*This review is based on the first six episodes of the HBO series.
You may think that you know all there is to know about the seminal Watchmen comic book series from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Perhaps you’ve read the 37-issue 2012 prequel comic series by DC Comics, or are awaiting the conclusion of the current Doomsday Clock series. Or maybe you’re a fan of Zack Snyder’s 2009 film adaptation.
Well, forget all of it because the upcoming HBO series by Damon Lindelof is unlike anything you’ve seen before.
This world of Watchmen is vastly different and yet oddly familiar. Just to catch you up to speed, the original comic was set in the US in an alternate 1985. In this world, Dr Manhattan helped the US win the Vietnam War, making it an official US state but this, in turn, brought the US closer to nuclear annihilation as they point their missiles to Russia and vice versa.
In order to save the country, Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias, decides to feign an interdimensional attack by dropping a giant squid of his own creation onto New York City. Veidt believed that this would unite the countries to face the bigger threat. However, like the famous philosophical trolley dilemma, this will cost the lives of millions of Americans. Acceptable losses for world peace right?
Lindelof’s series is set in the same alternate reality but a lot has changed since those events. Presidential term limits have been abolished and as a nod to the original comics, Robert Redford (What? You’ve never heard of an American actor becoming the President of the United States?) has been president for the last 28 years. In that time, he managed to stop the technological renaissance by “blocking” the internet, and people carry pagers instead of phones.
The story is set mainly in Tulsa, Oklahoma where a racist extremist group called the Seventh Kalvary operate. Years ago, they carried out a massive attack on the Tulsa police force called the White Night, donning home-made versions of the iconic Rorschach mask and murdering members of the police force and their families. They are essentially the modern-day Ku Klux Klan.
As such, a law was passed that allowed police officers to wear masks to hide their identity. Officers also hold day jobs and create alibis in order to avoid any detection. Viewers are introduced to Angela Abarr (Regina King), a detective who was a victim of the White Night as she investigates the murder of her close friend and police captain, Chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson).
But she isn’t the sole protagonist of the story. Lindelof manages to intertwine the characters of the Minutemen, Watchmen and these new police-vigilante hybrids like Angela seamlessly. Viewers can look forward to seeing some of their beloved older characters like Silk Spectre (Jean Smart) and Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons), while still being fully engrossed in this entirely new story.
This review is difficult to write solely because there are too many amazing things going on in the show. It is one of those series that you want to recommend to your friends but no words would do it justice.
The new Watchmen series talks about a lot of big issues such as identity, legacy, truth and racism and somehow manages to incorporate all this crazy superhero action, while still being grounded by the real danger that affects all Americans in our current society.
From the very first moments in the series, it feels as though the show itself has grabbed you by the collar and refuses to let go. A binge-worthy series, Watchmen remains as a dark and gritty series. There is a fine balance between drama, action, comedy and even a little science-fiction which is obviously incredibly hard to do but Watchmen makes it look easy.
Everything has a purpose in the series although it doesn’t seem that way at first and that is fantastic. The show is clearly thought through and with everything being so purposeful, you can’t help but stay glued to the screen just so you don’t miss a beat. It makes complete sense that it only has one season planned for (that we currently know of) and nine episodes because dragging it out would ruin its perfectly planned plot. But make no mistake – a second season of this quality would be very welcomed.
This show is a true testament to intersectionality where various aspects of who you are, end up being more than the sum of its parts. Lindelof presents new ideas to the acclaimed title and modernises it for today’s political climate. The main issue that is consistently brought up during the series is racism and all the violence and hatred that not only poisons the minds of the perpetrators but its victims as well.
The characters are all unique and complex in their own way. The writing and direction not only highlights their badass movies and unique skills, but also digs deeper into the trauma that they try to run from. This is where their masks come into play. The entire series talks about identity and legacy and causes the audience to reflect on the masks that we wear on a daily basis. Through the act of concealing our deepest, darkest secrets, what do we reveal?
The cast of Watchmen does a stellar job in bringing such intricate characters to life. Without giving away anything, Jovan Adepo is a stellar casting decision as his character has such an intriguing story and Adepo does an amazing job trying to bring that through. Although subtle, his acting shows all the pain, anger and conflict that rages inside him. Despite his faults, Adepo enables the audience to sympathise with his character when it could have easily been overkill.
They say that a team is only as strong as its weakest link and somehow that does not exist for Watchmen. There are characters that are not as prominent as others but that feels completely intentional. Petey (Dustin Ingram) may not have as much screen time as many of the other characters but he is not like other comic relief characters. It is clear that even a sideline character such as Petey was thought out and given a purposeful backstory.
Many of the heroes are equally complex such as Angela Abarr and Looking Glass (Tim Blake Nelson). Angela Abarr is a tough yet soft-hearted detective and King puts on a stupendous performance as she faces the ghosts of her past. Confusion, worry, distrust and anger, Regina King manages to encompass all these emotions in a single scene without overacting or being cliché.
Easily written off as supporting roles, Tim’s profound interpretation of Looking Glass and clear understanding of his character causes the audience to be immediately drawn in, unsure if he is merely a stereotype or if there are layers to peel back. You will not be disappointed by what is in store for him.
The best part about Lindelof’s Watchmen is that it is perfect for everyone (Ok, maybe not children). Having contextual knowledge about the original series is definitely a bonus and you’ll be able to connect some of the dots that maybe your friends might not. However, that does not take away from the plot whatsoever. If anything, it only adds to it.
If you’re new to the series, let this be the door to a captivating and heart-wrenching series that is loved by fans all over the world. Watchmen has never received enough credit as a series and this could be the resurgence that it needs. If you feel the need to be prepared before the release of this show on HBO, have a movie night and watch Snyder’s rendition. It is a quick recap on what happened in the series but these two adaptations still leave room for discovery when you eventually pick up the comic.
If you need more convincing, just know that although Alan Moore has refused to associate himself in any way with this upcoming series, David Gibbons is fully onboard. He was even on the panel at the New York Comic-Con premiere of the Watchmen pilot earlier this year.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen is the superhero series that we all have to see. It’s gritty and dark like the original but has its own unbelievably fresh plot that is sure to be a hit with both long-standing fans of the series and newbies.
Story - 10/10
Direction - 10/10
Characterisation - 9/10
Geek Satisfaction - 10/10