Is Watchmen art or fanboy porn? | Film Review | Indy Week
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Is Watchmen art or fanboy porn? 

The renowned, mercurial, comic-book writer Alan Moore once declared that his epic graphic novel series Watchmen was unfilmable. While now a technically inaccurate statement, one gander at the long-awaited cinematic rendering of Moore's magnum opus provides ample appreciation for the spirit behind his proclamation. The film is visually arresting and thought-provoking; it is also bloated and unwieldy. Some will regard it as a cinematic work of art; others will see sheer fanboy pornography.

It must be said that the opening two scenes are brilliant—and hover like an unmet promise throughout the remainder of the almost interminable 161-minute running time. First is the brutal, lyrical beating death of venerable Watchman Edward Blake, aka The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), set to Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable." That is followed by a contextualized opening credits sequence, accompanied by Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'," which chronicles the Watchmen's origin as a group of 1940s masked crime fighters called The Minutemen who later become outlaws working for the law.

In this present-day, hyper-realistic setting, the year is 1985 and Richard Nixon, credited with victory in Southeast Asia, is serving his fifth term as president. However, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. are on the brink of atomic conflagration, a cold to hot war shift largely the consequence of a power imbalance generated by the existence of the radiantly blueblooded, Nietzschean super-something Dr. Manhattan, who was formerly the gregarious nuclear physicist Jon Osterman (Billy Crudup).

Against this backdrop, Comedian's death convinces Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), who continues to mete out his skewed measure of justice in spite of federal law, that there is a plot afoot to kill all superheroes. He solicits the help of his former Watchmen mates, including Dr. Manhattan, his sultry yet frustrated girlfriend Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), a retired, burned-out Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), and Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode), one of the only Watchmen to publicly reveal his secret identity in order to capitalize on his celebrity and super-intelligence for material gain and the realization of a worldwide utopia.

By portraying its heroes as antiheroes plagued with foibles, neuroses and god complexes, Watchmen is widely viewed as a deconstruction of the superhero mythos. Director Zack Snyder (300) pulls no punches for the silver screen, intersplicing his sumptuous palette with buckets of blood, ultra-violence, sex and frontal nudity. Snyder's mostly inspired, sometimes heavy-handed soundtrack choices run from KC & The Sunshine Band to Leonard Cohen to Janis Joplin to Mozart.

Watchmen is a phantasmagorical mind trip, but not about the psychology of America's popular culture as much as the psychology of America itself. We see the extremes of our ideological spectrum: The weirdly arch-conservative Rorschach patrols New York City's mean streets like a deranged guardian angel, while Veidt's abstruse liberalism makes him feel superior to those he would supposedly save. Rorschach believes in killing the guilty to save the innocent; Veidt believes it is acceptable to kill innocents to save others from the guilty.

The problem arises when Watchmen wallows too literally in its pop psychology at the expense of developing a storyline with drive and purpose. Dialogue that is profound on the page proves ponderous when spoken, and Snyder's slavish if skilled devotion to crafting a faithful adaptation shackles him to the panes of Moore's graphic novel in the same way film versions of plays are often confined by stagy strictures. For it to work as a film, Watchmen needed more Jon Osterman and less Dr. Manhattan.

Who will watch Watchmen? Undoubtedly, a great many will. What's doubtful is that many will enjoy it.

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