Watchmen is not as much a movie as it is a nearly-three hour treatise on post-modernism in the superhero genre. It’s two hours of back story followed by 45 minutes of story.
I use the word ‘story’ there because the movie unfolds with barely a causal event. A writing prof taught me that story was “the king died and then the queen died”, while a plot was “the king dies, and then the queen died of grief”. Because of the movie’s dense exposition and constant flashbacks, we see Watchmen’s story unfold around the characters, instead of them making the plot happen.
This makes for a remarkably dull movie. The film’s themes–is vigilantism an effective replacement for organized justice?, is the survival of the many worth the sacrifice of the few?, how does the threat of nuclear annihilation change our behaviour?– were pretty revolutionary in 1986, when the comic book was released, but they’re utterly familiar to comic readers and movie watchers today. That’s to writer Alan Moore’s credit–the comics are kind of a Citizen Kane for the industry. Watchmen have been so influential and imitated that the originals have lost some of its effectiveness.
There’s a lot to like in the movie. It looks great, and the cast is refreshingly free of household names (save for the excellent Billy Crudup as Dr. Manhattan, who spends most of his scenes nude and glowing blue). It’s also intensely violent–we’re talking Sin City in full colour. Some of the dialogue is clunky, but I imagine we can blame that on adherence to the original comics.
The movie also takes itself way too seriously. I’ve said it before, but (with rare exceptions) great movies always find ways to make us laugh. This ought to be doubly true when the film’s about a bunch of vigilantes running around in latex.
Metacritic gives the film a 56, which feels about right to me. There was plenty of eye candy (beginning with Malin Akerman, if she could lose the indie bangs), and some entertaining tropes, but too often I felt bored and fidgety. What did you think?
Photo by TCM Hitchhiker.