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No I did not like Watchmen. Surprise!

Malin Ackerman as Silk Spectre in Zach Snyder's Watchmen (2009).
Malin Ackerman as Silk Spectre in Zach Snyder’s Watchmen (2009).

Watchmen movie review

The recession. Terrorism. Global warming. The View.

Doesn’t humanity have enough to worry about besides nuclear war?

Apparently not, according to Watchmen. The superhero movie asks us to share in the threat of nuclear devastation—not to our world, but one in which Richard Nixon is still president. That’s a big leap, bigger perhaps than asking us to believe in its costumed superheroes.

Zach Snyder’s film is based on the decades-old Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons series for DC Comics. It’s a revewered series, and an even more revered graphic novel. (Same material, different packaging).

Many are asking, does it stay faithful to its source material? To which I reply, Who cares? Moore is rightly revered for bringing a more adult, postmodern sensibility to the stagnant swamp that mainstream comics had become by the end of the ’70s. And for its time, Watchmen broke new ground by taking certain elements of the superhero genre, i.e. its inherent fascism, to their logical conclusions.

More ‘adult’, but to what end?

However, what was groundbreaking 20 years ago is pretty much cliche (if not camp) now. And what might be “adult” in a superhero comic—attempted rape, penile dysfunction—isn’t exactly new in the moviehouse.

The series’ alternate history, though, is where Watchmen (the movie) falters. There are just have too many other things to worry about than a world where the U.S. won the Vietnam war, and Nixon is still leader of the free world. The decision to ground this alternate reality with real-world signifiers such as “The Sound of Silence” and “The Times They Are A-Changin” is especially (ironically) tone-deaf.

Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl and Malin Ackerman as Silk Spectre in Zach Snyder's Watchmen (2009).
Patrick Wilson as Nite Owl and Malin Ackerman as Silk Spectre in Zach Snyder’s Watchmen (2009).

Even when right, Zach Snyder’s Watchmen is wrong

Any movie version of Watchmen is ultimately doomed to begin with, for the above reasons. Even when Zach Snyder‘s film get things right, it goes wrong. Simply on its own terms, as an action movie with serious overtones, Watchmen suffers from an interminable middle stretch. The plot, already confusing, simply grinds along. Numerous melodramatic-bordering-on-corny moments, along with armchair psychologizing, unnecessarily graphic violence, and ultimately a misguided belief in its own significance, torpedoes the film.

The movie does deliver visceral and visual kicks. Billy Crudup steals the movie with his multi-dimensional performance as Blue Man Group reject Dr. Manhattan. Just about everyone else makes their weirdly outfitted characters believable. The opening fight scene, between the grizzled old rightwing superhero vet the Comedian and a mystery assailant, sets the bar high early on (perhaps too high) for sheer kinetic energy. It goes without saying that the effects are the best $130m can buy. And that Malin Akerman (above), in her Silk Spectre II outfit, will launch a thousand fanboy dream sequences.

Watchmen is an interesting, sometimes satisfying curio for comic book fans. But I wouldn’t recommend it to non-comics reading friends. They are likely to leave the theatre even more confused than they were going into it.

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