Day By Day

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Watching the Watchmen

A few days ago we went to see "Watchmen". What to say about it? I can't compare it to the comic book on which it is based -- I haven't read it and have no interest in doing so. I haven't been much into comics since the age of fourteen. I don't particularly care for the superhero genre and frankly am a bit disturbed by its prominence in our youth culture. So what to say?

Well for one, in cinematic terms it's sorta OK. There are a lot of impressive, nicely staged shots, but the direction leaves a lot to be desired. The action scenes might have served a few decades ago, but by today's standards they are clumsily handled. There is too much gratuitous gore, too many slo-mo snaps. The pacing -- well..., it seems not to have been a consideration, especially in the last half hour which seems to drag on interminably. Interactions among the characters are wooden and the acting, with the exception of Jackie Earle Haley, who is great in the role of Rorschach, is mediocre.

There is some small attempt to provide a spine on which to hang the movie's disparate elements. Someone is killing superheroes, and Haley's character is trying to find out who and why. In the course of his investigations he introduces us to a strange menagerie of less-than-heroes, each of which supposedly corresponds to an iconic superhero from the DC or Marvel universe. These portrayals of debased heroes supposedly "deconstruct" the superhero genre, but in this regard "Watchmen" says nothing that Philip Wylie hadn't already said in "Gladiator" way back in 1930, before the birth of Superman. And the introduction of so many characters, each of whom comes with a complex backstory as does the group collectively, complicates the narrative not quite to the point of incomprehensibility, but close.

So what do we have? Mediocre acting, mediocre directing, mediocre writing, ridiculous dialogue, gratuitous violence... what else?

Oh yeah, I really, really, really hated the ideological perspective that informs "Watchmen". It is a bizarre peek into post-Vietnam left-wing paranoid delusion. The people who created this mess are quite simply deranged. Ultimately the film condones mass murder on a Stalinesque scale in order to thwart the designs of a greater evil. And what represents that evil? Why, it's..., it's..., Richard Nixon -- the president who ended Vietnam, instituted a policy of detente with the Soviet Union, and normalized relations with mainland China -- who is portrayed here as a warmonger and a tool of the military/industrial complex, whose decisions drive the world ever closer to nuclear armageddon.

In the end democracy has failed and is replaced by tyranny -- a partnership uniting Nixon and the monstrous Soviet leadership, all of it engineered by a ruthless utilitarian technocratic manipulator. There is no place in this maniac vision for ordinary people, who are slaughtered with abandon, or for free enterprise, or for freedom of information, or for free thought of any kind. The lone advocate for human freedom is destroyed, but even he did not think ordinary people worth saving. This is a Hobbesean universe in spades, filled with criminals, sadists, pederasts, and murderers and their victims. "Watchmen" is ultimately a profoundly anti-human film.

I left the theater sadly contemplating not just the insane carnage I had seen on the screen but also the kind of people who could create such misanthropic madness, but mostly I was dismayed at the thought of the miserable fanboys who reveled in these grotesque power fantasies and the millions who seem to be making "Watchmen" into a commercial success.