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There's no reason for me to expect I was going to like Watchmen. I knew the cast was interesting - Patrick Wilson has made smart film choices that don't rely on or intentionally subvert his good looks (Hard Candy, Little Children); Jackie Earle Haley was icky in Little Children (and I'm old enough to remember him from Breaking Away); Malin Akerman is cute but 28 Dresses and The Heartbreak Kid do not a superhero make; Jeffery Dean Morgan, Matthew Goode - ??? And director Zack Snyder did cool things with zombies in Dawn Of The Dead and made a wild and wacky movie in 300, which totally indicated his third film was probably going to be worth a look, but...you know, whatever...
So they all signed up for Watchmen - based on a comic bo...sorry, graphic novel...that I'd never read and that was coming to theatres less than a year after Ironman and The Dark Knight had redefined how good superhero movies could (and should, from here on in) aspire to be.
That Watchmen has turned out to be the most complex, exhilarating and deeply-moving fantasy film since Terry Gilliam's Brazil surprises nobody on Earth more than me - and, man, did it surprise.
In equal measure, it is a) an inspired vision of an alternate world that echoes but redefines our own existence; b) a subversive yet bracingly humanistic exploration of the role of the superhero in modern literature, c) a supremely adult take on the fetishistic pull of the heightened existence that life as a saviour of society creates, and d) a wildly exciting adventure story that turns normal people into exaggerated victims of their own creation and then back into mere humans.
An exploration of the plot would reveal more vast themes, but at this early stage of its release I don't want to risk lessening the experience for anyone.
I can reveal this - Billy Crudup as Dr Manhattan and Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach create characters every bit as captivating (and deserving of Oscar recognition) as Heath Ledger's Joker; Malin Akerman makes an entrance to the world of superhero timelessness that will be the fantasy of every teenage boy, aged 15 to 50; and from the flawless art direction, set design and special effects to a mesmerising soundtrack, Watchmen is a film that revels in the perfection of minor details.
Be warned - those expecting Spiderman-like teen-angst or Fantastic Four-like silliness will be stunned, perhaps not quite sure of what they have found. Watchmen is an extraordinarily mature, risky project for Hollywood to role the dice on, especially given similarly-complex explorations of social collapse and vigilantism (V For Vendetta, most specifically) have failed to do blockbuster numbers.
But Watchmen is something special and deserving of analysis and discussion. As bold an attempt at commercial film-making as I can remember, Watchmen is an undeniably unique movie experience - rich, perverse, violent and resonant.
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