With “The Dark Knight” raising the bar on the comic book genre as a whole, “Watchmen” arrives in theaters with plenty of hype and a rabid fan base that can probably quote you every line from the graphic novel the film is based on.

I’m not one of those fans. In fact, I went into the film completely unaware of these characters and their story. From my perspective, I can say “Watchman” is a solid but not spectacular film - but definitely one of the better movies released so far this year.

Set in an alternate mid-1980s earth, where Richard Nixon is in the middle of his fifth term as president, “Watchmen” follows a group of former costumed superheroes adjusting to the world after their vigilante ways have been outlawed by the government.

When the ex-superhero known as the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is brutally murdered, one of his colleagues, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), begins an investigation, uncovering a terrifying conspiracy that could result in a catastrophic end to civilization.

For the most part, “Watchmen” is an engrossing and very adult entry into the comic book genre.

Director Zack Snyder, the man behind “300,” uses his unique visual style to create an interesting world full of sex, blood and violence.

David Hayter and Alex Tse’s screenplay has some moments of dark humor and satire that really work, especially in the film’s first half, and presenting these superheroes as flawed characters is a nice touch.

Unfortunately, the screenplay gets too preachy for its own good in the final act - and the nearly three-hour running time becomes exhausting.

The spotty cast doesn’t ease that burden.

Morgan and Haley fare the best, although Malin Akerman does exude a sexy confidence as Silk Spectre II.

Billy Crudup is interesting as the blue tinted Dr. Manhattan, but his character is responsible for most of the film’s excessive monologues - limiting Crudup’s effectiveness.

It’s still better than Patrick Wilson, playing Nite Owl II, who is rather bland as the one superhero conflicted with returning to action.

I’ll concede this is a movie that isn’t for everyone. Still, if you are a fan of “300” and you like your comic book heroes a little dark, this is definitely the movie for you.

DVD dandy of the week

This week’s dandy is “Let the Right One In” (B+) - the Swedish horror import that proves to be the film “Twilight” tried to be.

Based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, the story centers around Oskar (Kare Hedebrandt), a bullied 12-year-old who dreams of revenge.

His dreams appear to be answered in the form of Eli (Lina Leandersson), a peculiar girl who has just moved into his apartment building.

Before long Oskar and Eli develop a youthful courtship, but the relationship is tested when Oskar discovers the girl is a vampire.

“Let the Right One In” is a very creepy and disturbing film that has stayed with me since I first saw it in December.

A lot of the credit belongs to director Tomas Alfredson, who wisely allows the story to simmer and doesn’t impatiently rush the film’s payoff. By doing so, Alfredson manages to build tension that helps to elevate two outstanding scenes - including a wide shot outside a hospital that some people might have to rewind to fully appreciate the scene’s impact.

Alfredson’s direction is aided by the two young actors, who are both up to the challenge of handling some rather disturbing material. Hedebrandt is very good, but 13-year-old Leandersson gives a fascinating performance that reminded me of Natalie Portman’s star-making work in “The Professional.”

The film does go to some dark places, especially in a film involving underage children, but its willingness to go to some taboo places only strengthens the film (which is about to get remade by “Cloverfield” director Matt Reeves).

It will be interesting to see how Reeves handles this subject matter, but I suspect it will fail to live up to this rather impressive hidden gem.

“Let the Right One In” is rated R for some bloody violence including disturbing images, brief nudity and language and is now available on DVD.

— Sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton, who’s way too proud of himself for having seen a Swedish vampire film, can be reached by e-mailing mcompton@bgdailynews.com.


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