Tuesday, March 24, 2009

3/20/09: Watchmen (2009)

Connie gave Watchmen a good review in the Miami Herald, but actually discouraged me from seeing it based on its violent content—which just goes to show you that knowing somebody for more than half your life doesn't always count for much. Since I liked it more than two of her actual recommendations (so far)—probably liked it more than she did, in fact—I'm including it in Connie's Picks Week.

Watchmen is the comic-book adaptation that's equal parts superhero flick, private-eye mystery, love story, action adventure and gory horror movie all wrapped up in a sleek, science-fiction wrapper. Amazingly, it all gels perfectly, a cinematic smoothie where every fruit is thrown into the blender to create a fascinating new flavor. Watchmen worships at the altar of contradiction: in this movie, the bad guys are evil, and the good guys are often worse. At times it's a relentlessly exciting Ninja-type yarn, then it dares to slow down and start philosophizing about how the world is doomed because of human nature, all while tunes as incongruous as "99 Luftballons" and "All Along the Watchtower" blare on the soundtrack.

The film isn't satisfied being merely a genre-bender—the storytelling isn't strictly linear, and although it takes place in the 1980s, the film gleefully ignores actual history and gives us a world where Nixon is still president after five terms and spaceships skyrocket over Manhattan. (The mishmash of anachronisms is dizzying.) Based on the famous graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen mixes costume-wearing crimefighters with names like Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman, made up to look exactly like Demi Moore) and Nite Owl (basically a Batman clone) with a bonafide otherworldly dude called Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), a glowing naked bald guy who looks like a refuge from the Blue Man Group. Roughly the first half of the film concerns itself with the murder of one of the heroes (The Comedian), while another (Rorschach) hunts for the killer; the second half is mostly about a nuclear holocaust. As Rorschach, Jackie Earle Haley steals the movie as a troubled crusader with Clint Eastwood's voice, whose cheesecloth-covered face displays inexplicably moving Rorschach patterns. (He has the movie's best single line, growing at a group of vengeful fellow prison inmates: "I'm not locked up with you—you're locked up with me.") This is the same brat from The Bad News Bears? Astonishing.

The movie works best while in Action Mode, with many almost comically violent sequences—arms get amputated, bullets pierce foreheads, and the disembowelments come at a fairly regular pace. For the record, I didn't look away once, although I may have audibly groaned. Stylistically, Watchmen steals from dozens of movies, including (but not limited to) Kill Bill, Sin City, Star Wars, The Dark Knight, The Matrix, 300 and X Men. But it's impossible to tear your eyes away from what is still a wholly original piece of work—to say nothing of Dr. Manhattan's long, blue prosthetic schlong. Rating: 4/5.

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