No Joking Around
Is the universe “one big joke,” as an important character in Watchman proclaims? I hope not, but how I wish this movie contained at least some humor to temper its bleak outlook. Still, Zack Snyder’s version of the graphic novel sensation bowled me over with its fascinating visual style and exciting set pieces. I have the feeling Snyder shares Orson Welles' attitude about filmmaking -- which he summed up by exclaiming, "This is the biggest electric train set a boy ever had!"
Set in a bizarre 1985 world, the film depicts extremely hard times for a group of costumed superheroes who’ve been outlawed by Richard Nixon -- despite helping him win the Vietnam War. When one of the group is murdered, Rorschach/Walter Kovacs (Jackie Earle Haley) becomes concerned and starts to investigate. He contacts former Watchmen, including Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup), Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), Nite Owl II/Dan Drieberg (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Spectre II/Laurie Jupiter (Malin Ackerman). Finding the answer to this mystery forms the main story line here, but philosophical/political issues also receive intense emphasis. For example: Is life meaningless? Does the end justify the means? Should you destroy millions of lives to save billions of lives?
In flashbacks, we learn how the Comedian/Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) became obsessed with violence. Now, each of the other Watchmen faces problems of his/her own. Because of an incredible accident, Dr. Manhattan has been changed into a glowing blue godlike creature with power over physical matter -- but he’s growing more and more distant, which causes distress for Silk Spectre II, his current girlfriend. Ozymandias seems more interested in his business ventures. Nite Owl II worries about his attraction to Silk Spectre II. And Rorschach wants to wreak revenge against all bad guys. Can this motley crew work together to solve the murder mystery -- and, in the process, prevent a nuclear war between Russia and the United States?
All the Watchmen actors give solid performances, but Billy Crudup (Big Fish) stands out for me. His mesmerizing voice lends Dr. Manhattan a necessary otherworldly quality -- plus the motion-capture technique applied here makes his character quite unique and spellbinding.
Filmmaker Snyder directs this ambitious project with a stylistic approach similar to his brilliant work on 300, another highly artistic offering. Intriguing cinematography, stunning set design, and remarkable special effects contribute to the amazing look of the film -- despite its dark themes. Fortunately, unlike my experience with The Dark Knight, I had no trouble seeing what was happening on screen, even though I refused to watch a couple of excessively violent scenes. The movie’s musical background also surprised and pleased me, especially Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable.”
While not my favorite superhero movie (that’s Spider-Man), Watchmen provides a different and interesting take on this popular genre. If you’re a non-squeamish viewer, it’s definitely worth seeing.
(Released by Warner Bros. Pictures and rated "R" for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language.)
For more information about Watchmen, go to the Internet Movie Data Base or Rotten Tomatoes website.