Written by David Haytor and Alex Tse
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Billy Crudup, Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Matthew Goode and Malin Akerman
Laurie Jupiter: You have to stop this. Everyone will die.
Dr. Manhattan: And the universe won’t even notice.
Up until last year, I have to admit I had never heard of WATCHMEN. Apparently, I was too far removed from the realm of the graphic novel, formerly known as the comic book universe, to have heard of one of the most influential works of all time. This doesn’t surprise me really as I’m not that kind of geek. (I am a geek, just not that kind.) Still, it seems to me that a lot of the supposed die-hard’s out there only really learned about WATCHMEN around the same time as I did. I know that isn’t the case for everyone but you would think that a classic of this supposed magnitude would have worked its way into the pop culture lexicon somewhat deeper and earlier than it did if it was truly that important. Still, here it is now, smothered in all of its hype and lore, and the question is, does it matter as much as they’d like us to think it does? More importantly, is WATCHMEN worth watching?
The answer is that yes, WATCHMEN is at least worth a gander. It is a superhero movie of epic proportion, clocking in at somewhere close to three hours. It spends a great deal of that time demystifying the superhero image while delicately balancing that with maintaining the very same conventions it is trying to tear down. Tricky? Yes; but Zack Snyder, the freshly minted “visionary” director of 300, performs his own super feat by making it all fit together and maintaining a strong and mysterious intrigue almost throughout. The term, “visionary”, is used pretty lightly these days and, while I’m not ready to shower Snyder in accolades just yet, I will say that he has a good eye and, at the very least, a unique, if not bloody, vision. WATCHMEN, no matter how much or how little meaning can be derived from it, is nothing if not visually exciting. There is sometimes so much happening on the screen that you know you’ve missed at least one tiny detail that would have further filled the frame and satisfied your insatiable geek hunger pains.
Snyder’s accomplishment is only more impressive considering there isn’t very much of a plot to hold the film together. It is the mid-80’s and Richard Nixon has just entered an unprecedented third term as the President of the United States when the country is on the brink of the Cold War with Russia. A band of masked avengers, known as The Watchmen, have been forced to disband after the public turned on them and it would appear as though the former crime fighters are being hunted down and picked off. This is the set up but there is very little build past that. WATCHMEN meanders through vignettes about each major character that are engaging on their own but don’t serve to move anything further along. It isn’t as though this goes unnoticed either; I found myself occasionally removed and wondering if anything was actually going to happen. Unfortunately, when the film does find its focus is when it becomes much less effective. It practically plunges into cliché in the film’s final act – from trapped screaming children in a burning building to secret lairs in the arctic – leaving me wishing it was going nowhere again.
It’s not easy being a superhero (or green from what I've heard). And what is a superhero anyway? It’s just another guy dressed up in a silly uniform trying to find his purpose in the world before he comes home to a cold can of beans and a copy of Hustler to bring with as he crawls alone into bed at the end of the night. The Watchmen are just men (and women) after all. And try as it has so very hard for oh so many months now, WATCHMEN is just another comic book movie and not the genre-defining masterpiece it touts itself to be.