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Set in 1985 in an alternate United States, where costume-clad heroes used to be as common as the threat of nuclear war that hangs over the world, Watchmen tells the story of a group of banned and retired crime fighters who reluctantly reunite after one of their colleagues — the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), whose blood-stained smiley-face button serves as the story’s iconic linchpin — is killed. Now that the film is finally here, after more than two decades of delays, false starts and lawsuits, fans are in for a dizzying thrill. Director Zack Snyder — whose other movies, 2004’s Dawn of the Dead and 2006’s 300, are stylized visual feasts — treats the work with all the reverence of a stammering geek. Last year, The Dark Knight forever changed the comic-book movie. Watchmen isn’t that good, but Snyder’s faithful adaptation captures the essence of Moore’s existential masterpiece. HHH

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