Who watches the Watchmen? The first weekend, 55 million dollars worth of viewers; after that, not so many folks. So, finally, all these years later, an answer to Juvenal’s question. (And no, Juvenal is not some misspelled hip-hop artist’s stage name; he of the many pit bulls.) So yeah, Watchmen. I was curious. I was intrigued. I had seen the first trailer and I had read the graphic novel and I was there Day 1. And it was lame. It was boring. It had not a whit of humor or irony or anything resembling a compelling narrative. So, having watched the Watchmen I feel compelled to write.
And I don’t even care about the missing tentacled monstrosity from space. I’m going
to talk about what was there. Cause what was there sucked.
First off, if the movie (and the book before that) were meant to “reflect contemporary anxieties” I call bullshit. It’s set in 1985. We liberals in the West may not have liked Reagan or Thatcher but in no way were we nearing 12:00 midnight on the Doomsday Clock. The Cuban Missile Crisis two decades earlier, yes. But 1985? No way. The idea of five terms for Nixon, now that would cause anxiety, but imminent nuclear annihilation in 1985, the year of a-Ha’s “Take On Me”, nope. If there was anything we were all afraid of it was the next song by Phil Collins.
So the basic premise that we’re given, that we’re all consumed with the potential for global Hiroshima is just false. And boring. How many more Nixons, how many more prosthetic noses and jowly bass voices and beads of flop sweat while dark eyes dance furtively must we see on screen before Nixon as the Devil is put to rest? The actor playing Nixon looked like the guy from Coach with some baker’s dough stuck on the middle of his face. So much for the Dybbuk.
So the timeframe is wrong and the big demon is lame. Well, let’s go to our heroes, our finely deconstructed super-heroes with damaged ids, egos and libidos.
Dr. Manhattan, or should I say Billy Corgan of Smashing Giant Blue Pumpkins, was bland from the get. That stupid new-agey voice. The giant nakedness, the giant blue junk, his oh-so-symbolic watchmaker father (Benjamin Button does the same thing with the whole prelude with the blind clockmaker – the battle lines behind God and behind science both use watchmaker and clockmaker symbolism) just too fucking much. And when he builds his weird gears-within-gears assemblage on Mars, Giant Manhattan Smurf basically does a clock’s inner workings made into a cathedral by Gaudi.
Or Rolex in Wackyland. He built this city, we get it. And it’s sharp and it hurts.
And the good Doctor’s soap opera backstory? The ex-g.f. with the chemo comb-over, revealed on some tabloid news show? Mexican telenovelas have more intricately plotted and more interesting devices. And they’re made for a sub-literate audience still living an agrarian existence. Hmm, kind of like fanboys except fanboys sub take-out for subsistence farming.
But he does have shading. He makes out with the underage Silk Spectre. He cares about humanity, he doesn’t care about humanity. Before the Dark Knight, before deconstructing the superhero ethos, the only questions posed by fans were simplistic ones on the order of, “Who would win a fight between Superman and Batman?” Ah, the good old days.
And that stupid symbol on his head. Is it the old alchemical symbol for gold? Is it a hydrogen atom? Does it matter? Do we care? I find I do as days later that’s the only question I have about the character. He drew a perfect circle. He’s god. Now draw the pirate and the parrot and go to matchbook art school and leave us all alone.
Nite-Owl? Batman with erectile dysfunction? He’s good. He goes to bad parts of town to talk to old superheroes. He doesn’t quite know what to do with women. He’s got a bit of a paunch. He’s boring as fuck. If anyone asks why actors always want to play bad rather than good, point to Nite-Owl and Rorschach. One’s St. Theresa with night-vision goggles and one’s batshit crazy. And one makes you want to watch and one makes you want to leave. And one more thing - Whether or not Dr, Manhattan’s sperm is cancerous or not, there’s no way his bitch, Silk Spectre, sleeps with this avian loser.
And his name – Dan Dreiberg. Can we get any more lame? I can hear Carson as Art Fern saying, “Ewww, Dan Dreiberg.” Try it at home. A bit nasal. No, more. Good. That alone has more shading than the character itself.
And his love interest, Silk Spectre? As they say in L.A., “what a lox.” Pia Zadora wasn’t available? Sally Field selling Boniva, some bone supplement for the soon-to-die set, is more convincing. Malin Akerman is her name. Malin as in Malign. As in Mail-In, like her performance. Just such a nothing. And now never ever say or write her name again.
Ozymandias, the world’s smartest man, blonde Aryan superman, complete with quasi-Nazi accent. So let’s get this straight – he’s obsessed with Alexander the Great yet he names himself after Rameses the Great, an Egyptian pharaoh. Why not Alexander? Well, cause there’s no famous sonnet by Shelley called Alexander whose theme is the hubris of man. We all die, great and small, and our works and deeds are forgotten. The famous line from the poem “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” is ironic because we’re just looking at ruins. In Watchmen all the irony is removed surgically because his works, the destruction of some of the world’s great cities – IS A CAUSE FOR DESPAIR. Thank you Mr. Moore for taking a poem we’ll be reading for centuries to serve in your book which people will stop reading, oh, about ten minutes after seeing the movie.
And the less said about the lame pet of his, Bubastis was it? A plush toy sold in gas stations? What was up with that? Oh, thjs Ozymandias is weird, look, he’s got one of those? When he kills all his workers, scientists, whatever, so they can accompany him to the next life isn’t that the clue that he’s going to die as well? But he doesn’t? He doesn’t drink the Kool-Aid. Pretty smart, after all.
Which leaves us with the Comedian and Rorschach, the only real flesh and blood characters in the movie.
The Comedian kills Kennedy, he kills the Vietnamese woman carrying his baby, he shoots unarmed demonstrators, and he fathers Silk Spectre. All the killing is bad enough but must every sci-fi fantasy story involve parentage that’s traced to the worst of us ala Darth Vader? He’s the Comedian not because he’s funny but because he knows that life is pointless and meaningless – it’s all a joke, a great, big cosmic joke. He dies early in the film but then jeeps coming back into the stories of others for the entire almost-three hours of the film. Having sat through the film, I know exactly how he felt.
But at least he had some character and some blood and some contradictions. He was a human being. As was Rorschach, the man with Mask of a Thousand Blots. With a childhood comprised of equal parts Dickens and Cormac McCarthy, Rorschach is a staunch defender of the truth. It may be his truth, but at least it’s truth. His death at the end gave me the only lasting image of the film – the snow angel made of his blood and viscera. I know it’s in the book but it looked great on the screen. And in terms of a hero, what better hero than a damaged sociopath who only wants the Truth? And since there won’t be a sequel, at the end we are left hoping that his journal gets published so THAT PEOPLE WILL KNOW THE HORROR AND THE TRUTH.
If only they’d published it before I went to see the movie.