by Rick Grant

Grade: B+ / Rated R / 163 min
This graphic novel masterpiece, skillfully adapted to film, is set in a parallel Universe in which America elected Richard Nixon three times and was on the brink of global thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union in 1985. A group of superheroes became part of American life, fighting crime, political corruption, and evil.
However, when the story begins, the heroes are retired because one of their colleagues got zapped inside an experiment run amok and became a godlike being, Dr. Manhattan a.k.a Big Naked Blue Guy, (BNBG) played by Billy Crudup, endowed with planet destroying powers, but no pants. Thus, he could stop any nuclear wars if he was so inclined. As time passes, BNBG has doubts that humanity is worth saving.
Zack Snyder’s direction valiantly tries to overcome the film adaptation’s continuity problems with film versus comic book reality. For the most part, he succeeds in creating the stark colors and caricatures of the original graphic novel. In some scenes though, the acting seems forced and the satirical elements come through. But overall the final cut is spectacular, with graphic violence and sweeping FX.
In one key scene, Leonard Cohen’s monotone voice is droning in the background as Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) is having sex with Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino) in Dan’s space ship. It was a funny reference to 1980s music and sexual freedom as Dan mounts Sally with wild abandon. Of course, Bill Crudup’s all nude all the time character leaves nothing to the imagination. Oh yeah, and Sally’s narrow crotch suit is pressing the limits of good taste. She got the extreme bikini wax for sure. But all the costumes are designed to titillate the audience, enhancing the sexuality of the characters.
Meanwhile, The Big Naked Blue Guy is roaming around disillusioned with humanity. Sally had been living with him but he could divide himself into multiple beings and was working on an experiment while having sex with Sally. She realizes that he’s indifferent to her and she rushes into the arms of Dan Dreiberg, now retired.
The gang of superheroes are brought back together by Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) who is investigating the murder of Edward Blake/The Comedian. Rorschach doesn’t trust human nature and is in favor of vigilante tactics to rid the city of hardened criminals. When Dan and Sally are mugged and easily dispatch the gaggle of bad guys, their old adrenaline rush comes back and they decide to come out of retirement to help Rorschach.
So the gang dust off their ridiculous costumes and reform as a rogue police force. Dan fires up his spacecraft and he, Sally, and Rorschach swoop down on violent crime scenes taking out bad guys. But someone is out to murder the superhero gang, and it turns out to be the richest man on earth, Adrian Vedt/Ozymandias, (Matthew Goode) who is plotting his own destruction of humankind so he can set up an Egyptian empire as Pharaoh of all survivors.
The story is told through Rorschach’s eyes as he writes in his journal, “The world is full of fornication and bad consciences.” He never wavers from his cynical philosophy and believes that humankind can never live in a peaceful utopian world.
Clearly, director Zack Snyder’s prime directive was to stay true to the comic book reality as much as possible in a film. He succeeded in coming close to that goal but the pacing and script suffer. However, in toto, the film is a masterwork of adaptation from graphic novel to film. Its in-your-face special effects and blood splatter send the viewers’ adrenaline level soaring into the red zone. The film plunges hapless viewers into a fantasy world of vicarious thrills and escapism. This film is perfect for these stressful times.