March 8, 2009
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley
Release Date: March 6, 2009
***There might be one or two spoilers here.***
Let me get this out of the way first: I have not read the source material from which Watchmen is based. That being said, I have absolutely no idea as to whether or not the recently released feature film is faithful to what the trailers labeled “the most celebrated graphic novel of all time.”
Zack Snyder’s film of the same name (the first after his wildly successful 300), however, is a strange mishmash of film noir, who-dunnit crime drama, traditional comic book narrative, and often pointless, gratuitous violence and nudity that, at its conclusion, is frustrating and underwhelming.
When Watchmen opens, we’re treated to a well-choreographed fight scene between a masked assassin and an aging hero referred to as the Comedian. The context for the movie is clearly setup right from the get-go: it’s the 1980s, and America is engaged in a Cold War with the USSR. As suggested, the movie is steeped in real-life American historical events. All of this is further accentuated by the inclusion of real-life politicians who play an important role in the events of the film as they unfold (the brilliant opening credits feel slightly Forrest Gump-like in nature, boiling down decades of important events in the lives of some main characters and giving us some characterization to boot).
Watchmen does a nice job of drawing in its viewer and holding his attention for the first 40 minutes, give or take. And, really, the bulk of the film is told through flashbacks. The world the Watchmen exist in is one we can relate to, because, even if we haven’t lived through the events being described, we’ve probably studied them in school.
And there are some really interesting characters here. My personal favorite is Dr. Manhattan–a man who was involved in an accident as a nuclear physicist and has the capability to make his enemies explode at will and teleport himself instantaneously to wherever he desires (among other things). He constantly glows an ethereal blue as a result of his accident. This is a fairly cool effect. Someone else thought so, too, because it’s not long before we encounter a rather disturbing fact. Dr. M really enjoys walking around completely nude. Perhaps he’s become such a genius with his new found knowledge, obtained through the process of exploring alternate galaxies and parallel universes, that he finds clothing to be an enormous waste of time. Whatever the cause, his lack of garments comes off as a ploy on the part of the movie’s creators to show of their ability to utilize CGI.
I can imagine that some people might argue that Dr. M’s constant full-frontal nudity (along with a completely unnecessary sex scene and constant, over-the top blood and guts) play into the subtext that Watchmen feels it must bludgeon its viewers with–the carnal nature of man, and how, deep-down, we’re really a violent and savage species with little hope of redemption–is necessary, and that all of the aforementioned “carnality” needs to be there. There’s a nagging sense, however, throughout the 163 minute run-time of this movie that it has to be overly-graphic in order to get its point across. It’s wrong.
I think at this point in the history of cinema we’re all painfully aware that violence results in more violence–a theme that’s apparent in the aptly-named A History of Violence (among others), which is sometimes subtle, sometimes full of warranted brutality.
Excessive gore is best utilized in movies that know what their purpose is; movies that know how to keep things balanced for maximum effect. Take Kill Bill (Vols. 1 & 2), for example. Tarantino’s films were loving homages to the often-ridiculous, almost always over-the-top kung fu genre of yesteryear. Having Beatrix Kiddo slash off the limbs of the Crazy 88 was perfectly fitting, as was the cool, measured deliverance of every one of her equally over-the-top bits of dialogue.
Really, though, what I’ve just referenced seems to be the main problem with Watchmen. It isn’t entirely sure what it is. It’s a movie that’s pulled in multiple directions, which causes the end result to feel unnecessarily stretched and oddly convoluted (which is especially jarring, because the plot itself is fairly straightforward).
When the end comes around and all mysteries have been solved, in a strangely oxymoronic turn of events, there’s not really any resolution. The characters (including the “villain”) simply part ways and go about their lives. There’s some discussion between the various protagonists about the implications of their actions, but everything they say is fairly obvious, which leaves the frustrated moviegoer with one thought: this movie isn’t nearly as important as it thinks it is.
Even though it’s a visual schmorgusboard, Watchmen takes on one (or maybe two) too many genres and just isn’t up to the challenge of balancing them all. And that’s too bad. Because it teeters, in tantalizing fashion, on the edge of becoming a truly engaging take on the traditional idea of what a super hero really is.
out of 5
Rated R for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language.