Saturday, March 14, 2009

Watchmen; A Long-Ass McBone Mini Review.

Why, as Americans, do we love superheroes?  Uh, because they're awesome.  That's the short answer. A more prosaic musing would be that we are a nation founded and shaped by heroes.  George Washington was like the original American Hero.  Ben Franklin was totally a hero.  Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, Jesse James--the Wild West was the great breeding ground of the antihero. Fredrick Douglass? Hero. Harriet Tubman?  Hero.  Harvey Milk? Oh, yeah, he's a hero.  None of these men and women had supernatural powers, but they're all heroes because they did incredible things that we can't do and probably don't have the guts to try.

But of course, being Americans, we got bored somewhere along the line with our regular, run-of-the-mill heroes. Enter Superman.  He flies, he shoots white hot beams out of his eyes, and his breath (minty fresh) is stronger than any hurricane. Amazing, yes, and all-powerful, but a little too straight and narrow to content us for long.  I mean, who can relate to Superman?  Soon our superheroes and sociopaths were becoming hard to distinguish.  By the time Watchmen came along, our superheroes had been perfected.  Here are people with our everyday failings, but they're still doing all those things that we will never be able to do, whether (Spider-Man) or not (Batman) they possess uncanny traits.
I've never read Watchmen, but I know after watching it that the creators of the movie set out to accomplish one thing: create the greatest comic book film of all time.  Director Zack Snyder wanted to raise the bar on the superhero story, do what Star Wars and later The Matrix did for science fiction and Lord of the Rings did for fantasy.  Did he succeed?  Yes and no.  
Make no mistake. I love this movie.  I loved it so much I watched it twice.  Hell, that opening sequence where we learn the back story of the Watchmen against a semi-historical backdrop and Bob Dylan singing is nothing short of stunning.
But is it the greatest of all time?  I think ten years ago it would have been no contest.  Now?  With Iron Man, Spider-Man, Batman, Sin City, Hellboy and the like, the competition has gotten mighty stiff.  And Watchmen has its flaws.  For one, it's a little hard to follow.  I have a hard time blaming Snyder for being too ambitious, but there is a hell of a lot crammed into this film.  No doubt the director's cut will be the more wide open tableau that Snyder, if not Warner Bros., had envisioned.  
But enough about the defects.  The crowning glory of Watchmen to me is the humanity of the characters.  The pathos we feel for an older, retired generation of heroes that plasters its walls with newspaper clippings and photos from its heyday of crimefighting.  Then there is the new generation, outcast by society when villainy and heroism became ambiguous, just like war became irreparably ambiguous with Vietnam.  Spanning the generations is the Comedian, the cigar-puffing vigilante who walks the line between good and evil and sees the whole charade of war and peace for what it is: a farce with no clear cut morality.  For his clarity of vision, he is murdered in the film's first scene, but he remains the core of the story throughout, a reminder that the world is fucked up and there's no good way to fix it.  The Comedian is the true genius of the story, and Snyder got him just right.
And if the Comedian is the core of the story, then Rorschach is its voice.  Narrated in a voice like jagged glass and metal, Rorschach is the perfect counterpoint to the Comedian.  The one who refuses to compromise his moral code, no matter if he's right or wrong.  So who actually is right in this story?  Well, I have my opinion, and you have yours, and I don't think we're going to change each other's mind.
 Oh, I should mention also that the Comedian and Rorschach are played with a gusto by, respectively, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jackie Earle Haley, as is every character, really.  The acting is roundly well done.
Then of course I would be remiss in not mentioning the presence of none other than our best worst president, Richard Milhous Nixon.  Of all the historical characters, from John and Jackie Kennedy to Pat Buchanan to Andy Warhol and Annie Liebowitz, Nixon is the most profound. He is, after all, president.  The year is 1985, and RMN has just been elected to a 5th term.  There he is, his nose exaggeratedly long (think Pinocchio), and ready, less than two decades after winning Vietnam, to march us into nuclear war.  I love how history is rewritten in this work, but, really, what's the big deal?  If we're on a march toward armageddon, what difference do the details make?  Does it really matter if Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan or Mr. Snuffleupagus is president in 1985?
If this review seems to ramble and get lost, that's just how hard a movie Watchmen is to review.  I haven't even gotten into Dr. Manhattan and the time-space continuum, but maybe I'll just leave all these details alone for now.  
Suffice to say that Watchmen teeters at times under the weight of its own lofty goals, but never once collapses.  I've heard 'boring' as one criticism.  Cadswallop.  If scenes longer than 2 minutes aren't your thing, and you don't like 3 hour films, go see the exquisitely, rapturously bad Taken instead.  As for me, I'll take Watchmen, and content myself with this abbreviated version until the DVD comes out.  Flawed it may be, but it will satisfy any craving for more than the garden variety superhero.
Official McBone rating: 4.5 McBones.


Kid Shay said...

I had a long, good conversation with my brother about this movie. He didn't like it; yet, we had more than enough to talk about. More directors should be as over-ambitious as Snyder.

Thanks for the link, partner.

Chan Marshall as one of the Silk Spectres? Did I get that right?

Nate and Jeff Bowler, Co-Captains said...

No matter what, this movie gives you a lot to talk about. Alex liked it, but had problems. We're going to work things out though.

Chan Marshall should be in every movie from now on. There is no movie that exists that can't find a part for her.