Who can bear to watch “Watchmen?”
Disturbing and demented, “Watchmen” is an expensively produced piece of comic-porn based on writer Alan Moore’s mid-80s graphic novel. If the mere term “comic-porn” has you reeling in disgust, then you can’t be one of the supposed legions of fan boys who not only have been anxiously awaiting this adaptation, but would likely relish such a description.
Like its source material, the film turns superhero conventions upside down and leaves no characters to cheer for, only an abysmal outlook on a civilization fueled by gratuitous violence, profanity, and sex. This may be everything Moore’s fans could have hoped for, but there is little for the average film fan to understand-much less enjoy.
It should be noted that Moore has denounced the making of this film in part due to his loathing of the Hollywood film industry. And considering the big screen treatments of his other works that include “From Hell,” “Constantine,” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”-dismal projects all-Moore has good reason to complain. (Only his “V for Vendetta” seems to have met with artistic as well as box office success).
The failure of “Watchmen” is not meant to be a direct criticism of director Zach Snyder, who took over the project when others bailed out, because his passion for the novel is obvious. There is clear attention to detail and an impressive visual style, with the film set in an alternate 1985 and beginning with a series of montages that (again) are fascinating to watch but make little sense.
What little plot there is involves a group of costumed superheroes, once banned, who reunites. As the film’s primary storyline reveals, one member, the ink-blotting masked Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley in the film’s most interesting performance), seeks to find the killer of fellow member The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
The film is almost entirely setup and back-story, and is exposition-heavy with little substantive action. There’s a scene involving the rescue of civilians from a burning skyscraper, but the scene lasts maybe 30 seconds.
Shouldn’t a film pushing two and a half hours long be able to give us some overt purpose and a tangible momentum toward a reasonably understandable objective?
The violence and sex seem pointless too. Witness the enigmatic (a nice word for boring) Dr. Manhattan, with actor Billy Crudup in full CGI –think The Blue Man Group’s version of Mr. Clean. It’s not enough we see him in his (ahem) well animated anatomically-correct form. In one scene with his beautiful girlfriend Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), he reproduces himself in five exact copies for no apparent reason-this is supposed to impress? Someone buy the good doctor some briefs-they come in blue for crying out loud-and tell him we’ve already seen “Multipicity.”
Matthew Goode as “smartest man in the world” Ozymandias and Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl round out the talented main principals whose aimed-for “complexity” as “multi-layered” costumed avengers never surface. The depictions of Richard Nixon, Pat Buchanan, Eleanor Swift et. al. don’t come off any better, nor does the heavy noir outlook that permeates the film’s suffocating misery.
The film seems to beg the question: “Does a world this bleak deserving saving anyway?” Don’t be surprised if, despite its fan base and a strong opening, few will feel inclined to watch the “Watchmen” and it turns into 2009’s first major flop.
Rated R for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language.