The director's cut of Watchmen clocks in at three hours, six minutes, 23 minutes longer than the theatrical release. That's an awful lot of comic-book mythology to take in for us mere mortals.
Based on the famed graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons that was published in 1986-87 by DC Comics, Watchmen's best minutes are the opening 15, in which it effectively tells its story of an alternative world populated by superheroes. It's set in 1985, as Richard Nixon is on his third term — the term limit has been repealed — the Cold War rages and masked crime fighters have been banned.
The opening sequence races through history, from the 1940s, when the Minutemen (the original superheroes) were formed, to the 1980s, by which time their successors, the Watchmen, have been outlawed. Along the way we see the masked figures in action along with some familiar icons. Some are presented as history, such as the JFK assassination, while others are altered — the famous V-E Day kiss in Times Square is a lesbian one, while the protester who puts her flower into the barrel of a soldier's rifle is shot. There must have been a Bob Dylan, however, because The Times They Are A-Changin' is playing in the background.
Also, early on we see the brutal killing of a retired superhero known as the Comedian, whose real name is Eddie Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and now seems to be recognizable in "real life" despite the flimsiest disguise. Only Dan (Patrick Wilson), better known as Nite Owl, has much to hide behind. He keeps his old superhero outfit — rubbery with pointed ears like the one worn by Bruce Wayne — locked away in his secret lair.
Dan, like the rest of the Watchmen — save one — has no true superpowers. They are vigilantes who get their kicks kicking butt, mostly for the American way — truth and justice don't figure in. The exception is Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup).
Shimmering blue and usually naked, the physicist's condition is the result of a nuclear accident, which turned him into a being with extraordinary powers.
There is some vague overall plot about the United States and the Soviet Union on a collision course for nuclear war, but most of Watchmen is taken up by flashbacks (the Comedian is killed early but he gets a lot of screen time) and pointless forays into violence. Watchmen is a cynical, sophomoric view of humanity. The superheroes use their own self-pitying nature to justify their violence.
The glory of the movie is in the gory. Director Zack Snyder (300) is not without some visual flair, but Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah during a sex scene?
And as for the stir over Dr. Manhattan's nakedness, the spectral presence wasn't that big of a deal even on an HD screen.
Watchmen retails for $28.99 for the theatrical cut, $34.99 for two discs and $35.99 on Blu-ray.