Friday, March 20, 2009

Who Watched the Watchmen?

I finally got around to going to see Watchmen. It is about a group of superheroes — including Dr. Manhattan who is made of pure energy and also walks around with no pants; Ozymandias who looks like he’d be more comfortable taking tea and crumpets with the Queen; Rorschach who wears a mask with changing patterns on it; The Comedian who is not a comedian who is funny-ha-ha in that he appears to have killed Kennedy and also performs a violent attempted rape; Nite Owl who’s like Batman without the commitment; and Silk Spectre who wears sexy clothes — are out to either save or destroy the world.

Set in an alternate 1985, Nixon has been president forever, and the Watchmen have retired from world saving/destruction except that someone is now killing them and they set out to find who. At the same time, nuclear annihilation is imminent and their great hope to stop it, Dr. Manhattan, who is a essentially big blue light who has become disillusioned with his lot in life, has decided to give up and sit out the crisis on Mars.

The 15-minute opening montage of the Watchmen origin is an authentic version of the graphic novel, a story Time magazine once called one of the 100 best novels of all time.

I believe that superhero stories reflect the world in which they are created, and by that I mean specifically the political climate. Thus, as you would imagine, the littered, raining, graffiti marked world of Watchmen appealed to me on a deep level.

It is a superhero movie evolved into something that preceded its inadequate genre title. The fight scenes were very brutal, bloody, and relatively short. It was perhaps the best action I’d seen since the Bourne movies, which also presented brutal, dirty, close combat, not the beautifully choreographed dance-like martial arts of most movies of this sort.

One thing that took me off guard was the Comedian. As they put it in the movie, he is just short of a Nazi, and he’s certainly a sociopath. He’s sadistic, cruel, and he enjoys it. Yet, as played by Jeffery Dean Morgan, the Comedian is almost likable, and he’s often the voice of the movie, the voice of the American Dream gone haywire. As a rogue and rebel among rebels, his pronouncements often make sense. The Comedian isn’t deluding himself like the other costumed heroes are. Thus, it’s not really a contradiction when the Comedian learns of Ozymandias’ plans and has a change of heart. When he appears drunk and crying in Moloch’s room, we actually believe that the Comedian feels terrible guilt for all the crimes he’s committed, and that world is even crueler than he thought it.

If this was the last superhero movie made, that would be appropriate, and Watchmen could cap the genre off. Honestly, it’s hard to even compare Watchmen with other superhero movies, such as the Spider-Man, the Hulk movies, or the recent Superman movie, because the layers of depth and context are not comparable.