Watch the Watchmen. If you want.

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.

watchmenposterfinalWatchmen 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.

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Justin Morgan

Justin Morgan knows that there is no problem an Excel spreadsheet, a sweet tea, and a pass to the tight end won’t solve.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Am I the only person who thinks Alan Moore is crappy?

  2. The concept of this movie exhausts me.

  3. Matt on said:

    Ross: Yes

    Val: me too

    Here’s a shorter review:
    The Watchmen film was the best Watchmen film that could have ever been made. But it’s like watching the best film adaptation of “The Catcher in The Rye”. You’ll say, “That was good” with a confused look on your face and then realize it may have needed to just stay a book. I mean, you wouldn’t pitch a script for ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ or ‘Ulysses’ would you?

  4. I liked the movie, but would have liked it a lot more if I had not read the book first, mainly because much of it seems pretty empty as it tries to fit everything in. That said, it’s still fascinating to see what they did with the material.

    It’s also fascinating to read how critics are dealing with the nudity. Apparently it makes people laugh or embarrassed or something.

  5. Tim on said:

    Ross – I didn’t think the graphic novel was that great either. Regarding Moore, I liked The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen but largely because it just a frivolous yarn that wasn’t weighed down with heavy handed socio-political themes masquerading as profound/prophetic insights. I haven’t bothered with much else of Moore’s stuff. I believe he produced a work of erotica involving the female characters from various fairy tales and children’s stories. I’m sure there are some who will view that as meaningfully and wonderfully transgressive but it sounded creepy and distasteful to me. His decision to take styling tips from Gregori Rasputin further demonstrates his questionable judgment.

  6. @Tim FINALLY! I saw V for Vendetta and thought to myself “oh man this movie was pretty generic, I’ll bet the book is way better.” But alas it was not, it was drudgery to get through. Watchmen felt the same to me. So I think I’ll wait until DVD.

    But now I am reading Sandman and only two books in is already way more enthralling than either of the Moore things I’ve read.

  7. I’m reading Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s “From Hell” and so far it’s amazing and very complex. Probably won’t see that movie, but the book is great. Full disclosure, the only part of Brick that I like is the puzzle section, so naturally I’m way into Moore. Puzzles!

  8. Tim on said:

    I agree on all counts. The Sandman series is great.

  9. For the record I believe that the sex scene in the ship was MEANT to be funny and a lot of people think that the movie is cheesy because they took this one scene seriously.
    They use the dramatic sex (both in the comic and the movie) as a mirror to reflect the absurdity of adults dressing in tights and galevanting around in public.


  11. Blue wang people sound scary! I hope I never meet a blue wang person.

  12. I wasn’t that into the graphic novel, either, but I thought the casting was great. Twenty years later the meaning of the story doesn’t have much of an impact, and I still zoned out during the same parts of the story that I skimmed in the book. Also, Silk Spectre doesn’t wear a mask. Great reuse of the “Forest Gump” soundtrack, though.

  13. I was told by Justin, “You will like this because of the blue wang.” WTF guys.

  14. Kara on said:

    This movie was pretty awful. The acting was terrible, I don’t think the plot would make any sense if you hadn’t read the book, and it was completely gratuitous. I’m not sure what the point was in making a violent book even more violent in the film. We were about ready to leave during the axe scene, and sort of wish we had.

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