For fans and comic book purists the 1986 Watchmen limited series would be a seminal and go to work that opened the doors for a darker and more dystopian take on the superhero genre. Zack Snyder’s well received 2009 movie adaptation got many things right; most notably the tonality, visual aesthetics and casting but adhered to a rigid and unflinching recreation of the dialogue. This left little room for expressing the world building, character development and thematic resonance that enriched the novel. This coupled with tweaking the ending and substituting a major plot device left a sense of what could have been.
This nine episode HBO drama series created by The Leftovers’ Damon Lindelof (a self-proclaimed fanatic of the source material) takes place 34 years after the events of the comic book serving as a sequel within the same canon. This series addresses head on the political and social themes of the comic book but adapts them into a contemporary society with racial violence being at the forefront of its brazenly raw yet mosaic cultural representation of American history.
The series makes masterful use of a stellar cast; revolving the story around Regina King’s police detective Angela Abar aided by Wade Tillman (Tim Blake Nelson), police chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson) and her husband Cal Abar (Yahya Abdul Matten II). Rather than coming quick out of the blocks it takes a slow burn approach and drip feeds us nuggets of information about what’s happened in the time gap. The same alternate reality touchstones are in place; Robert Redford has been President for three decades (since Nixon had abolished term limits) and Dr Manhattan is still believed to be on Mars after the giant squid attack and global nuclear disarmament. Meanwhile Rorschach’s death has inspired a white supremacist movement that randomly lashes out at minorities and hounds a police forced to wear costumes and maintain their profession a secret. The show takes great care to gradually introduce the three most captivating characters from the source material; Jeremy Irons’ Adrien Veidt a.k.a Ozymandias, Jean Smart’s Laurie Blake a.k.a the second Silk Spectre and finally Dr Manhattan himself.
Watchmen 2019 invites the audience to reflect and examine the attitudes and beliefs we possess today. Have we really become a smarter and more tolerant society? Despite a measured start there is no shortage of violence, exhilarating action, masterful characterization and meticulously crafted visuals that do the genre justice but are also a testament to what a studio can achieve when allowing for creative expression and directorial autonomy.
A must watch.