (Malin Ackerman, who was in Heartbreak Kid, but we won’t hold that against her because she makes up for that here). They’re not actually normal, since their idea of a nice night out involves lots of blood, death, and compound fractures, but they’re very nice to people who aren’t trying to kill them. The former Ozymandias has come out of the closet (maybe in more ways than one: I’m not sure) and revealed his secret identity, multi billionaire Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode, one of the bank robbers from The Lookout).

I could go on and on and still not tell you half of what went on. It weighs in at 163 minutes, so a lot happens. There are cover-ups, conspiracies, trips to Mars, wild nightmares, flashbacks (good and bad, mostly bad), mad scientist-style experiments, and a stone fortress in Antarctica with glass roofs. I guess if you’re a multi-billionaire, you don’t care if you have to spend millions on heating.

Four and three-quarter idols for this one. I’d give it five, but I had to dock something for all the times I had to look away from the bits of exploded gangster on the screen. But it’s a seriously cool film, so even if you don’t much like the superhero genre, give it a try. You’re only out of luck if you can’t stand gore.

Originally published 2/2009. The musical interlude with Nite Owl and Silk Spectre is a little much, but it’s still a really good flick.