With Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffery Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Carla Gugino, Malin Akerman, and Stephen McHattie.
Dr. Manhattan: “She was pregnant – and you gunned her down.
The Comedian: “That’s right – and you know what!? You watched me. You coulda turned the gun into steam, the bullets into mercury, the bottle into goddamned snowflakes – but you didn’t did you? You really don’t give a damn about human beings. You’re driftin’ out of touch Doc. God help us all.”
Every once in a great while a film comes out that I feel is specifically tailored to me. “Watchmen” is one of those films. It has everything that I am so very strongly interested in: comic book/superheroes, politics, great music, and historical fiction. It blends all of these together for one fucking hell of a movie.
The film opens up with Edward Blake (superhero alias: The Comedian – a brilliant take off of Captain America) drinking tea in his apartment flipping his TV back and forth from MTV to Nixon talking about the USSR to Pat Bucahanan talking about Dr. Manhattan and the USSR on John McLaughlin’s show (I doubt very much anyone my age knows who either of those two men are and what they stood for). His door gets kicked in, and a hellish hand-to-hand fight begins with a tall and lanky mysterious man who hides in the shadows.
As the men fight, we see the utter power Blake has as he punches holes through walls and shatters any object in his path. Blake can’t keep up with the fury of the mysterious man, and Blake ends up getting thrown out the window to his death. The opening fight scene is heavily stylized and is queued up with Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” – it has all the makings of being this overly done cliché scene but it works brilliantly.
What follows the violently brutal death of Edward Blake is the best opening title sequence to a film I have ever seen. The sequence is queued up to Bob Dylan’s timeless song, “The Times They Are-a-Changing” and introduces us to the entire back-story of the superheroes set in this fictionalized universe. It could be a short film in itself as we are introduced to the first round of heroes called “The Minute Men” and then the second round – “The Watchmen” (to which Edward Blake was the only person in both groups).
The opening could stand alone as its own short film – or even a music video for the song. As we watch this array of heroes during their rise and falls, we also see historical landmarks in modern American history – the moon landing, Kent State, the assassination of JFK – then more fictionalized accounts the atomic man – Dr. Manhattan – meeting with JFK, and Nixon being elected for a third term. We see Ozymandias meeting with Andy Warhol and Truman Capote, and then later standing outside Studio 54 with The Village People and Ziggy Stardust. It is a stroke of genius.
After the killing of Edward Blake – Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) the last active “Watchmen” member begins to seek the truth into the killing of Blake, and unravels a web that turns everyone world upside down. Rorschach tops the FBI’s ten most wanted list. Jackie Earle Haley is just marvelous as Rorschach who’s one of the most tortured souls ever depicted onscreen. The way his brooding and coarse voice over guides us through the film is a treat.
I am not a fan of Snyder’s “300”. I thought it was overly stylized and just plain bad. But aside from that, I am a fan of his remake of “Dawn of the Dead” and I think Snyder’s usage of popular music is just a couple of steps behind Scorsese. He uses such cliché songs in the film – Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Simon and Garfunkel, “Ride of the Valkyries”, “Me and Bobby McGee” – but he can get away with it. It works PERFECTLY!
I found that The Comedian is one of the best written characters in film history – many of his signature lines in the film (“It’s a joke. It’s all a joke. Mother forgive me” or “It’s just a matter of time I suppose”) weren’t in the graphic novel – the screen writers wrote those lines. Brilliant. His complexity and struggles he deals with are a feat that he has to hurdle.
I was really taken aback by this story of heroes, and how they have inner fighting and they aren’t glorified. They themselves deal with issues of their own sexuality, molestation and rape. It’s truly an adult themed film that takes no prisoners and cuts through the bullshit. One thing I am so tired of hearing about is people bitching about seeing Dr. Manhattan’s penis. He’s a fucking radioactive man – he doesn’t wear cloths – who gives a fuck? Get over it. You don’t need to prove to me that you’re not gay by whining about seeing another guy’s dick.
What really works with this film is the complexity that it holds. It introduces us to a world that is our own, yet adds layers that aren’t that unbelievable. These superheroes that exist don’t have any superpowers (aside from Dr. Manhattan who is an atomic man created on accident). They are all humans who just took their talents and intellects to the next level. They believed in doing good – they wanted to help – but they got manipulated. Dr. Manhattan and The Comedian were asked to help in Vietnam – the ending result was that America won the war and changed the events of American history.
The Vietnam scene is truly something special to watch – we see The Comedian walking in slow motion with a flame thrower just burning men alive – with a sadistic smile on his face. We see that violence and inflicting pain is what gets The Comedian off. We cut to Dr. Manhattan who has to be over 500ft tall and reaching his hand down and obliterating fleeing Vietcong to “Ride of the Valkyries” ala “Apocalypse Now”. Sexy.
The character of Dr. Manhattan is also one of the greatest characters ever conceived – a scientist who gets locked into a chamber that gets filled transforms him into a radioactive man. Once he becomes Dr. Manhattan he truly becomes God. He can foresee events, transcend time, do anything and everything. As the film progresses we realize what a horror it would be to be like Manhattan – how could someone possibly cope with the struggles of being a God?
A reason I think this film didn’t get the accolades and recognition that it should have is because it’s just to much movie for the average/above average film resident. I had read the graphic novel that the film is based on before seeing the film – and while I think a lot of aspects of the film are better than the novel, it gave me an understanding of what I was getting myself into while I watched the film unravel.
This film exists on its own terms, and doesn’t need the lending hand of any “heavies” to be in the film – its cast is mainly unknowns to the masses and that’s why it works so perfectly. The characters are so dynamically interesting, from the God-like Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) to the blood lusting Comedian to the sleazy and tortured Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) and the smartest man that ever lived – Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) who went from creating The Watchmen to removing his mask and becoming a global celebrity/mogul/businessman with one goal: world peace.
One thing I would like to point out, and I tend to be in the minority on this – the ending to the film is superior to the ending of the graphic novel. I feel that the film’s ending really works with the themes and mood that it created – I thought it was a work of pure genius. It keeps the tone of the graphic novel – but it expands it, it blows it up in your face and leaves you pondering the morality of the ending. It’s incredible.
What doesn’t work for me is Carla Gugino as Sally Jupiter/Silk Spectre. She’s never really worked for me, and I’ve never thought of her as much of an actress. She’s always brought into films for her sex appeal (“Sin City”, “Righteous Kill”) and I find her boring. I feel that the film should be longer even though the run time is 186 minutes, but the film screams by and leaves me wanting so much more. There is a rumor of a sequel being made and I’m not sure how to feel about that. I don’t think I like it.
“The Watchmen” stands alone as one of the greatest epics to emerge from our generation. It’s take on society and the themes that America has created for itself. It shows us how our “culture of fear” could pay out, and how we can turn to people like the Watchmen for help and then even turn our backs on them. There is a great dialogue exchange between The Comedian and Nite Owl during the decay of the Watchmen’s reign. The scene takes place during mass rioting due to the policemen’s union going on strike due to the Watchmen. I find it so utterly profound.
“God damn I love working on American soil Dan. Ain’t had this much fun since Woodward and Bernstein.”
“How long can we keep this up?”
“Congress is pushing through some new bill that’s gonna outlaw masks. Our days are numbered. Tell then it’s like you always say, ‘we’re societies only protection’.”
“You kiddin’ me? From themselves.”
Truer words were never spoken.