Review by Paul Stathakis | May 11, 2009

Remember that time, when we were heroes?

”Watch­men” is the great­est sci­ence-fic­tion adven­ture since “The Matrix” (1999). Refresh­ing, orig­i­nal, and it takes the con­cept of the super­hero to new heights. The char­ac­ters are each unique in their own way but share a com­mon attribute: they are humans with no real super­hero pow­ers or abil­i­ties (with the excep­tion of John who acci­den­tal­ly acquired pow­ers). These char­ac­ters are strong in appear­ance. They seem apt at tak­ing care of New York’s criminals/delinquents but deep down inside, they are just as afraid as the rest of the world as Amer­i­ca is about to enter into a nuclear bat­tle with the Sovi­ets.”

”Watch­men” is fas­ci­nat­ing because it takes place with­in a mod­ern con­text. It’s 1986 and Richard Nixon is the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States. Signs and tele­vi­sion announce­ments reveal that he has been suc­cess­ful­ly re-elect­ed for a third term – just one of the film’s orig­i­nal twists. The film opens on a very sub­tle note, with Edward “The Come­di­an” Blake (Jef­frey Dean Mor­gan), one of the Watchmen’s most robust, is bru­tal­ly beat­en in his apart­ment and then tossed right out of a win­dow.  Watch­men devo­tees have noth­ing to fear. They will be bemused with the work that was put into the adap­ta­tion because this is, before any­thing, an eeri­ly accu­rate adap­ta­tion. The Comedian’s death scene is mere­ly an exam­ple of one.

The film makes great use of music. It’s impos­si­ble to not appre­ci­ate the sound­track which includes sev­er­al clas­sic songs from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. When was the last time a Jim­my Hen­drix song was used so effec­tive­ly  in a sci­ence-fic­tion film? Anoth­er scene includes Nat King Cole’s “Unfor­get­table” and involves the Come­di­an, per­haps because the char­ac­ter, imper­fec­tions-aside, is as unfor­get­table as the rest of the Watch­men group.  Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” plays dur­ing a bur­ial. The right songs play at the right moments.
The plot is cen­tered pri­mar­i­ly on the mur­der of the Come­di­an. The death of the Come­di­an reunites the Watch­men, who are scat­tered around New York City, retired, liv­ing reg­u­lar lives, except for one of them: Rorschach (Jack­ie Ear­le Haley).

Rorschach is still active. He refus­es to hang his mask (a nice psy­cho­log­i­cal asso­ci­a­tion with ink blots). He says, in a mys­te­ri­ous nar­ra­tive voice, “This city is afraid of me. I’ve seen its true col­ors.” He vis­its the apart­ment of the Come­di­an to inves­ti­gate. He vows to find the per­son respon­si­ble for the mur­der of his friend. But can avenge the death alone? Of course not. Enters Dan Dreiberg a.k.a. Nite Owl II (Patrick Wil­son). He used to be Rorschach’s part­ner until he decid­ed to quit. Can Rorschach con­vince him to suit up once more? How about the gor­geous Silk Spec­tre II (Malin Ack­er­man)?

As Amer­i­ca is on the eve of a nuclear war with Rus­sia, Nixon (who is serv­ing a third term in office), along with his Sec­re­tary of State Hen­ry Kissinger, are poised to win the bat­tle. They enter DEFCON 2 and begin to pre­pare for DEFCON 1. They look every­where for answers and study sev­er­al sce­nar­ios. They turn to Dr. Man­hat­tan (Bil­ly Crudup) for advice. He can nor­mal­ly see into the future but this time his read­ings are dis­tort­ed. He believes a nuclear war is on the hori­zon but he can­not pre­dict the out­come. Why is he not able to read the future? Could some­thing or some­one be inter­fer­ing with his abil­i­ties?

Watch­men” is a vio­lent pic­ture and it con­tains some nudi­ty as well. Par­ents will want to see it but should keep their chil­dren away from it.  It’s a mod­ern mas­ter­piece, vis­cer­al, visu­al, orig­i­nal, touch­ing, but nonethe­less vio­lent.  The film plays to par­tic­u­lar audi­ence mem­bers. You’ll either con­nect with it or walk out of the the­atre halfway through it. This is not a con­ven­tion­al super­hero movie. It takes the con­cept to new heights. For once heroes are reg­u­lar peo­ple with reg­u­lar lives and that’s just the begin­ning of it. For those who like their sci­ence-fic­tion with art and wit, get ready because you’re in for a treat.

 

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