Rating: C/ How do I hate Rorschach’s Batman voice? Let me count the ways. Set in an alternate timeline where Richard Nixon tries to shut down a group of masked vigilantes, the premise of Watchmen is admittedly original. I really liked the opening montage, where director Zack Snyder recreates famous moments from the 60’s and 70’s with a superhero twist. But Watchmen also proves to be both over-baked and overblown, attempting to portray the relentless ugliness of human nature with a stylized superhero movie format and falling short of greatness.
Superhero movies are supposed to be fun, right? Apparently not Watchmen, which features rape, child abuse, molestation, and teeth-grindingly sadistic violence throughout. It’s supposed to be profound, attempting to tackle human corruption with an sense of depravity that only succeeds in being lurid and cartoonish. Throughout all this violence and misery Rorschach stands as the most emo protagonist ever to hit celluloid, growling about the whores and the corrupt politicians and the child molesters in a way that makes Taxi Driver‘s Travis Bickle look like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. This movie takes itself so seriously it would almost be unintentionally funny if it weren’t so Goddamn grim. Nothing about it seems legit or real, no humor brightens the studied bleakness and sense of nihilism.
Watchmen is about a group of superheroes who begin to investigate the murder of one of their own, the brutal and entirely unheroic Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan.) Masked wacko Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) is convinced that there is a conspiracy against the Watchmen, his group of world-weary costumed vigilantes, but Silk Spector (Malin Akerman) and Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) think it is just a coincidence; The Comedian wasn’t the warmest and cuddliest of guys on the best of days, and his years of raping and killing indiscriminately probably came back to bite him in the ass. Some hero, right?
Then there’s Ozymandias (Matthew Goode,) a former hero who’s become a sellout and a megalomaniac; and Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup,) the enigmatic victim of a lab accident who has turned into a naked blue CGI creature. Rorschach’s got a uniquely tormented past, including an abusive prostitute mother and a child killing he investigated which destroyed his faith in humanity, and pretty much no one has any faith in the goodness of mankind or the potential for redemption.
It’s dark stuff, but hard to take all that seriously because the themes are delivered with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The level of violence and cruelty is ludicrously overblown, as is the nastiness and apathy of most of the so-called ‘heroes.’ Christian Bale voice aside, Jackie Earle Haley is an amazing actor for the most part (just watch him in Little Children, in a performance that will chill you to the bone.) I actually like most of the actors in this movie, just not the movie itself. But their roles fall flat for me.
I like superhero movies, including and maybe even especially dark superhero movies (I’m a big fan of the shows Jessica Jones and Daredevil, and Kick-Ass is one of my favorite action-comedies,) but the difference is those shows have a sense of humor about themselves and are actually fun. Watchmen tries way too hard to be profound and loses sight of entertainment in the process. It’s like a Goth teen who can’t stop talking about how shit people are and how meaningless life is and gets avoided in the hallways at school as a result.
Worse, the touches of ridiculousness (including the hackneyed, expressionless CGI creation of ‘Dr. Manhattan’ and Rorschach’s grumbled rants) don’t juxtapose well with the all-consuming seriousness of the script and the vile brutality. I haven’t read the comic version of this movie; I hear it’s a bit different and in all probability it’s quite good. But let me tell you, this movie doesn’t make me want to run and pick up the graphic novel. It’s sadistically violent and humorless and at the same time hard to take all that seriously. The characters are unlikable and the film itself is way too long. Some movies (Pulp Fiction, for instance) are so entertaining they zoom by in no time at all. Watchmen is not one of those movies. Watch at your own risk.