This disruptive take on the classic comic book is slowly but surely taking shape.
More cinematic royalty has joined the cast of Damon Lindelof’s “remix” of Watchmen. Veteran actor Jeremy Irons has been confirmed to be making a small screen comeback in the latest onscreen take on the classic Alan Moore and Dave Gibbins comic book.
According to Deadline, Irons will play a lead character in HBO’s Watchmen pilot. This marks a significant addition to his filmography, as he has only been a TV regular twice in his lengthy screen career — first in Brideshead Revisited, then in The Borgias. Recently seen in the spy film Red Sparrow and DC’s Justice League, Irons is certainly well-versed in the genres that pervade the Watchmen canon.
He comes onboard the series (which also originates from a DC publication) alongside an eclectic and promising set of actors including Regina King, Don Johnson, Tim Blake Nelson, Louis Gossett Jr., Adelaide Clemens, and Andrew Howard.
Specific details about Irons’s part in the show remain deliberately unclear. That said, Deadline’s report does actually state that he will play an “aging and imperious” lord who lives in a British manor. This at least provides a more concrete description compared to what earlier casting announcements have revealed so far.
Still, piecing together the Watchmen series proves challenging. Lindelof revealed his plans for HBO’s Watchmen in a soul-baring, lengthy Doctor Manhattan-style love letter to Moore’s original that he published on Instagram. Luckily, he seems to be on the right track in his commitment to remain faithful to the comic while seeking out fresh material for the series.
Be it a hyper-faithful adaptation like Zack Snyder’s 2009 feature film effort or an entirely original story, an adaptation based on “Watchmen” has to be contemporized in order to keep within the true spirit of its source material. It has to actually comment on issues that are truly relevant today, which Lindelof appears intent on doing.
The “Watchmen” comic is set in an alternate timeline where the United States prevailed in the Vietnam War, there was no Watergate scandal, and the reasons behind the Soviet-Afghan War drastically change thanks to the superheroes that first appeared in the 1940s.
“Watchmen” notably encapsulates the anxieties of the 1980s via its indulgence and critique of crimefighters. Save for one irradiated Doctor Manhattan, the Crimebusters – Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Rorschach, Ozymandias, and The Comedian – are costumed vigilantes struggling with conflicting ideologies and opinions about their heroism (or lack thereof).
When the main “Watchmen” storyline of the comic picks up in the mid-1980s, the presence of Doctor Manhattan’s inexplicable superpowers and his political allegiances to the United States have increased tension during the Cold War. However, when an “alien invasion” kills millions in New York, world peace is seemingly established as countries quickly put aside their differences in order to fight a supposed common enemy.
Although not a traditional sequel, HBO’s Watchmen will feature brand new characters who will have to live with the fallout of the decisions made by these characters if the canon is to be upheld. Some familiar faces are likely to pop up in the story, too. The timeline for the Watchmen series is extremely fluid at the moment, but the show will apparently revisit some golden age heroes through “a surprising, but familiar set of eyes.”
Imagining a Watchmen that hasn’t been “retread nor recreated nor reproduced nor rebooted” becomes more intriguing when set photo reveals have done nothing but inspire more speculation. One of the pictures evidently depicts signs pointing to alien invasion shelters, hinting that the events of the comic do somehow still play a substantial part in the story. An image of a newspaper headline proclaiming a certain character’s death doesn’t further indicate whether there were personal repercussions for his actions either.
Distinctly modern elements have found their way into the universe of HBO’s Watchmen, too, which could account for the series’ present-day timeline. Photos depicting an advertisement for “American Hero Story: Minutemen” is a prime example. Right here may be an avenue to revive the question “Who Watches the Watchmen?” — albeit a televised (and potentially exploitative) one.
Much of the beauty of the “Watchmen” canon inherently lies in this flexibility of its timeline. Changing the course of major world events in the wake of superheroism gave the comic a gritty realism that allows for its powerful commentary in the first place. The original’s allegorical narrative easily opens up more possibilities for further alterations in other areas of world politics and even presents the potential for speeding up inevitable events that have happened in current affairs today. Ultimately, Lindelof’s references to Donald Trump, Theresa May, and Vladimir Putin in his Instagram ode have to count for something.
Irons seems to be a bit of a loose thread amidst all of this so far, because his status as an elderly moneyed lord feels distinctly like a relic of the past in a story leaping into the future. But maybe that’s the point. We can’t know for sure if the show picks up in the 1990s, the 2000s, or present day. Yet, either way, Irons’s character may be old enough to have witnessed the rise and fall of either the Minutemen or the Crimebusters. He could provide a tangible link to those heroes of old and vitally connect the narrative together with its source material.
Irons’ British identity may hint at a global approach to the expansion of the Watchmen story as well. Set photos from the series hint at Tulsa, Oklahoma, being a primary location. But I still can’t help but wonder: what impact did the giant alien squid have on the rest of the world? The real Cold War had a ripple effect worldwide, with the United Kingdom being no exception. Even abruptly halting it in a fictional realm would have some shocking consequences, especially when world peace was only an illusion by the end of the comic.
Maybe we’re still grasping at straws to figure out just where Lindelof will take an indelible graphic novel. Nonetheless, Irons is a proven onscreen veteran and the biggest name added to the cast list by far. That coupled with the source material’s iconoclasm and Lindelof’s confident vision of a “fresh and nasty and electric and absurd” version of the story gives us enough reason to continue keeping an eye out for HBO’s Watchmen.