Who's In It: Billy Crudup, Patrick Wilson, Malin Akerman, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Carla Gugino
The Basics: In a 1985 that never existed, one where superheroes are just part of everyday life, a disbanded and disillusioned group of formerly masked avengers are forced out of retirement when one of their own is murdered, another one is framed and sent to prison, a big blue one sulks his way off to Mars and nuclear war is about to happen at any moment. And that's not even a quarter of the goings-on in this nearly three-hour epic adaptation of the most groundbreaking, least comic-booky comic book ever. If you're new to this world, be prepared to get a lot of stuff--and not just splattery blood and guts, although there's a lot of that, too--thrown at you.
What's The Deal: It was impossible to make this movie and satisfy everyone, especially the diehard fans for whom the comic book is more important than Star Wars and Lord of the Rings rolled into one. The sheer volume of incident and commentary and satire and detail in the book is enough to make you think no one should have ever even tried to create an inherently disappointing movie version. But that never stops anyone in Hollywood, so here it is. And it's... not bad. The action comes along as often as it needs to, and pretty loudly, like it's reminding you that no, seriously, it's not going to be all existential angst and morose people in capes confronting the evil within themselves. Sometimes its boneheaded in ways the book never was, sometimes its too reverent to its source and doesn't come off as unique or exciting or important as the ad campaign wants you to think it is. But it's still better than The Fantastic Four.
Weakest Links: Matthew Goode as Ozymandias and Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre. He's given not much to do as the fey villain. And did they really need to water her character down from bitter and bitchy to the simpering, nearly useless "girlfriend" role? Any good reason for that, filmmakers? It's kind of a bummer when all you can remember about her character is that she was nearly completely naked for a significant chunk of her screentime.
Best Cameos From Real Historical Figures: Instead of using archival footage, actors are used to play famous people like Andy Warhol and JFK. My favorites are the cast of The McLaughlin Group re-created in a crossfire debate about the Watchmen. I never thought I'd see a fictionalized Eleanor Clift on a multiplex screen but now I can die happy knowing it existed in my lifetime. And The Village People show up too.
MVP: Jackie Earle Haley as the ferocious Rorschach. His scenes in prison alone are the nastiest, coolest, funniest, most bad-ass and violent action moments of 2009 so far.