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"Watchmen"

Directed by Zack Snyder.
Written by David Hayter and Alex Tse.  Based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
Starring Jackie Earle Haley, Malin Akerman, Patrick Wilson and Billy Crudup.
Release Year:  2009
Review Date:  3/15/09

Folks--

At the end of "Watchmen", a 162-minute opus based on a graphic novel from many years ago, the net effect is that the movie is big for its britches, but in inviting people to see it, it should never have stressed its comic/superhero roots in its trailer and just stuck to a sci-fi vision of its alternate past reality.

That's a longer way of saying that "Watchmen" has a lot of problems, and Gordon and I were forced to sit through all of them.

In the mid-80s, the president is Richard Nixon...still.  Superheroes are not just a bit of the imagination...no, they are real, and in this alternate reality, superheroes are really crime fighters with regular lives, out to take down bad guys when the legal system simply cannot.  A particular bunch of these superheroes have retired when we meet them; in fact, one of them, The Comedian (Richard Dean Morgan) is just sitting at home one night watching TV when he is thrown out of his Manhattan apartment 30 stories to the cold pavement.  A crimefighter who knew and worked with The Comedian, Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley, from "Little Children"), sets out to determine whodunit...and, with the help of past colleagues like Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Rorschach sets out to find the truth.

Told in both the mid-80s present tense and a ton of flashbacks, "Watchmen" takes its time to set up everyone's backstory, even as it picks up mid-flow at the film's start and tries to get us a resolution over the course of about two months within the movie.  That's a lot of ground to cover--the backstory of six characters, the state-of-the-union in its other reality, and the threat of nuclear war with the Russians, the main undercurrent in present time.  It wouldn't surprise me if Zack Snyder (who also directed "300") was told to squeeze the entire graphic novel into one movie, which is cool but generally a bad idea in terms of running time.  As it turns out, "Watchmen" attempts to be all things to all comic fans...it's a sci-fi film, it's got historical context (what IF Nixon hadn't been thrown out of office?), it's an action film, it's a mystery/thriller.  And, oh yeah, it has R-level violence, sex scenes and sex talk, and very objectionable violence against women, both visualized and implied.

Despite all of this, "Watchmen" is generally watchable even as it feels long.  It's kind of cool even if superheroes are becoming a little played out for me; the soundtrack pulls out all the stops for hard rock hits from the 80s.  The special effects are okay (especially if you like watching Dr. Manhattan stroll around naked all film long...you will love blue dong after watching this film), the Doomsday scenario is somewhat interesting, the ending is above average.

For me, it was this mediocrity that was a disappointment.  For example, in The Comedian and Rorschach, the film creates characters that are very interesting...and then, turns them into what I call "The Boba Fett Effect."  The Comedian is a bastard, he is violent, he is a sociopath, he is funny...in essence, he's THE BEST CHARACTER IN THE MOVIE.  And, after dying in the film's first scene (this gives nothing away, since he dies in the film's trailer too), he is shown in another half-dozen flashbacks but just enough to make you think, "Damn, it would be cool to do a movie just about that bastard."  Ditto for Rorschach, who has the film's few laugh-out-loud scenes while terrorizing inmates at a prison mid-film.

The film chooses to make Nite Owl, Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre the film's main characters instead.  Uhh...boring.  Nite Owl and Silk Spectre--along with The Comedian and Rorschach, really--had me and Gordon asking the same question after the film was over:  what are the special powers of these people?  Like, is Silk particularly faster, or stronger, or smarter, than other women?  Or, does she just choose to fight crime because she hates bad people?  The Comedian seems to be a bit stronger than other people, but usually, superheroes don't fight evil with shotguns, flamethrowers and silenced pistols.  And, save for the cool mask that Rorschach wears, why is he special?  I was so baffled about this it has taken me a week to even guess at why this is that.  The film tries to work it like "our players are not SUPER heroes, they are masked crimefighters", but it rolls the crimefighters and those with superhuman powers together as one unit.

But, the bigger question:  does it even matter?  No.  The only two superpowered people in the movie, Dr. Manhattan and Adrian Veidt, are so much crazy-stronger/smarter than everyone else that it makes the rest look silly.  And, why are the two most boring people in the movie, Nite Owl and Silk, taking up so much screen time?  Being hot doesn't mean that you are interesting!  Why do the action scenes suck?  Why are people falling in love with camera tricks like fast-motion throw punch/slow-motion punch hits face/fast-motion kick/slow-motion kick breaks kneecap?  In "300", it was somehow cool; in "Watchmen", it feels like a "Matrix"-style ripoff.

For all the time it took to set everyone up, I felt strangely unconnected with the characters we were forced to follow the most.  If they make a sequel to this film called "Watchmen: Comedian and Rorschach Fuck Shit Up", count me in...otherwise, this film might be worth catching on DVD.  Maybe.

Rating:  Rental

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 03/15/09