Couch Pumpkin: Sofa Adventures
News and reviews for the big and small screens…where potatoes fear to tread.

Watchmen (No reason to get excited?)

Who watches the...?

Who watches the...?

Although I am a self confessed geek, I had not heard of Alan Moore’s acclaimed graphic novel Watchmen until I came across an early promo shot of the Minutemen on a film blog nearly a year ago. The idea of 1940s superheroes (who aren’t even super) intrigued me, but I never got round to reading the book. Thus, I went into Watchmen with little idea of what to expect, beyond what I’d gathered from various reviews and articles.

Infused with a vaguely depressing, retro 80s style (set the year before my birth – so in that sense fascinating), Watchmen pitches us headlong into an alternative world where masked vigilantes once fought crime. Now cast out by thrice ruling Richard Nixon, the Watchmen (a second generation team of misfit ‘masks’) find themselves coping (or rather not) with retirement in different ways. Rorschach, a misanthropic weirdo with a mask like a psychologist’s ink blot tests (for which he is named) skulks around the city keeping an eye on his friends; Dan, aka Nite Owl II, is a chubby bespectacled schmuck on the outside, hiding his true nature beneath high waisted trousers and his hero kit down in the basement; Adrian Veidt, Ozymandias, has built a fortune merchandising the Watchmen and is the only one of the gang to have ‘demasked’. He’s also bent on developing a new energy source with the help of the group’s only real supernatural member, Dr. Manhattan, victim of an experiment gone wrong and now a bright blue, all powerful being that can see through time and space as well as manipulate matter. He and his wife Laurie, Silk Spectre II, live a strange life in which both feel increasingly isolated. The gang is drawn back together by the murder of the hell raising Comedian, a veteran ‘mask’ who pissed off just about everyone. Rorschach goes into full on noir PI mode (with a natty hat) and soon motives are popping up all over the place. Meanwhile the world is on the brink of a nuclear war as America and Russia break out the big guns.

As you can see the concept is meaty and probably the best thing about Watchmen. Its heroes are refreshingly ordinary and certainly highly flawed – it asks us what toll heroism takes on a man (or woman), and the answer is a high one. Nevertheless we are required to suspend our disbelief in some ways, such as Laurie’s ability to take out massive thugs despite being a) size zero and b) dressed in an almost indecently gynaecological latex suit and stiletto boots. This pushes us squarely into ‘comic book’ territory, where men are fast enough to catch bullets. The film’s shots are often reminiscent of comic frames, and I wonder if they were based on actual frames of the novel. On the other hand, the violence is far from ‘comic book’, as Snyder cranks it up to unbearable levels that are, in my opinion, over the top. His slow motion fights mean every drop of blood is crystal clear.

The characters, for all their flaws, are mostly likeable. I must confess a soft spot for dear old Nite Owl, who is probably the most moral of the lot. Even the cheesiest sex scene I’ve seen for some time (soundtracked to Hallelujah – yes, really) didn’t put me off too much. Rorschach, too, is a wonderful figure, whom you end up rooting for despite everything. Manhattan’s Christ-ish journey was really interesting and I loved his entire arc. In some ways, though, I would have liked more flashbacks of the group working together, because it was hard to get a sense of how they functioned as a team in the past.

Laurie/Silk Spectre II is probably the weak link, because her storyline makes her come across as fairly selfish (she’s able to cry for herself, but not for the human race?). I was disappointed that the only female main character’s story was so family centric and almost domestic. Please feel free to suggest how her story illustrates something fundamental (okay, Manhattan’s epiphany of love was important…sort of) but I could have done without the Jupiter family drama.

The story has a couple of twists, none of which are particularly unexpected. I must praise the structure, however, for managing to weave in so many flashbacks and narratives. There was a period at the start of the film when I felt I wouldn’t have understood what was going on had I not read reviews beforehand and got the gist of the concept. However, once the flashbacks kicked in I was engrossed. The end of the film was flabby and needed a trim – I imagine the editors as indulgent fans of the book, reluctant to cut any detail. But about 20 minutes needed to go, because it was LONG!

The script was very heavy handed and full of overblown pronouncements on humanity, America etc. We get it, we suck. But any mainstream Hollywood film is always going to spell out the message in a hundred anvilicious lines so I can get over that. Overall, Watchmen was pretty enjoyable. It takes a different look at the superhero/comic book genre, creating a dark vision of the world people with anti-heroes. Certainly worth a watch 😉 .

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2 Responses to “Watchmen (No reason to get excited?)”

  1. yes, some of the shots were based on frames from the novel.

    interesting to hear you were confused at the beginning, that’s one of the things I’ve been wondering since I went into the movie having read it. I couldn’t really tell if it was hard to follow or not. (in related news, laurie and manhattan weren’t married. she’s one of a string of girls given to doc M to keep him happy.)

    you should totally read it, btw.

    • Ah, I had just assumed they were married because they lived together in the military complex…actually I don’t really know why I thought that.

      The confusion came partly because I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be seeing in the opening montage. I mean, I knew the basic premise that there was a group of heroes called the Watchmen, but the info about how the masked heroes thing started doesn’t come until later (from the old Nite Owl?), nor does the explanation of the anti-mask laws. So you’re watching this montage of masked heroes without actually knowing who they are (even if they’re human) or how they fit into society (how many are there?). I’ll have to ask the people I watched with what they thought, because I don’t think they had read much about it beforehand so didn’t even know the concept. That’s a small nitpick, though – more handholding through the plot might have tipped it too far into ‘dumbed down’.

      I know I should read it – I’ll put it on the top of my ‘post exams’ book list 🙂


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