Watchmen (2009) Warner Bros.
2 hrs. 43 mins.
Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jackie Earl Haley, Billy Cudrup, Patrick Wilson, Malin Akerman, Matthew Goode
Directed by: Zack Snyder
MPAA Rating: R
Rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)
We have arrived at the challenging age in cinema where sardonically bleak and cynical overtones have somehow considerably shaped the way we appreciate sophisticated action-packed superhero sagas. Previously, the arrestingly visual The Dark Knight captured the pure essence of a fierce fantasy that bleeds layers of ferocious forethought in its captivating confection. Consequently the action-adventure genre-particularly superhero vehicles-have grown up beyond the tenacious technological touch-ups and over-the-top characterizations that breed invincibility and doses of flashy insolence. Now, action-oriented fantasies possess a legitimate black soul to accompany its quest for a complex psyche at the expense of the spellbound moviegoer.
In director Zack Snyder’s much-anticipated horrific yet absorbingly titillating Watchmen we are treated to the imaginative scope of decadence, disillusionment and destruction of the human spirit wallowing in disbelief and desperation. For that visionary sense of doomsday deliciousness, Watchmen is a caustic continuation of resilient movie actioners that penetrate the nerve psychologically. Snyder, known for his artistic and innovative flourishes with his period piece epic 300, engages the audience in a nearly 3-hour orgy of orchestrated violent vibrancy designed to perpetuate a whole new appreciation for ambitious, unconventional superhero expositions. Robustly confrontational and impishly raw, Watchmen is an indescribable experience drenched in stylistic surrealism.
Resourcefully, Snyder does justice to the screen adaptation of Alan Moore’s screeching graphic comic book series. The hunger for vividly grim and realistic nuances of the consciousness of hero worship and societal breakdown is indeed demonstrated lyrically in Snyder’s descriptive, stimulating narrative. In comparison, the aforementioned The Dark Knight and its whole Batman franchise combined wouldn’t top the glorious gloomy-induced factor that Watchmen radiate with effortless aplomb. Predictably, the visual landscape is breathtakingly sumptuous and cinematographer Larry Fong pulls no punches in conveying this luscious canvas set against the dire occurrences that transpire dramatically.
The premise is pretty much a telling blueprint of the Cold War staged in the mid-80s. Specifically, it’s 1985 in America and Richard M. Nixon is president (as a result of being elected five times by the American public) as he and the country oversees the devastating changes taking place globally. The whole world has run amok and signs of a nuclear holocaust are brewing thus panicking the citizens of the world. This dim scenario is shocking to a group of former New York-based superheroes (the Watchmen) that saw their glory days passed them by ages ago. In fact, they never were really granted special powers in their heyday…just the ability to be spectacular at what they did to deserve the heralded recognition. Now with the world on the brink of mounting disaster these heroic has-beens are humbled by the terrorizing times just like everyone else.
No longer the popular rescuers in the public’s eye, the Watchmen start to make waves when one of their own is brutally murdered in that of Edward Blake a.k.a. “The Comedian” (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Blake had been one of the two retired Watchmen that dared to expose his identity publicly. Among Blake’s/The Comedian’s former Watchmen comrades were Walter Kovacs/Rorschach (Oscar-nominated Jackie Earle Haley, “Little Children”), Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan (Billy Cudrup), Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), Adrian Veidt/Ozymandius (Matthew Goode) and Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson, Haley’s “Little Children” co-star).
Revealingly, it is former sadistic Watchmen alum Rorschach that decides to look into the sudden death of fellow vigilante The Comedian in his capacity as a psychopathic private investigator. Clearly harboring the outlaw mentality, the unpredictably unstable Rorschach smells a deep conspiracy behind The Comedian’s demise and must get to the heart of the matter at any cost. In many ways, Rorschach acts as the scorned embodiment of The Comedian’s walking wounded spirit. Symbolically, Rorschach is the constant reminder of the haunting payback that shall take place in the recklessness of his fallen costumed colleague.
Granted that Watchmen lumbers and stumbles at times especially when the storyline takes its methodical step-by-step moments in having Haley’s psycho Rorschach recruit his retired buddies back into the fold as they come together in the name of the departed Comedian. Naturally, we come to learn the background story about the other gang members that sometimes is quite fascinating, sometimes a little too over-indulgent. The memorable confrontations and inter-personal entanglements ensue amongst this specialized group. Thus, we find ourselves putting the pieces back together as well as these out-to-pasture protagonists that are trying to find the self-discovery and worthwhile purpose within them as the entire world awaits its unknown reckoning.
The tidbits about the Watchmen are noteworthy if not necessary as we come to understand their current malaise from days gone by. Cudrup’s Dr. Manhattan, for instance, is the only true blue superhero with powers (he glows a convincing shade of blue) as a result of a freakish accident. Dr. Manhattan’s/Osterman’s romance with Silk Spectre/Laurie Jupiter is at a crossroads romantically. As for Adrian Veidt/Ozymandius, he possesses the gift of extreme intelligence while easily being billed as the world’s smartest human being. When Nite Owl II/Dreiberg enters the picture of Silk Spectre’s affectionate radar, Dr. Manhattan definitely has his work cut out for him.
Aptly, Watchmen is a daunting and piercing commentary on the potential meltdown of American values, virtues and the abused liberties that we aimlessly hold for ourselves. Moore’s unsettling and grainy examination of moral breakdown is utterly revolutionary and one can see why his calculating comic book series has made ardent fans out of his devoted readers that hang on every doomed word and sordid imagery. Snyder (“Dawn of the Dead”) profusely chronicles the decay and despair in a glossy spectacle of urban dissatisfaction that never is too reserved to hold back its festering outrage. Is this Snyder’s honest-to-goodness look at the collapse and decline of the mighty American structure of dreams and opportunity? Perhaps this is the case? Hey, maybe not…
Whatever the case, Watchmen is a shrewd study of an intense and reactionary pulse to just how stabilized and reformed the American culture (or other cultures for that matter) are rooted in the temptation of falsified hope and optimism. It is slick to suggest that if so-called superheroes are grounded, exposed and being humbled by their limited capacity then what does that say about the average Joe or Joanna mired in the same destitution of oblivion?
As a complete production, Watchmen delivers for its complexity and compelling portrait of the sprawling superhero genre for adults that really want to be cerebral in their appreciation for ribald action-induced showcases that can be polished and pulverizing in its harsh message simultaneously. After all this isn’t one of your grandmother’s brand of safe and generically produced fantasy-adventures any more.