Watchmen

[5.0
stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It's currently #132 on IMDB's best movies of all time; yet it garners a relatively modest 65% on Rotten Tomatoes' Tomatometer. Clearly a love-it-or-hate-it movie.

I loved it, pretty much. It's a movie that deserves a big screen; I saw it at the Strand Theater in Dover NH. (The Strand was originally built in 1925, but it's still a decent place to see a flick.) I hit the 12:10 Sunday matinee (a mere $6); the showing was sparsely attended.

I have not read the graphic novel on which it is based, although I've thumbed through it a couple times at bookstores. So I wasn't worried about the movie's fidelity to the book, although that's something that obsesses true fans.

The story is set in an alternate-history 1985, one with superheroes: Ozymandias, Silk Spectre, Doctor Manhattan, The Comedian, Nite Owl, and Rorschach. They mostly originated as vigilantes with costumes. Dr. Manhattan, however, is a "true" superbeing with powers of telekinesis, teleportation, a smattering of psychic ability; he's also blue and often naked. (As the New Yorker reviewer puts it: "like a porn star left overnight in a meat locker.")

There are also indications the superheroes had an active role in turning the USA into a left-winger's nightmare: they're shown fighting and winning the Vietnam war; they violently put down street protests; one is shown as the triggerman in the JFK assassination. And Richard Nixon is still president. But in 1985, superheroes have outlived their usefulness to the government, and now overt masked superantics are banned.

Things kick off with the murder of the Comedian; a mysterious figure is shown breaking into his high-rise apartment, easily outclassing him in physical combat, and finally tossing him out the window to the street below. Rorschach decides to investigate, thinking this might be the beginning of a plot against the group generally. And… well, it is and it isn't.

The movie does a fine job of setting up its history and characters. The superheroes are in varying states of dysfunction and alienation. It's very bleak, and deserves its R-rating (for, as the MPAA says, "strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language." It's also 163 minutes long, so plan accordingly, bladder-wise.

Particularly amazing is Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach; I haven't seen him in a movie since 1979's Breaking Away. (Yes, somehow I managed to miss Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence.) In a just world, he'd get an Oscar nomination for his work here.

I'll leave the political commentary to others. The reviewer previously mentioned described the movie as "twice as fascistic as the forces it wishes to lampoon." At Reason, Brian Doherty calls Rorschach an "Objectivist saint" but Peter Suderman thought the movie was "stilted and lifeless". I dunno, I just know what I like.


Last Modified 2012-10-08 1:13 PM EDT