Saturday, July 25, 2009

Watchmen

Erin and I just finished watching Watchmen. His review was succinct: "Well, that sucked." I do not exactly beg to differ, but I will throw more words at the thing.

It is based in the weird conceit of superheroes in a real sort of world. Just try. The chorus is: human all too human, ultra cynical version. Comix deserve this sort of attention and consideration, because so much of the malarkey of comix goes by without criticism. Like, Superboy once split 2 planets in half, because one had half destroyed by fire, so his cure was to merge the good half of another planet with the good half of the one he wanted to save. The scale of that is ridiculous, am I right?

I do not really want to recount the plot of Watchmen, it fetches far without a lot of cred. The story resides in an alternate history in which Nixon remains president for several terms, just imagine. We are offered a lot of squirrelly caricatures of Nixon and others of that era. On the plus side, the soundtrack has some nice artifacts from the 60s to the 80s (movie was set in 1985). This is all secondary to the convolutions of character interplay between the superheroes. In this, the story reminds me of Jonathan Lethem's “Super Goat Man”, except these heroes have clear powers. The recent Batman also comes to mind, too, even to the gruff whisper of Rorschach (a la the Dark Knight himself).

The movie is spectacularly, even lusciously, violent. It turns all that ka-pow of comix to its logical limit. Might as well admit the damage that superheroes could do.

Like Dark Knight, Watchmen revels in the possibilities of superpowers, that superheroes would be no more morally pristine than you or me. And the question of why Superman et al. would bother with bank robbers when the spectre of war, etc. Dr Manhattan, the glowing blue bundle of energy (he looks like a particularly buff (steroidal) Academy Award), ends the Vietnam War by grimly slaughtering everything in his path. Which is a logical endpoint to superpowers.

The movie is three hours long, owing to the tendency of many of the SHs to soliloquize. Dr Manhattan does it just standing there, whereas Rorschach at least is voiceover, with action going on. These speeches are staid exercises in cynical, nihilistic viewpoint, really just flouncy cries for attention. Watchmen wants some seriousness to survive thru the malarkey but chokes it with a reliance on comic book surface.

I never read the comic, tho I think I may have it around here. I like turning superheroes on their end, but this is a rough attempt. There is considerable backstory implied, some of it ridiculous. The central female, whose moniker I forget, turns out, we discover, to be the daughter of The Comedian, who raped her SH mother. The Comedian himself, he never does one clean superhero act, not even in his vaunted youth. He is hard to fit into the story. The others, even Rorschach, who is a psycho, seem to have managed some superheroism.

The result of all this, I feel, is over extended trash. I mean trash in the positive sense, but still. The stultifying speeches soften whatever edge that was possible, so that even the looniness of the characters is dried out. Alas. I suspect the comic would work better. I do not know if The Dark Knight could have been a source for this film, but there are similarities. Instead of the Joker at the center, tho, we have the two drippiest SHs, The Owl and that aforementioned 2nd generation SH.
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