Who watches the “Watchmen”? According to box office charts, enough people to land it at the No. 1 slot and garner it $55.7 million. Analysts, who were predicting it to earn another $4.3 million, are already squawking about its “underperformance.” Sigh. Let me put this all into perspective for you. “Watchmen” is a solid rated-R with some scenes of hardcore violence – we’re talking bones snapping; meat cleaver in the head scenes – male, full-frontal nudity; domestic violence, a suggested rape scene, and a sex scene. Oh, and it also is 20 minutes shy of a 3-hour running time, and since it’s adapted from a 23-year-old graphic novel, is likely to lure in mostly fanboys. (Analysts say that it attracted primarily males between the ages of 17 and 34.) Considering the odds stacked against it, including a lawsuit that nearly kept it from being released at all, I would say it had a very strong opening. I, myself, a complete “Watchmen” virgin have already seen it twice, and wouldn’t be averse to seeing it again. I’ll definitely be buying it when it comes out on DVD, and I’m already looking forward to the straight-to-DVD animated short, “Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter,” which will be available March 24.
Let’s start at the beginning. What is “Watchmen?” Between 1986 and 1987, DC Comics released this Alan Moore written/Dave Gibbons illustrated 12-part series that begins with the murder of Edward Blake (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a “superhero” known as The Comedian. Even though costumed crime fighters have been outlawed by President Nixon (he’s in something like his fifth term), the still active Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) begins looking around and reveals a possible plot to knock off even more masked heroes, including Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), and Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson). Fans should be pleased, because screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse have been very faithful to the source material, and have even lifted dialogue verbatim. Director Zack Snyder, too, uses panels from the comic as his storyboards. The only big difference between the graphic novel and the film version is the ending, and I am still trying to figure out how many frogs Moore licked to come up with his idea.
Since I don’t conform to the “Watchmen” demographic, you might wonder why I became such a rabid fan and a champion of the film. To begin with, I like Snyder’s style. I really loved “300” and have seen it many times. I like that “Watchmen” doesn’t conform to the superhero formula. Apart from one scene, no one is saved. The characters don’t spend the entire film fighting a “bad guy.” And, more importantly, these masked men and women aren’t squeaky clean. If you take Nite Owl II, and maybe Silk Spectre II, out of the mix, you are left with a bunch of truly messed up individuals. Dr. Manhattan literally has a God complex and is losing touch with humanity. Ozymandias loves the classical world to a fault. The Comedian is a misogynistic sociopath. And Roschach makes the Joker and Hannibal Lecter look normal. When given a choice between Superman or Batman, I will always choose Batman because of his conflicted and dark psychology. The Watchmen have even more baggage than Batman, and I love that. This is a very dark, very brutal film. Finally, “Watchmen” makes you think. It raises questions about human nature, the use of fear as a means of control, the existence of God, and even the role of the U.S. as a superpower. Surely, not everyone will like “Watchmen.” One person with whom I saw the film thought it was just “meh.” But for me, it offered a tremendous cinematic experience. “Watchmen” will undoubtedly land on my Top 10 list of 2009.