Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Watchmen; fantasy / thriller / drama, USA, 2009; D: Zack Snyder, S: Patrick Wilson, Malin Åkerman, Jackie Earle Haley, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Carla Gugino

The Watchmen - among them "The Comedian", Sally Jupiter and the blue Dr. Manhattan who actually has true superpowers after an accident in a power plant - are a group of superheroes who helped the US win the Vietnam War, causing such changes in the 80s like Richard Nixon being re-elected for president five times and Soviet Union constantly trying to match its force with the US. Still, the government makes masked heroism illegal, so they have to adapt to living a normal life. After one of them, "The Comedian", gets assassinated, ex-Watchmen Daniel, Rorschach, Laurie and Dr. Manhattan discover that their colleague Adrien is behind it all. Adrien initiates a huge explosion that wipes out a large part of New York in order to put the blame on Dr. Manhattan so that the US and the Soviet Union would stop their rivalry and unite against a common "new enemy". Dr. Manhattan accepts such a fate when he finds out it brought peace to the World.

Definitely not for Spiderman fans: despite some heavy handed moments, "Watchmen" is a grand adaptation of Alan Moore's comic-book with the same title - that was even included in TIME's list of 100 greatest novels - which surprises through its unbelievable twist of superhero cliches, including an untypically mature dramatic presentation. Moore practically gave a lesson to Marvel Comics - if you ever wondered how Batman or Superman would have reacted to Vietnam War, you can find the answer in this alternative history flick: in one sequence, Watchmen superhero Dr. Manhattan uses his superpowers to kill the Viet Cong, thus assuring US a victory in the aforementioned war! This isn't the only realistic perspective of superhero life, and the movie queues abundantly ideas which can only be rarely found in such a genre ("superhero" sex; retired "superheroes"; family secrets...). The already legendary opening sequence is the best of its kind of the decade, brilliantly clever both summing up the alternative history of the US - instead of creating Marilyn Diptych, Andy Warhol presents a Diptych of one of the Watchmen, Night Owl; Neil Armstrong's landing on the Moon is filmed by Dr. Manhattan; Bernie Boston's Flower power photograph shows hippies putting a flower into the army's gun, but they fire nonetheless... - and featuring a perfect song, Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changing", that captures the zeitgeist of change, resulting in synergy last time seen in Anderson's "Rushmore" that showed a whole list of Max's extracurricular activities in one minute.

The first half of the movie is excellent precisely because of such refreshing dose of subversive originality, but the second one is by far not that harmonious, evidently falling itself into superhero cliches it avoided at the start (invincible good guy, explosions, "casual" violence...). The explicit violence in the infamous jail sequence is almost cheap (and unnecessary, since it was not as brutal as in the comic-book), the storyline is visibly too condensed to fit the running time of the film, some scenes are simply pulled off in a bad way (the pointless dream of a nuclear explosion; the odd choice of song "Hallelujah"...) or rushed whereas a couple of ideas were pretentious. However, it is still better to have a Mercedes with a dent than a perfect Trabant. If you think the Joker from "The Dark Knight" was a complex character, observe Rorschach, "The Comedian" or Daniel - their dialogues wonder far away into the spheres of philosophy ("Since the beginning of its existence, humanity has worked on its own destruction"). Only towards the end does the movie return back to its right tracks and allows for a bigger picture, a giant essay about manipulation, integrity, principle, idealism vs. reality, left vs. ritgh wing, free will and sacrifice.



J Luis Rivera said...

I agree, I think it's far from perfect, but it is perhaps the best "Watchmen" adaptation that could had been done. And that's something to be grateful.

Marin Mandir said...

Yeah, some moments were a mess, I admit it, but this is one of those movies that begs the following question: are you going to concentrate at the flaws or the virtues? And I decided to look at the virtues. I acknowledge the flaws, but it would be such a huge loss to let them spoil the entire experience for me. The opening seuqence with that song The Times They are a-Changing alone is great.

J Luis Rivera said...

Indeed. Snyder sure knows how to make a memorable title sequence.