HBO’s new take on Watchmen is certainly out there… but would we expect anything less from the likes of Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers)?
Based on the comic book of the same name by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, this opens with a massacre in Tulsa in 1921 before settling into 2019. But it’s 2019 in an alternate universe.
Now American cops, who have been targeted in their private lives and murdered by renegades, will only work with masks to hide their identity. Working undercover with the force is Det. Angela Abar (Regina King), who officially departed after being the victim of an attack. Now a mother, and baker by day, she masquerades as ‘Sister Night’ a hooded bad-ass cop, skilled in all things martial arts and weaponry.
The police force, headed up by Chief Judd Crawford (Don Johnson), is at war with a white supremacy group known as the Seventh Cavalry. If Tulsa in 1921 was battling the Ku Klux Klan, now the police in all their colours is under attack from a new brigade of masked men.
In this alternate America, the cops communicate via pagers, tiny squid bucket down from the skies like hail (I haven’t figured out why yet), police interrogation takes place in VR pods and Vietnam is a US state (the original comic had America winning the war, dramatically diverting the country’s timeline to the 1980s). But hey, they still write cheques. Go figure.
The plot is ignited by the death of one cop, signalling the return of the Seventh Cavalry after 3 years of peace. This larger-than-life tale is thick with action, so there is plenty of shoot-ups and fisticuffs, if refreshingly led by a black female character.
But there is also a perplexing subplot, set in the UK, in which Adrian Veidt (Jeremy Irons) appears as a wealthy and lonely eccentric, writing performance pieces for his servants to perform as part of his grand plan. There’s even a fictionalised TV show American Hero Story thrown in for good measure and at times we end up watching those characters as show-within-show.
The sum of the parts are certainly entertaining to a point, but whether it succeeds as a reimagining of the comics may be directly linked to your attachment to the source material, and an ability to let go.
Regina King emerges as the star of the piece, allowed to pack a punch and spit out lines like, “I got a nose for white supremacy and he smells like bleach.” The cast also includes Louis Gossett Jr., Frances Fisher, Jean Smart, Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Aussie Adelaide Clemens.
Damon Lindelof (who once threw a polar bear onto a desert island) again messes with timelines, real and non-real narratives, and sometimes-duplicitous characters in order to pose his various moral and social questions.
If you’re up for all of that you should find plenty to enjoy in this driving new tale.
Watchmen premieres 12pm Monday on FOX Showcase, repeated at 8:30pm.