More than anything, I was impressed by The Watchmen. I read the graphic novel twice. The story is so complex that distilling it into a movie is like trying to capture the essence of the Sears Tower in the form of a song. No matter how beautiful the song, it cannot compare to the impressive stature of the tower. The most you can hope for is that the song is flattering. And that is the best thing you can say about the movie. It was executed well enough that it will encourage more people to read the graphic novel.
The movie is a song about a tower.
The Watchmen is set in an alternative 1985 that has costumed superheroes. The United States and the Soviet Union stand on the brink of nuclear war. Thanks to superhero intervention in Vietnam, the U.S. is led by a fifth-term President Nixon, who is now a character in two of the biggest movies to come out in the last year.
(Turns out we still have Nixon to kick around. That is what you get for lying, cheating and shredding the Constitution. Does he run a dirty campaign and cover up Watergate if he knows he will be the object of ridicule forever? Maybe he doesn’t. I hope future presidents are paying attention. Your legacies will be written in Final Draft.)
The protagonist of The Watchmen is an uncompromising masked vigilante named Rorschach. When another superhero, The Comedian, is murdered, Rorschach investigates. His investigation forces him to cross paths with the remaining, now retired, superheroes. Rorschach moves the story forward by violently pursuing truth and justice. Every new clue uncorks his trademark, “Hurm.”
“Hurm,” is how I felt after the movie. I learned that this movie could be made, which is a credit to director Zack Snyder. I also learned that in order for the movie to work on every level, Snyder needed to make the Rorschachian demand that the three-hour-plus director’s cut be released in theaters. The film’s two-hour-and-forty-five minute running time, unbelievably, does not do the story justice.
Snyder is so talented and the movie already is so well-executed that I am confident the DVD director’s cut will be much more satisfying.
(This photo has nothing to do with my previous point. Just thought you all might like to see a picture of the woman I am going to marry someday. Photo by Kody Wynne Photography and Design/Flickr.)
The movie manages to work on many levels. The Doctor Manhattan back story was fantastic. It is when the movie gelled. The relationship between Silk Spectre (Laurie) and Nite Owl (Dan), which I expected to be boring, managed to be funny, interesting and hot. I loved seeing Mickey from Seinfeld (Danny Woodburn) make an appearance as an underworld boss. As for my favorite part of the film, I cheered the scene in which Rorschach killed a would-be jailhouse assassin and screamed, “You people don’t understand. I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me!”
(That quote also represents how Carlos, Sean and I feel about Mike’s role on the podcast. We are locked in there with him.)
I think the movie suffered from too much Manhattan in every conceivable way. I would gladly trade a few Manhattan scenes for more Comedian and Rorschach. Regarding the Manhattan character, I think the guy coming out of the movie before us said it best when he said, “Too much floppy blue guy.” Manhattan’s private parts – or part? the frank was visible, but not the beans – were on display for much of the movie. I thought this was a strange choice that led to more strangeness.
For instance, during a scene in which floppy blue guy might have become hard blue guy, Manhattan conveniently wore tights. Trust me, I was glad, but it was weird. It was like the producers felt the need to protect our delicate sensibilities from the sight of a glowing blue wang. This is a movie in which a man’s skull is split with a butcher’s knife, but no giant Smurf penis for us.
Just keep the guy in tights the whole movie.
I did not like the ending. I could explain why, but I am approaching 700 words, which is the length of my column. If this leaves you wanting more, now you know how I felt when I left the theater.
(For my complete thoughts on the movie, as well as those of Mike, Carlos, Sean and guest Kevin Ford, listen to soon-to-be-posted “The Watchmen” episode of The Second Column podcast.)