If you’re one of those people who think movies provide an escape in tough times, then by all means, stay far away from Watchmen. Based on the popular graphic novel (which Time magazine ranked as one of the 100 best novels of the 20th century), Watchmen tells the unconventional story of a group of superheroes who live in an alternate version of reality: the year is 1985, Richard Nixon is still president (he’s won a fifth term), and superheroes have been banned. No wonder most of them have a pretty bleak outlook on the world. Narrated by the most pessimistic of them all, Rorschach, the story centers on a looming threat of nuclear war with the Russians. What role will (or can) our heroes have in stopping this? And will they find out who is trying to kill them before it’s too late?
Not that there’s anything wrong with conventional superhero movies, but for some reason Hollywood thinks we want to see something on the flipside right now. Here’s the thing, though: even Hancock had some laughs and didn’t take itself soooo seriously. Watchmen is a super-serious affair, with a very downbeat tone, and some heroes who aren’t really fighting for good. I don’t have a problem with unconventional stuff like that, or with the fact that this is based on a comic book. But perhaps there’s a reason I couldn’t really get into the graphic novel when I tried to read it last year, despite repeated attempts. And I think that reason is that the story’s just not terribly engaging or compelling, and the characters are not very likable. For example, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre (Patrick Wilson and Malin Akerman, respectively) are actually pretty lame.
Which is not to say the movie’s awful. The actors all make valiant attempts to wring some credibility from the material — Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), for all his character’s pessimism, gives the most notable performance (even if his face is obscured by a mask for most of the film). And the dark look notwithstanding, there are some impressive visual elements in the film, including the neat opening credits sequence. (No, I don’t include Dr. Manhattan’s junk in the list of “impressive visual elements.” We see more of his thang than we did of Jason Segel’s in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I mean, really. I know it’s CGI, but can’t the guy at least wear a thong or something? Even the Hulk wears shorts.) Ultimately, I just didn’t find Watchmen to be as fun, cool, or enjoyable as I’d hoped. It’s much ado about nothing, and that’s why I’m only giving it a C.