Watchmen

Watchmen

***1/2

 

Have you noticed that the entire film industry is trying to convince us to love and respect superhero movies?

Whenever Hollywood manages to produce a superhero picture that isn’t complete laughable garbage, it is lauded as a classic. 2008’s “Iron Man” is a reasonably watchable little action flick with no substance whatsoever. But somehow the Tinseltown hype machine turned it into a massive hit that received uniformly great reviews.

“The Dark Knight” actually was a solid, interesting drama with something to say about humanity. Unsurprisingly, many columnists took it a foolish step further and argued that the Batman flick was the best movie of the year.

Granted, “The Dark Knight” is every bit as good as “Slumdog Millionaire” and definitely better than “The Reader.” But a comic book movie with a half hour of mindless car chases and gun fights should not be seriously considered for Best Picture (for the record: “Gran Torino” was the actual best movie of 2008, with “The Wrestler” a distant second).

By now all moviegoers have been burned by over-hyped, overrated action flicks. Still, when a film like “Watchmen” comes along that is billed as the most ambitious superhero epic of all time, America lines up to see what the buzz is about.

“Watchmen” tells the complex, sometimes convoluted story of the masked vigilantes who protected – and threatened – the United States in 1985.

But this is a strange, alternative version of 1985, where Richard Nixon is serving his fifth term as president and America is on the brink of nuclear war with the Soviets. There is a brilliant opening sequence where we get caught up on the major events of the past 50 years in a montage set to Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’.

To its credit, “Watchmen” really is different than other superhero movies – and not just because its R-rating allows for many more F-bombs than Spiderman will ever use.

Most superhero movies exist in a wholesome, comic book universe where caped characters have simple, justifiable flaws – like a desire to be too hard on the criminals they catch. The watchmen are real people with real – adult – issues.

The big revelation is that the watchmen are not heroes at all. They are lustful, arrogant, and often delusional human beings who happen to don silly costumes sometimes.

Also to its credit, the film never gets boring. Most 90 minute movies have me checking the clock on my cell phone and hoping for the closing credits. “Watchmen” fully justifies its 2 ½ hour running time with plenty of plot development and a large cast of characters.

My major criticism is that we are introduced to so many watchmen that we really never get to know any of them too well or delve deeply enough into their conflicted psyches. In terms of intellectual substance, the film doesn’t quite measure up.

That said: I definitely recommend “Watchmen.” It is an enormously ambitious and engrossing movie that kept me fully entertained for an entire afternoon.

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