Watchmen

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It's no secret.  I'm a sucker for super-hero movies.  The heroes don't even have to be fully "good guys," either.  Take Hitch or Iron Man, for example.  But if one enjoys heroic triumph, why not add a few super powers?

Soooo... the movie drought ends with "Watchmen."  I have not read the 12-issue graphic novel series, but only seen the movie trailers.   These certainly had a dark look to it, but no more so than your average Gotham City or Matrix underworld.  And the watchmen_ver18characters could as easily be Nextgen X-Men, by looking at them.   So, why not?  Bring on the ICEE and popcorn!

It turns out, there are reasons not to watch.   This is a movie for fans of the graphic novel.  It may otherwise appeal to teenagers who don't have enough angst and negativity in their lives, but for the non-fan watchers, there's just not enough heroic about it to maintain interest.

This wasn't meant to be a story of the heroic.  It's meant to test our assumptions about right vs. wrong, about the cost of justice, about man's penchant for evil.   "V for Vendetta" worked this theme successfully clearly defining black and white, though testing sympathies to each side.  This story thrives on the gray muck that lies between the poles. 

A narration sets the tone:

"Rorschach's Journal. November 12th, 1985: Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face. The streets are extended gutters and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout "Save us!"... and I'll whisper "no."

You get the picture, and that picture is the tone of the whole movie.

Computer generated images can help visualize a story in ways not otherwise possible, but they can't develop character.  That takes careful writing and time. Yet, despite ample defining moments, there's a sense that each character requires more definition.  We don't fully understand motivations, or, when we think we do, we need more to confirm it.  

A span of over 2 hours and 30 minutes is ample time to define characters.  We get some good hints, but they still fall short.  You might also think that this would be sufficient time for, hmm..., an overarching plot that hovers with suspense, action and tension.  Sadly, it doesn't.   Instead, we meet characters that we never really come to care about and follow occasional droplets of a plot that we must assume is much better realized in the fullness of the graphic novel.   

I won't say that it's not worth watching, but I can't recommend it.  A sense of relief at the conclusion is not a good thing.  Unless the bad guy got killed.

But the bad guys are everyone, and if not, the good guys are powerless to overcome them.  Deconstructing the hero, remember? 

Walking out of the theatre, we have feelings of: 

1) Escape from the brutality that overwhelms the daily double of gore and violence (Watchmen is a graphic novel, after all).  

2) Rest from trying to make sense of the metaphysical arguments that are hinted at but never won.  After all the metaphysical discussion, it doesn't really matter and its shallowness belies its better placement within a novel format where it can be more fully communicated and understood. 

3) Freedom from the irritation that comes from too few moments with characters such as Rorschach that could carry an entire movie, while watching a movie that one hopes will end while not caring how.

4) Release.  As in, a much needed bathroom break.

It's not bad. It's... okay.  The special effects are fantastic.  The music is often superb.  Despite the "suspension of belief" that comes with the genre, it holds the imagination.  The altered telling of 20th century American history works as both an adequate background for the plot and in establishing the idea of generational Watchmen who look over its citizens. 

But it doesn't satisfy.  Imagine "The Lord of the Rings" told within one movie.  There's a sense of incompleteness, and, ultimately, it remains a very long and slow paced movie.

On to interesting quotes:

Reality:

Adrian Veidt/Ozymandius:  "It doesn't take a genius to see the world has problems."

Edward Blake/The Comedian: "No, but it takes a room full of morons to think they're small enough for them to handle."

Metaphysical (and not surprisingly, lengthy):

Doctor Manhattan: "Thermo-dynamic miracles... events with odds against so astronomical they're effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing.

And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter... Until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air to gold... that is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermo-dynamic miracle.

Laurie Juspeczyk/Silk Spectre: But...if me, my birth, if that's a thermodynamic miracle... I mean, you could say that about anybody in the world!.

Dr. Manhattan: Yes. Anybody in the world. ..But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget... I forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from the another's vantage point, as if new, it may still take our breath away. Come...dry your eyes. For you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly.

It seems difficult, if not tacitly incorrect, to term a statistical unlikelihood or anomaly as a "a miracle."  This is a convenient sidestep for those who prefer the random to an actual cause, but a miracle without an author is unworthy of its name.  

Rating: 2 Stars out of 5

Now, where's that "The Incredibles" DVD?

2 comments :

  1. When I saw the teasers for this movie, my first thought was that they were trying another 'Mystery Men'style movie without the laughes. Then I saw the trailers and thought, geez, can't we even get some big names to lure us in to this dark bleak world? Come on, we are in a recession, lighten up. We need a laugh, not more drama to worry about.

    Needless to say, I won't be watching it. You want to see a good movie? Check out 'Penelope' with Christina Ricci and James Macavoy. It was quite funny and sweet and just a little corny as well.

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  2. *sigh* I was looking forward to this movie... I guess I will wait until it is streamable over our TiVo via Netflix. MAN! I am bummed now...

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