Release Date: March 6
Director: Zack Snyder
Writers: David Hayter and Alex
Cinematographer: Larry Fong
Starring: Malin Akerman, Billy
Crudup, Jackie Earl Haley, Patrick Wilson
Studio/Run Time: Warner Bros.
Pictures, 163 mins.
Zack Snyder's adaptation of the
Watchmen graphic novel takes place in the mid-1980s, after
America won the Vietnam war and just before Richard Nixon's fourth
term. The U.S. won that war by enlisting the help of Jon Osterman, a
former scientist who was involved in a nuclear accident that,
naturally, turned him into a god-like blue man who lives
simultaneously in the past and the future. As near deity, Jon is able
to do almost anything he wants, like asking people to call him Dr.
Manhattan or zapping Vietcong with a wave of his hand. New York is
also populated by a second generation of costumed heroes, normal
people who fight crime like their parents did in a prior post-war
era. But the world is on the brink of nuclear war with the Soviets,
so many of these crusaders have retired or gone underground. Modern
threats have rendered masked heroes quaint.
Snyder’s previous film, 300,
was about a big, strong Spartan who pummeled the effeminate Persians
against the wishes of a corrupt security council. The political slant
of Watchmen is only slightly less transparent. Both films
lavish attention on violent individuals who deliver justice as they
see fit, on men who are principled brutes, and on women who are sexy,
strong and secondary. Each film’s overarching view is that war is
productive and weakness is not. The interest in sheer power is as
strong as the interest in human bodies, and where the two intersect,
Watchmen seems to vibrate with delight. We see the flesh of a
female calf ripped by a bullet, the intestines of a splattered victim
dangling from a ceiling, a prisoner’s skin melted by a basketful of
frying oil (can baskets be filled with oil?), and two arms sawn off
because they block access to someone who needs an ass-whoopin'.
The film’s obsession with bodies in
conflict has a counterpoint in Dr. Manhattan. Gently voiced (and
partially faced) by Billy Crudup, he stands naked, ripped, glowing
and dispassionate through most of the film. Neither the attentions of
his beautiful girlfriend-heroine nor his research into unlimited
energy can raise his flaccid member. He has lost interest in the
whole of the earth.
The film's id is an inky-masked
character named Rorschach who metes justice with his fists and talks
with a throat full of gravel, like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino,
who might very well be the inky one’s uncle. Rorschach, not the
disengaged blue god, is clearly the film's ideal. But Dan, a
character who shifts between those two poles, is the audience
surrogate, a geeky but muscled guy who can’t get it up until he
re-dons his Nite Owl costume and, along with a female partner, saves
a bunch of kids from an apartment fire. The two of them cap their
evening with a mutual orgasm of flame.
Unlike the typical superhero movie,
Watchmen is a film of big ideas, and one of them is that mass
carnage can usher in an era of peace. The major characters disagree
only in the particulars. Dr. Manhattan makes a point of neither
condemning nor condoning the film's most controversial,
world-altering event, because his head is in the clouds. (He looks as
if he’d rather be clearing brush.) Nixon and Kissinger, huddled in
a war room, are only slightly more grounded; in their worst-case
nuclear scenario they'll write off New England as collateral damage
and even see the loss of Harvard liberals as a silver lining. The
folks behind Watchmen may have taken the wrong lesson from Dr.
Furthermore, this gang doesn’t seem
to realize how brief a violence-born peace may be. Remember when we
were all New Yorkers? The assumption of the film is that a moment
similar to the post-9/11 pause, if inflicted deeply enough, could
blanket the globe with peace indefinitely, and if it happens during
Nixon's reign it might preempt and best even Ronald Reagan who, as we
know, single-handedly defeated the USSR in our real world.
Snyder never seems to consider the
problems of macho justice. My advice to the entire naive lot—to the
blue god, Rorschach, the geeky-sexy couple, the effeminate liberal
(there's always an effeminate liberal) and Snyder himself—is this:
Do not overestimate the longevity of global unity or the
productiveness of violence, on any scale.