DVD Release Date:  July 21, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  March 6, 2009
Rating:  R (for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language)
Genre:  Action
Run Time:  163 min.
Director:  Zack Snyder
Cast:  Billy Crudup, Patrick Wilson, Malin Akerman, Jackie Earle Haley, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Stephen McHattie, Edward Blake, Robert Wisden

EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following review contains discussion of adult subject matter that is not appropriate for young readers.  Parents, please exercise caution.

Comic-book heroes aren’t what they used to be. The Batman films have grown darker and more nihilistic. The X-Men are serious examinations of what it means to be societal outcasts. The trend is toward serious themes—very serious—and away from the fun action-adventure stories that many of us grew up with.

Watchmen is one of the most disturbing adaptations yet. Dark and violent, it one-ups last year’s blockbuster, The Dark Knight, in explicit imagery, and it cannot be recommended. However, the story has potent themes that will resonate with Christian viewers and which demand discussion.

Based on a highly touted graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen takes place in an alternate, late twentieth-century America. The year is 1985. Richard Nixon (Robert Wisden) is president. The United States has won the Vietnam War, but the Cold War continues and tensions are on the rise.

The Watchmen—a group of outlawed crime fighters—reconstitute after one of their number, the Comedian (Edward Blake), ends up dead. Is there a campaign to rid the world of Watchmen?

Only one of these masked crusaders has superhuman abilities. Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) was once a physicist named Jon Osterman, but after dying in a lab accident, he was reconstituted as a nearly omniscient being with blue skin—and often no underwear. (Yes, another cultural taboo—male frontal nudity—has fallen. The male member has made fleeting appearances in movies like Eastern Promises from 2007, but this year such appearances bridge the lower-grossing art-house fare, such as The Reader, with assumed blockbusters like Watchmen.)

The other Watchmen are damaged people who have channeled life’s disappointments and abuses into something that they believe benefits their fellow man. Yet vestiges of those earlier disappointments linger. Laurie Juspeczyk, also known as Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), finds fulfillment in the arms of other Watchmen—first Dr. Manhattan, then Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson), also known as Nite Owl II. Laurie leaves Dr. Manhattan when, during a lovemaking session, she discovers that he’s not giving her his undivided attention; burdened with the ability to see into the future (although he’s not omniscient, by his own admission), he’s preoccupied by a nuclear conflict that appears to be imminent.

Arguably the most interesting of the Watchmen is Walter Kovacs, or Rorschach, an intensely frustrated man who dons a mask that displays ever-shifting inkblots. He metes out his own brand of justice on those who, he claims, make the world a worse place. Having once shown mercy to criminals, Rorschach now has no patience for moral perpetrators. He despises politicians and prostitutes, among others, and he shows his enemies no mercy.