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Monday, March 09, 2009

Watchmen

I joined everybody else in America this last weekend and went to watch the Watchmen. Unlike at least half of America (the under 30-half), I had no idea who the Watchmen were. Excuse me for living, but I could tell you all sorts of trivial who-cares-anyway about The Justice League of America, The Legion of Superheroes, and even a little bit about The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but I gave up reading comic books when I started having sex. It was cheaper, and there were less paper cuts involved.

So I was expecting a gang of real super-heroes, emphasis on the heroes in the tradition of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the like, but instead these Watchmen are a whole other breed. I know it’s become trendy for our superheroes to have a flaw or two as a way to relate more to their readers, but these guys are all flaws and little superpowers. I think the “Heroes” from the same-titled television series have more abilities and scruples than most of these so called Watchmen, though the Watchmen have a heck of a lot better special effects and a much bigger budget.

The tv “Heroes” also don’t have anybody bright blue who is running around stark naked waving his dangly bits for everybody in the audience to see. Now I’m no prude, but even I was surprised that director Zack Snyder (300) was brave enough to shoot as much of the trouser-less snake as he did. I’m also not shocked that the snake in question belongs to actor Billy Crudup (Pretty Bird), who left girlfriend Mary Louise Parker in the seventh month of her pregnancy with his child for new squeeze Claire Danes. Apparently he has had a lot of practice having his little actor out and on display anyway, so he might as well do it professionally for a change. In this case, Crudup plays the god-like Dr. Manhattan, so dubbed by the media after he, as Dr. Jon Osterman, is trapped in a reactor chamber while an atomic experiment is going on. The resulting transformation turns Osterman into a bald, neon blue nudist with a growing disdain for the human race. I remember as a child my mama used to chastise me once in a while by saying “Don’t get too big for your britches!” but apparently Dr. Manhattan does just that. He gets so smart he begins to look at humans as a whole other (lesser) species, and those britches just won’t fit, nor will anything else.

Maybe I should back up a bit and tell you a bit about another Watchman since the story itself begins with his murder. Poor Jeffrey Dean Morgan. He’s making a whole career out of playing dead guys. You probably know him best as the sensitive spirit of ‘Denny Duquette’ currently haunting the mind of Izzie Stevens (if not the halls of all of Seattle Grace) on “Grey’s Anatomy.” He’s also been a doting dead dad lingering around “Supernatural” on the Fox Network, and he made the absolutely best deceased husband a woman could ever ask for in P.S. I Love You, where he proved that there is nothing better than love from afar, way, way afar. Now, though, Morgan plays The Comedian, aka Eddie Blake, a real piece of work. Superhero? I didn’t think so. He may take a fifty story plunge through a plate glass window in the first minutes of this 248 minute long epic, but we see enough of his shenanigans in flashbacks that cover the course of several years to realize that there aren’t too many laughs to be had from this Comedian. Does rape sound funny? It doesn’t look any funnier either even with the exotic costumes involved as we watch this Watchman attack fellow Watchman (Watchwoman?) Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino; The Unborn) way back when. In the present, Silk Spectre has returned to being just plain old Sally Jupiter, an aging, bitter alcoholic who is a mystery and a frustration to her daughter, Laurie (Malin Akerman; 27 Dresses), who has picked up the mantle of her mother’s legacy and is now also known as Silk Spectre II.

Laurie’s got a lot of relationship problems, many of which run throughout the movie like a muddy river. Besides her unending quest to understand why her mother quit the Watchmen and why she drinks the way she does, she’s got bigger problems with her boyfriend, Dr. Manhattan, who, as I pointed out, seems to be forgetting he is human. As he slips further and further away from her and mankind, she needs him all the more ~ not for herself, but for the entire world. In this parallel existence, the Soviet Union still exists and nuclear war is imminent unless Dr. Manhattan steps in because he is the only one on earth with the power to stop it. Meanwhile, he’s taken up decorating new digs on Mars where he’s decided to move to get away from it all. Mars? Of all places, Mars? It’s so... orange. Naturally, what does the girl do but turn to her old beau, a schlubbier version of Clark Kent, this über-nerdy trust fund Watchman named Dan Dreiberg (Patrick Wilson; Lakeview Terrace), who has retired his Niteowl II costume and become an impotent, sweater-wearing “Mr. Rogers” type ever since. Hmmm. The hot girl in clingy vinyl costume has such a problem: choose between the naked indigo guy and no feelings but can replicate himself into duplicates for non-stop sexcapades or the geek who cries when he sees puppies but who can’t rise to the occasion when the occasion rises, if you know what I mean. Decisions, decisions.

Of course, in the midst of all of their domestic drama, there are a couple of stand-out and more-or-less stand-alone Watchmen stories floating around on the edges of the others, weaving in and out and eventually pulling everything together in unexpected ways. First, is the tale of smug business tycoon Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode; Brideshead Revisited), the smartest human in the world, thus bright enough to figure out he’ll make a whole lot more money dumping the secret identity bit and telling the world he is Watchman Ozymandias, then hang up his cape, and start marketing Watchmen action figures and license out a slew of Watchmen tchotches. When he’s not bored with counting his money from this venture, he’s also available to rent out his brain as the highest paid consultant you can imagine, but what he loves even more than money itself is the glory and aggrandizement the press brings him. His ego is almost as big as his brain, and where there’s ego there’s bound to be trouble. Bernie Madoff, anyone?

Speaking of trouble, the most fascinating Watchman has to be the most troubled. He’s a scary little masked man called Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley; Winged Creatures). Sounding like the gravely-voiced Clint Eastwood of recent years, Rorschach makes The Comedian look like a Puritan by comparison. His murderous urges may be directed at the scum of the earth, but is it any less murder to kill someone bad than someone good just because you can? I suppose that is a question to ask any police officer, soldier or politician you meet. The really interesting thing about Rorschach is that he knows he has crossed the line ethically, legally, and morally, but he can’t stop himself and he’s willing to take the punishment anyway. It just doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll stop. After all, once you’ve meat-cleavered a guy in the head over and over until his head is pretty much mush it’s hard to go back.

I think it’s the meat-cleavering that is my own test of the Watchmen’s appropriateness as a family film, not that it advertises itself as such. But that’s still a problem with these costumes crimefighting flicks. Today’s idiot parents apparently think everything is a family movie and an ‘R’ rating means ‘R’eally cheap way to get out of paying for a babysitter. They bring along their five, six, and seven year olds to see a movie like this, and, if they’re going to get indignant about anything, it is more likely going to be the nudity and near soft-porn quality bump-and-grind between Hooty and his Blowfish halfway through the film than it is about the gore and violence that permeates every other part of this movie. Men are set on fire, arms are sawed off, women are beaten, a little girl is kidnapped then chopped into pieces and fed to dogs, a pregnant woman is shot and killed at point-blank range; we see people exploding into piles of blood and guts as well as a still shot of two dead women with the words ‘Lesbian Whores’ in blood smeared over their bed, and then there are graphic depictions of the supposed coming nuclear holocaust, not let’s not forget that fifty floor bounce and meat-cleavering stunts either. It all adds up to a near perfect Grand Guignol of evil doing, which is not to say it isn’t fabulous for what it is, but it isn’t Underdog.

I think Watchmen is the thing to watch for those who are into inter-woven adult tales that are not too far different from what you might find on a nighttime soap, save for the hi-tech costumes and special effects. There’s drama, sex, tears, murder, romance and somebody with blue balls. What’s not to like about that? But leave the kids at home with Spiderman or the Fantastic Four for now.

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