Film Review: "Watchmen" explodes beyond expectations

Director Zack Snyder has another action-packed success story to add to his cinematic legacy with his latest release, Watchmen - an adaptation of a graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

Featuring an impressively selected cast of character look-alikes, including Jackie Earle Haley as narrative character Rorschach and Billy Crudup as atomic superhero Dr. Manhattan, the film follows a group of retired superheroes forced to reunite when it seems someone is attempting to destroy them one by one.

Flashbacks reveal the bright past of the original American superheroes of the '50s, leading to the second generation who now (in an alternate timeline version of the '80s) live in hiding following the disillusion of the Vietnam era and the escalating Cold War paranoia between the U.S. and Russia.

Though Snyder's directing style has the potential to be tedious and over-the-top, it works excellently for a film like Watchmen. His rampant slow-motion action shots hearken back to the still images of the movie's original graphic novel, as do his faithful angle shots, which often match up exactly with images from Moore and Gibbons' book. Additionally, the film's screenplay, written by David Hayter and Alex Tse, is remarkably faithful to the original dialogue of Moore and Gibbons, much to the delight of hardcore fans.

However, the precision is sometimes so complete as to be a fault. The writing does little to expand upon the natures of the characters or the circumstances of their situation. Thanks to superb acting, this flaw is easily corrected.

Crudup brings a gentle touch of humanity to the hyper-logical Dr. Manhattan despite his abundant computer-generated imagery make-up. His voice is level yet kind, reminding viewers that before he became a "walking H-Bomb," as the original Silk Specter puts it in the "Watchmen" series, he was once just a young man in love.

Likewise, Haley does a superb job capturing the psychological agonies of Rorschach as he reels from obsessed and bloodthirsty vigilante to hesitant but loyal friend. In particular, Haley's use of noticeably raspy voice when in costume succeeds where Christian Bale's Batman in The Dark Knight failed, adding an almost frightening quality to his character instead of just making viewers raise their eyebrows in confusion.

Despite the successers of Watchmen, Synder's decision to direct it more toward fans of the series than to newcomers can make understanding the film a daunting task for viewers who have never read a word of Moore's and Gibbons' graphic novel.

In addition, Snyder makes a minor yet notable change to the conclusion of the "Watchmen" story in his movie. Though some viewers may not have a problem with the alteration, the faithfulness of the adaptation to its source material in all other aspects at least makes moviegoers ponder the reasons behind and merit of Snyder's final choice in this matter.

Overall, the film makes for an extended action-packed experience. The nearly three hour runtime may seem daunting, but the movie never lags and viewers don't find themselves waiting for end to come.

The direction, acting and writing on Watchmen combine to create an impressive film that serves as a notable addition to the cannon of big-screen superheroes that has recently developed.