The critics have spoken, and most are underwhelmed and put off by Watchmen: So far, it’s notched a score of 49 (out of 100) on Metacritic, and a 64% at Rotten Tomatoes. That’s called a failing grade.
Yes, “there are … flashes of visual brilliance,” as Peter Travers accurately observes in his review for Rolling Stone.”(Creator Alan) Moore recalled his four years of toil on the 12-issue DC Comics series as ‘slam-dancing with a bunch of rhinos.’ That description also fits watching the movie, which stumbles and sometimes falls on its top-heavy ambitions.”
But Anthony Lane, the far more insightful critic for The New Yorker, gets to the heart of what’s wrong with this bombastic, overcooked turkey: “The problem is that (director Zack) Snyder, following Moore, is so insanely aroused by the look of vengeance, and by the stylized application of physical power, that the film ends up twice as fascistic as the forces it wishes to lampoon.” Lane’s review.
Below is my review.
Stars Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Matthew Goode, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Carla Gugino, Matt Frewer. Directed by Zack Snyder. Written by David Hayter and Alex Tse. 160 minutes. Rated R.
Call me crazy. But I’m guessing that reading the graphic novel Watchmen is a prerequisite for fully appreciating the lovingly and expertly photographed brutality of the film adaptation.
On display: A prisoner’s arms are lopped off by a chainsaw; a child murderer’s skull is repeatedly hacked with an axe; vicious dogs fight over the remains of a little girl’s leg; a group of thugs are blown apart in a nightclub, their guts exploding and then left dripping from the ceiling; a female superhero’s face is bloodied and her body bruised during an attempted rape. Not to mention the repeat shots of one motion-capture character’s blue-tinted, dangling, uh, appendage.
Those are among the startling, strikingly ugly images that creep across the screen in Watchmen, directed by Zack Snyder (300) and written by David Hayter and Alex Tse with an overabundance of reverence for the original work, acclaimed for its complexity, smarts and use of imagination.
Its author, Alan Moore, probably won’t appreciate all that effort — Moore, who has called his comic book “unfilmable” and disassociated himself from the movie, said, in response to an update on the production, “Do we need any more sh—y films in this world?”
That’s a good question to ask about Watchmen, as Snyder’s skewed-superhero movie, at 160 minutes, is overlong, loud, grim, often nonsensical and willing to place beloved pop, rock and folk songs — Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence” — into odd settings, benefitting neither the songs nor the film.
Aside from hardcore fans of the graphic novel, and 18-to-25-year-old guys looking for nearly three hours’ worth of extreme violence and raunchy sex at the local cineplex, who, exactly, was this movie made for?
The credit sequence, following an impressively photographed fight marked by whooshing sound effects and capped with a spectacular slow-motion crash through plate glass and a short fall from a high-rise, suggests good things to come.
Snyder unfurls a series of still shots and clips that track the progress of the Minutemen, a group of crime-fighters, from their beginnings in the 1940s — when they organized in response to masked gangs of villains — through the present, 1985.
The story’s alternative history has it that the U.S. won the Vietnam War, and Nixon (Robert Wisden), having won a third term in 1976, is still in office. The Watchmen, the Minutemen’s superhero successors, are experiencing various degrees of dysfunction.
Although the plot spins off in a dozen or so rather incongruous directions, the story halfway focuses on a central mystery: Who killed the Comedian, born Eddie Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the trigger-happy, woman-abusing least likable of the Watchmen, and are his old colleagues next on the list?
Potential suspects include all of the superfriends, er, superfrenemies. On the nice-guy end of the spectrum is Nite Owl II, known to his intimates as Dan (Patrick Wilson), an aw-shucks fellow who spends much time taking off his Clark Kent glasses and wiping them clean, and occasionally goes down to his Bat Cave-like basement to admire his old, rubbery, Batman-like costume.
The object of his affection is Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), better known as Laurie, bodacious brunette who enjoys sex with two superheroes. Her most recent main squeeze is that aforementioned blue man, Dr. Manhattan (variously, Billy Crudup and a digital representation of the actor), a fit and trim, wisdom-dispensing fellow who practices nudism; he became an all-powerful being after a terrible accident in a physics lab, and went on to singlehandedly defeat the Vietcong.
Suicide is painless, apparently, for one unfortunate character in the film, but exposition isn’t, as there are two more Watchmen to watch out for.
Rorschach (Jackie Earl Haley, reuniting with Little Children cast member Wilson) is a psycho killer with a bizarre, ever-changing mask and a raspy voice about halfway between Clint Eastwood and the Batman of The Dark Knight; both films, as well as 300, are products of L.A.’s Legendary Pictures. Adrian, also known as Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), is a handsome dressed-for-success guy who prefers an icy HQ and, like the others, may be holding a secret or two.
Watchmen, making liberal use of flashbacks, follows its characters to various homes, haunts and hideouts, and hurls headlong toward a conclusion regarding potential nuclear annihilation.
Along the way, there are sequences set on Mars, at a burning apartment building, and in a prison. There, the creepy, indestructible Rorschach, intensely disliked by the facility’s inmates, gets off one of the script’s best lines: “None of you seem to understand. I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me.”
Many viewers will experience a sensation similar to that experienced by Rorschach’s fellow prisoners: Is early release an option?
A variation of the above review appears on the web site of Jacksonville paper Folio Weekly.