Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Love it or hate it, just WATCH it
Going into Watchmen, I knew that whether I liked it or not, it would be interesting. I did like it quite a bit, as it turns out, but I'm still not even sure how to describe it. Wildly uneven? Well... kind of. Overlong? Definitely. Visually stunning? For sure. Badly acted? In some cases... YES. (But is that on purpose? I certainly hope so, or else whoever cast the horrendous Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre II should probably be fired.) Adapted from Alan Moore's seminal graphic novel by director Zack Snyder, Watchmen tells the story of former superheroes called back into action when someone starts killing them off. It's set against the backdrop of an alternate reality 1985 with Nixon serving his third term and having won the Vietnam war with the aid of Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a naked, glowing blue atomically powered hero. The opening credits give us a glimpse of American history peppered with appearances by heroes; one of them even knocks off JFK as part of his latter career as a spook. To say the movie is ambitious is an understatement. Even if you hate it-- and while I didn't, I can understand how some might-- you'd have to admit it's pretty unique. It's hiiiiighly stylized (which mostly works but I could do with less slow mo in action movies like... forever), brilliantly designed (the costumes should win an Oscar), and ambitiously plotted, full of Big Ideas and some very dark elements. (This film is as gory as your average horror flick and one image in particular might inspire a nightmare or two.) Several of the characters are pretty unforgettable. Jackie Earle Haley embodies the over-the-top nihilist Rorschach with the graveliest voice this side of Christian Bale's Batman. His misadventures are some of the sickest and most unsettling in the movie. (His narration, though, is so over-the-top film noir grim that it made me laugh.) Meanwhile, Crudup's Dr. Manhattan is so disconnected from humanity that he splits himself into threes so that he can simultaneously screw his girlfriend Silk Spectre II while tinkering with nuclear power. He talks in a detached monotone that's as funny as it is effective. His origin story, an archetypal "accident grants superpowers" tale with deeper-than-average emotional resonance, was one of my favorite sequences in the film. Jeffrey Dean Morgan's gritty and cynical Comedian is conflicted and fascinating, though I wish we knew a bit more about him and in particular his tempestuous relationship with Akerman's mom, the first Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino). Patrick Wilson's Batman-ish Night Owl II is less compelling, but as played by such a talented actor he emerges as one of Watchmen's most earnest and real protagonists. The love triangle between him, Silk Spectre II, and Dr. Manhattan is the emotional core of the movie, and it's a testament to the talents of Crudup, Wilson, and Snyder that it still works despite the sub-soap opera emoting of Akerman. (And just so you don't think I'm harping on the poor woman, I will say that she *looks* phenomenal.) Also worth noting is the enigmatic Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), a dandy-ish business tycoon and the supposed "Smartest Man in the World," although I didn't feel like we got enough insight into his psyche. I was intrigued by hints that Ozy is gay (we even see a file on his hard drive labeled "Boys"), although I found his role to be rather stereotypical and perhaps even homophobic. (After 300, it's probably safe to say Snyder has some issues with the gays. But his flair for male nudity isn't likely to scare too many away, in any case.) Watchmen is compelling but fairly meandering and given over to cheesy dialogue and arch performances; the Nixon impersonator was fairly distracting and other costars, like Gugino, who spends most of the film in bad aging makeup, perform as though starring in Watchmen: The Dinner Theater Experience. Ultimately, though, it's a complex and intriguing movie, and I wish more movies, superhero-related or otherwise, were this creative and daring. I will definitely have to see it again.