The Watchmen, as the story goes, used to be a band of superheroes in an
alternate Earth until their activities were outlawed and they were forced into
retirement. One of the old team has been killed, and another suspects that it
is the beginning of a plan to kill all of them, so he begins his own
investigation into the murder and eventually comes into contact with all of
his former colleagues.
It's 1985, Nixon is in his 5th term because the superheroes helped him win
the war in Vietnam, and made him popular enough that the term limits had to be
eliminated. Unfortunately, The Soviet Union is not quite falling into line so
easily. International tensions are strained tighter than during the Cuban
Missile Crisis, and the world is on the very brink of nuclear annihilation. It
seems that the only thing preventing the world from beginning the atomic
shoot-out is the presence of a God-like superhero named Dr. Manhattan, who is
so powerful that he exists outside of time and space, but is gradually
becoming more detached from earthly life, and therefore less involved with the
fate of the race he once belonged to.
What does the murder of a superhero have to do with international politics?
Good question, but the two plots described in the paragraphs above do
eventually merge into one, albeit uneasily.
You should not try to apply any logic to the film. There is none. If logic
prevailed, you might ask yourself these questions:
1. Granted that Dr. Manhattan could not stop every single missile
launched in a nuclear war, why does he not take pre-emptive action by either
removing all of the Russian nuclear capabilities or, for that matter,
removing everyone's weapons before they have a chance to deploy them.
2. Why the hell did Dr. Manhattan belong to a superhero team? Given his
nearly infinite powers, what exactly did the others, all basically human,
The presence of Dr. Manhattan in the Watchmen world is problematic in the
same way that Superman's powers make it so hard to create any challenges or
partnerships for him in the DC world. He's just so powerful that he makes all
plotting clumsy and unrealistic. The actual story line of Watchmen's "present"
time does manage to get Dr. Manhattan out of the way quite deftly, at least
temporarily, but there is simply no way to deal with the questions posed
above. You just have to accept everything posited about the past of this
counter-Earth, even if it seems to make no sense, and just deal with the
Unfortunately, there's only about ten minutes worth of plot in the present,
and the film is two and a half hours long. (There is a rumor that a special
DVD version will add yet another hour to the running time.) The rest of the
time is padded out with flashbacks and more flashbacks inside those
flashbacks, all of which are needed because there are many characters to develop. If the many
characters were familiar ones whose origins were already familiar to us, like
Superman, the screenwriters would not need to bog the film down in back-story,
but that's not the case here, so the film has to present the whys and
In attempting to present the necessary exposition, the screenwriters'
choices were not always wise.
For example, there is a lot of running time devoted to the fact that Silk
Spectre turns out to be the daughter of the original Silk Spectre and The
Comedian, two people who supposedly hated one another. Yet when the Silkstress
finally learns the secret of her paternity, our reaction is "so what?" It has
absolutely nothing to do with either of the two main plots described above.
All of Silk Spectre's back-story could have been eliminated without losing
anything vital from the film, thus serving the double purpose of making the
film both better paced and less confusing. The character of Silk Spectre's
mother could have and should have been eliminated from the film entirely.
(end SPOILERS) I marked that as a spoiler, which it
is, but it will not actually spoil anything for you. The secret of Spectre's
paternity is of no interest before it is revealed and of no significance after
it is revealed. In other words, it is an answer you don't care about to a
question you never would have asked in the first place.
The film has its share of additional problems. Here are some major
1. Some of the special effects are so poor as to be laughable. Night
Owl's plane/boat contraption looks fine in repose, but in motion it looks
like it was animated by either Ed Wood or those supermarionation dudes who
created Supercar in the early 60s.
2. One of the central performances is just awful. The guy who plays
Ozymandias, the "word's smartest man," is so weak that it's difficult to
believe he's even a professional actor, and it's shocking that the director
couldn't see that immediately. He comes off as a cross between Owen Wilson
as Hansel in Zoolander and Mike Myers in "Sprockets." I kept expecting him
to say, "Und now, vee tance."
3. The script quotes a lot of comic book dialogue and
narration. Lines that look fine on the written page can often sound
pretentious when real actors have to deliver them. (I'm dreading the Mighty
4. The fight scenes are often clumsy.
On the other hand, the film has elements and moments of sheer genius:
Jackie Earle Haley is brilliant and just downright terrifying as Rorschach, the
sociopathic super "hero" whose view of humanity fills him with bitterness for a
race in which nobody else can ever live up to his uncompromising standards. I
never felt a real chill when Heath Ledger was on the screen as the evil Joker,
but Jackie Earle managed to make me shiver while playing a good guy! His
character is defined by this bit of narration: "The streets are extended gutters
and the gutters are full of blood and when the drains finally scab over, all the
vermin will drown. The accumulated filth of all their sex and murder will foam
up about their waists and all the whores and politicians will look up and shout
'Save us!' And I'll whisper 'no'."
Billy Crudup, with the most difficult role as a God unable to shake off his
human origins, manages to create a Dr. Manhattan who is both detached from
humanity and yet in tune with its core values. He manages to engage both our
curiosity and our sympathy.
The Nixon/Kissinger war room is a nice bit of homage to Dr. Strangelove.
Patrick Wilson has some great moments as Dan, aka Night Owl, and the
screenwriters gave him some great material to work with. Seemingly content as a
peacefullly retired superhero, his wimpy facade disguises the fact that he is
actually unhappy to have been castrated by society. His response to his loss of
potency is another type of impotence, much to the disappointment of Silk Spectre.
But when he and the Spectre decide to flout the superhero ban and get back in
the fray, his manhood returns to him. The more daring their adventures, the
happier and sexier he becomes. After they save some people from a burning
building and make passionate love, the renascent Night Owl suggests apres-sex
that they break their colleague Rorschach out of prison. Spectre tells him that
blasting in and out of a maximum security prison will be much more difficult
than putting out a fire, to which he responds "and much more fun," with a sense
of delight that we had not previously seen from the reserved and professorial "Dan."
Interesting score from song-poets: Dylan, Leonard Cohen, etc.
Sci-Fi/Fantasy, the genre of superhero comics, has always been an arena in which
interesting ideas are presented and examined. Watchmen is filled with daring
ideas. Some of them are sheer lunacy, to be sure, and none of them are
presented with any sense of balance. It may even be true to say that the vast
majority of the ideas are just plain wrong. But none of that is as important as
the fact that the ideas are both original and interesting. Let's face it, if we
wanted sound reasoning, nuance and complexity, we wouldn't be watching a movie
where the characters have names like Moloch the Mystic. We watch a
sci-fi/fantasy movie to encounter the outré, the fantastical, the speculative,
the wildly imaginative. In that respect, Watchmen is a triumph, if a slightly
Bottom line? I like this movie. It has a film noir grittiness to go with a
sci-fi sense of imagination, much like Blade Runner, except it also has a truly
nutty Dr. Strangelove overlay. It's one weird-ass and occasionally confusing
movie, but one I found consistently fascinating, even though it seems to me like
a very good movie that should have been even better.
This is not your father's comic book movie. It is filled with sex and nudity to go
with explicit gore. Patrick Wilson shows his butt. Billy Crudup's CGI image is
walking around with his dingle out throughout the movie.
Malin Ackerman offers up some T&A in
a couple of scenes. (Basically cam quality.)