According to Grady Hendrix, the film critic for Slate magazine, this film poses the question what the world be like if it had superheroes, and the answer is a resounding, "The world would be worse off!"
We are to believe that, because of the Watchmen, President Nixon goes on to serve more than three terms in office. I don't care what the circumstances, there's no way you'll convince me, or a room full of rational-thinking people, that the world, or at least America, would be better off with Nixon serving more than three terms.
As a result of these superheroes, JFK still gets assassinated, the Soviets still get nuclear weapons, and, in an opening montage, which depicts two lesbians murdered and labeled "whores," apparently homophobia still runs rampant.
If that's the world these superheroes have wrought, all the better that they're put out of business. If that's the world they've created, nobody, and I mean nobody, should like the Watchmen. But, that's the essential problem that superhero stories have to reconcile.
If you have a world of superheroes, and not just one or two but a lot who have been around for decades, doesn't there come a point when the crime rate drops? Unless the Watchmen are bumbling idiots, what criminal thinks they're going to get away with their crimes.
Honestly, the prison business would be the best business ever. With superheroes in full force, catching criminals, prisons would be overflowing. The streets would be a lot safer and brighter. Logically, the world wouldn't be as grim as this film seems to paint it.
In flashback, Nixon asks the Watchmen for help during the Vietnam War, which they do. Their help becomes instrumental in Nixon extending his office stay. Later, Nixon outlaws superheroes, and the film never explains why. There's a possible explanation, but it makes no sense.
I could have done without all the Rorschach narrations. Are we really supposed to believe a man as tough and as brutal as Rorschach keeps a diary? We're enthralled in his murder mystery, which is prompted by one of the Watchmen getting killed. We think more are in danger. Perhaps, it's a serial killer of superheroes like in The Incredibles (2004).
Except, it's not. The murder is really just a bump on the road to a more complicated plot. I suppose we should want to solve the murder, remove the bump and clear the road.
Except, we don't. A man known as The Comedian, a man who is in no way funny, is murdered. Through a series of bad memories, we learn The Comedian was himself a murderer. He also did a Chris Brown and beat up his woman. He went even further and raped her.
The real mystery becomes not who killed The Comedian but why was this man allowed to be a superhero. No matter how dark a knight Batman was, he never beat and raped women. I'm sitting in the theater, thinking what an awful character.
So, if Nixon outlawed superheroes. The Comedian could have been a catalyst. But, does one bad apple ruin the entire superhero bunch? All superheroes shouldn't be outlawed when the rest are relatively stable.
Maybe the backlash was spurred by the public. We saw in Will Smith's Hancock (2008) how a superhero can be hated and not adored by the masses. Yet, despite the fact that some of the Watchmen seem like jerks, most especially Rorschach who is the most violent of vigilantes, they don't seem as reckless as Hancock. The fact that Ozymandias has turned his superhero status into a best-selling brand contradicts the argument of the public backlash against the Watchmen. So, why are they outlawed?
There was an episode of the ABC series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman where the famous superhero was put on trial. That episode seemed more reasonable than this.
OK, maybe that was a minor point being that the Watchmen had more important things with which to contend. The Watchmen after all have to deal with a nuclear holocaust knocking at their doors, which unfortunately introduces the problem of the deus ex machina.
Yes, one of the Watchmen is a god-like figure named Dr. Manhattan, who looks like he could be Mystique's older brother or perhaps the leader of the blue man group, except he walks around completely nude. If you always longed to know what a Smurf's penis would look like, this film is your opportunity.
But, make no mistake. Dr. Manhattan is very powerful. He can manipulate matter. He can see into the future. He can teleport things and people. He can do a boatload of tricks. He can even grow to be 50-feet-tall.
But, talk about a movie with contradictions. There's a moment when one of the Watchmen says Dr. Manhattan can't be everywhere at once. A few scenes later, we see Dr. Manhattan multiply himself. That other Watchmen says Dr. Manhattan can't stop all the nuclear weapons. Later, we see Dr. Manhattan can create force fields and he can also transform objects into whatever he wanted like flowers. So, actually, he can stop the nuclear weapons. He could turn them all into flowers or erect a force field around America to shield it.
If you're going to have a god-like character, you can't present a problem that he could solve with a blink of an eye. The complicated plot is only complicated because it has to be built around Dr. Manhattan, but it gets to a point that trying to undermine this deus ex machina only undermines the credibility and the importance of the plot.
Last year, I saw an amazing animated movie about the Justice League, and, even though it dealt with weird aliens and monsters, I found that cartoon immensely more plausible than this. It was a lot more entertaining as well.
I'm not sure if it was a pacing problem, but, when someone said that the Doomsday clock was down to 4 minutes, I yawned. I didn't feel the urgency of that danger at all. If the so-called scales maintaining the balance of terror were tipping in the Soviets' favor, it completely went over my head.
Sadly, the superhero scenes weren't really that super. First off, none of the Watchmen, save for Dr. Manhattan, have superpowers. No one has super strength or can fly or has X-ray vision. No. They're all just costumed freaks who can fight really well, but honestly none are all that better than Jackie Chan on a bad day.
Besides some, brief, bone-crunching scenes, all of it was rather boring to me. There is a prison break scene that beyond being very bloody is quite lame and is nowhere near as clever or fun as the Joker's prison break in The Dark Knight (2008).
I will admit that Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy and Little Children) who plays Daniel, the Nightowl, is probably the best actor in the bunch. His character is very much like Clark Kent, mild-mannered, wearing glasses, when he's himself. Yet, in his Nightowl costume, he's very much a poor-man's Batman. While the others seem one-dimensional, he's the only one who seems like a complete character.
Wilson's Nightowl does discuss this generational idea of elder superheroes passing on the work to the younger brood. This was an idea I liked, one of the few.
I also would have liked to have known if this notion of real-life superheroes were limited to America. Were there Russian equivalents to the Watchmen? Were there Japanese equivalents, or Mexican equivalents? Even the NBC series Heroes conceded there would be superheroes in other countries. Why not in this one?
One Star out of Five
Rated R for graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 43 mins.