Thursday, March 5, 2009
Flawed heroes, brutal action and a blue guy
During the course of "Watchmen," the two-hour and 43 minute adaptation of a graphic novel by Alan Moore, a convict has his arms sawed off and a giant blue superhero walks around naked. But wait! There's more! Women in leather prance through dystopian debris, and real-life figures such as JFK and Richard Nixon -- played by actors, of course -- show up for cameos. Director Zack Snyder tries to fill every second of "Watchmen," and the result is something akin to creative glut.
"Watchmen" reportedly sticks close to Moore's story, which seems to take a step backward every time it inches forward, crawling its way through the main plot while dropping a variety of back stories in its wake. As various jaded heroes try to save the world from nuclear annihilation, Snyder ("300") fills in background on each of them.
We learn, for example, how a character called The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) treated women. Judging by the movie's opening -- The Comedian is heaved through the plate glass window of a skyscraper -- he wasn't exactly building a lot of good relationship karma.
We also discover that Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) had a bad childhood, and has become cynical and uncompromising in his pursuit of raw justice. Rorschach, who wears a mask composed of ink blots, narrates the movie in a noir style that's as pungent as a package of dead fish on a crowded subway. Geez. I'm starting to sound like the movie.
We also learn about the relationship between Silk Spectre (Malin Ackerman) and Doctor Manhattan (Billy Crudup) and Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson). Doctor Manhattan is blue-skinned super-powered giant with a habit of walking around without clothes. (See blog entry entitled: "He's big! He's blue! He's naked!")
Don't bother filling out your scorecard. What you need to know is that a variety of known and semi-known actors play tarnished heroes, miserable souls who wander through a decaying world spouting pulp dialogue and looking clinically depressed.
The movie is so committed to comic-book eclecticism that it even throws in a visit to Mars; the Red Planet, by the way, has seldom looked redder.
Snyder opens the movie with a clever barrage, but "Watchmen" too often curdles into an overly dense mixture of adolescent fantasy, garbled metaphysics and visual razzle-dazzle. A plot of sorts begins in the '60s, and soon turns history on its ear. It seems that the U.S. won the Vietnam War. Does that bring peace? Nope, the U.S. worries that the Soviets want to engage in a nuclear showdown, bringing about the doomsday that looms large in so many comic-book series.
Or something like that. I qualify because the nuances of the "Watchmen" plot may reveal themselves only to aficionados, and I'm definitely not one of them.
Of course, there's more to "Watchmen," much more. If you're of a certain mind -- and I'm not entirely sure what kind of mind that might be -- you'll enjoy parts of "Watchmen," which tries to redeem its nihilism with a half-baked philosophical ending that touches on profoundly unoriginal questions about whether the means justify the ends. No problem, there; I only wish that Snyder had used his "super" cinematic skills to power this strange and bloated movie toward a speedier conclusion.