Unless you enjoyed the graphic novel, or you’ve boned up a little in advance, you’ll be ill prepared for the spectacularly R-rated moviegoing kick in the nether region you’ll receive once you strap yourself in.
Watchmen does to the normal superhero movies what Heathers did to brat pack flicks. Unless you enjoyed the graphic novel (fanboy is a term I resent; were there Snow Falling on Cedars fanboys?), or you’ve boned up a little in advance, you’ll be ill prepared for the spectacularly R-rated moviegoing kick in the nether region you’ll receive once you strap yourself in. Is there a point to the violence? Yeah, although it doesn’t play as well on screen in 2009 as it does in print in 1985. In fact, it can be an overdramatic, overacted piece of shock-cinema at times. But both fans and non-fans who want a little bit of sociopolitical heft to their mindless action can find their glass more than half full of enjoyment by the time the credits roll.
Watchmen starts with a fight. A masked man bursts into a dark apartment, startling its burly occupant (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, which may be hot to Grey’s Anatomy viewers, although I wouldn’t know) who was just sitting down to enjoy some political television. This is your first clue that something unusual is happening here – we don’t mix our political movies with our superhero ones, typically. Is Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman a Young Republican? You have no idea.
But there’s no time for politics now: a fight is on. With one still-anonymous butt well and truly kicked by an anonymous boot, it is time for one of the best opening credit sequences in modern cinema (didn’t like it? what’s your favorite, then?) as our (anti-?) heros are introduced, and the most iconic images of the mid-20th century are remade to show how they would have happened in Watchmen’s alternate history.
It’s a compelling yet dystopian alternate history, but from what I hear, the real-life 1980s were no picnic. In the fake 1985, we have won the Vietnam War. Richard Nixon is just beginning his fifth term. Multiple generations of masked heros have fought criminals since the thirties, some working directly for the government, others retiring and revealing their identities for monetary gain, while a select few choose to keep their identities and their lives private. Violent crime and materialism are on the rise, and the Cold War is reaching its peak, just like the real 1985.
When an alumnus of the once-united masked crusader band The Watchmen is murdered, it’s up to the only other member who still fights crime, Rorschach, to figure out what’s going on. This sounds very cuddly and typical, but like Heather, Heather, Heather, and Veronica, these are not very nice people and they do not play well with others. This is pretty much the theme of Watchmen, when it comes down to it. On a global political stage, and on a more personal level, it pays to be a controlling jackass, because you pretty much do get what you want. But (the film then asks), is it really worth it?
This is a morally ambiguous superhero movie, is what I’m trying to say, about as morally ambiguous as you’re going to get out of ol’ Hollywood and DC comics. Watchmen is also complicated. Not in a “whose side is everyone on” sort of way as much as a “I can’t remember which character they’re talking about” way. The comic book is 338 pages long, and in virtually none of the panels is only one thing happening. The movie is, like Kate Winslet in Titanic, ample yet not overabundant at 163 minutes. Even the omission of 95% of the entendre-tastic metaphoric content of the graphic novel still leaves plenty of opportunity for things to mean other things, and this may be too much for some.
Typically I would have mentioned other actors by this point, but there’s a ton of them and some of their identities may need to be a secret at the start of the movie, so we might as well skip on to more important movie review topics. Like, for example, I’d feel like I wasn’t doing my job here if I didn’t mention the spectacularly high frequency of wang shots in this movie. Like, we’re talking about a dozen CGI full frontal male scenes. There are literally hundreds of jokes I want to make at this point, but RVANews employs a few folks under the age of 25 and I wouldn’t want to offend their delicate youthful sensibilities. Suffice it to say that if enormous superhero genitals get your motor going, then you’re in luck. I personally wouldn’t know.
For the rest of us, there is another negative: the overacting. Yes it’s a superhero comic book movie, but I saw Iron Man and Dark Knight last year, and now I have high standards. When it comes to Watchmen, though, the aforementioned Jeffrey Dean Morgan is pretty much the only character 100% at home in his own (pretend) skin.
All in all, it’s an enjoyable, intense piece of theater, but only if you’re prepared to turn your brain off in some ways but full throttle in others. If giving benefits of doubts to superhero movies is your thing, then by all means give it a shot. If you read the graphic novel and enjoyed it, you’ll have a hard time being disappointed by much. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about the overacting, the length, and the superhero schlong.