Regarded by comic-book buffs as the greatest comic of all time, Watchmen, which is based on the Alan Moore / Dave Gibbons graphic novel, is by no means a typical superhero movie. There’s precious little noble posturing from Laurie (Malin Akerman), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) or Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), all of whom are beset by personal demons of the kind you’re more likely to find in more serious fare: alcoholism, depression, a destructive childhood, and the consequences of physics laboratory experiment that leaves you with god-like powers. Well, perhaps the last belongs in comic book fantasia, but even the plight of Dr Manhattan, a being of pure energy, raises interesting questions. Set in a parallel universe, in which Richard Nixon holds on to the presidency well into the 1980s, and the Cold War is rapidly approaching armageddon, Watchmen manages to have its cake and eat it: a character-driven tale that explores the complex, twisted personalities of its superfolk in detail, it also provides a story on an epic scale. At 163 minutes it’s a long movie, but it never feels like it. The characters, particularly those of Dr Manhattan and Rorschach, are fascinating, and raise as many questions as they answer, while the story’s overarching concern – what to do about a poisonously over-populated planet – is a timely one. There are a number of superb action sequences too, and interlude on planet Mars is jaw-droppingly well done. Zack Snyder, who also directed the disappointing graphic novel adaptation 300, proves a steadier hand here, and provides a seamless blend of live action and CGI effects. He’s helped hugely strong performances, especially from Akerman, Crudup and Haley. ****
This review first appeared in TV NOW magazine
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.