Review: 'Watchmen': Do you remember
the Cold War and Lee Iacocca?
By R.M. Monk
March 16, 2009 | Watchmen, the new superhero
movie directed by Zack Snyder, who brought us 300,
is so complex I wonder if the movie's target audience
of young adults will understand the story at all.
Watchmen is set in 1985, different from the
one you may remember. Nixon is in his third term as
president and superheroes are a reality. The elaborate
plot is a murder mystery with superheroes as the victims.
To give a more comprehensive description would be futile
here's the trailer anyways) because Watchmen
is a wildly detailed alternate universe
That maybe a bad thing, for Watchmen is some
of the most complex poetry I've ever seen. The movie
even quotes from a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ozymandias.
and is also one of the character's names. The movie's
grandiose vision, which clocks in a two hours and 40
minutes, doesn't have much room for character development,
so recognizing cultural cues, such as a character's
name, is crucial to understanding the characters' backgrounds.
I've seen this movie twice so far, and I don't think
I've unpacked all there is to it.
Do you remember or know of the tension of the Cold
War, the capitalist empire of Lee Iacocca, the television
program The McLaughlin Group, and the decadence
of Club 54? All these elements show up in varying degrees
to help make the story and characters well rounded.
After all, what does it say about a superhero that he
goes to Club 54 in costume? The more culturally literate
you are, the more you'll "get" this flick.
But you can't stop with only "real" history.
Alan Moore, who wrote Watchmen as a comic book,
played around with the standard superhero tropes that
came before him. Previous comics were corny and rarely
complex, and sometimes they still are. Moore deconstructed
superheroes in an adult way. His work asked what if
someone like Superman, who secretly is the socially
awkward Clark Kent, tried to hook up with a woman. Does
Clark Kent even have a sex life? Would he ruin his first
time because he spent his youth learning how to be heroic
rather than learning to be romantic? How much of a man
is Superman if he can't get a woman?
That's just the tip of the iceberg that is Watchmen.
If you feel overwhelmed, try reading the graphic novel.
It definitely helped me acclimate to the story.
Watchmen, however, may still work for you
without learning the culture. You still get the murder
mystery, the savage fight scenes, the naked blue guy
and his moral dilemma of saving humanity. If all that
leaves you with is confused but with your mouth agape
at images like the naked blue dude flying across Mars
while Jimi Hendrix's All Along the Watchtower
is played at full volume, it's probably still worth
the ticket price.
P.S.: Don't bring your kids to this movie. Yes, it's
about superheroes, but Watchmen is rated R
for good reason. I must say I was appalled that the
couple who sat in front of me brought their toddlers
with them. What's more appalling is they were more than
happy to cover their children's eyes during a sex scene
but did nothing during a murder scene so gory it mentally
traumatizes one of the characters. Parents, get a baby
sitter for this one, and scold those who don't.