For over 25 years now, I have cited Blade Runner as my favorite movie of all time. After seeing Watchmen, I may have to reconsider.
First, I'm glad I went to see the movie alone. I've heard so many comments focused on a blue dick, or the length of the movie, or some other such nonsense, that I'm sure watching it with someone would have been a constant barrage of commentary and complaint. And no, that's not Javier Bardem.
Yes, the movie is long; nearly three hours. But, unlike the dreadfully insipid Titanic, at the end of this movie I wasn't asking for those three hours of my life back. And, as with all such movies, you must be able to look beyond the literal.
Watchmen is iconic and iconoclastic, deconstructionist and revisionist, laden with allegory and allusion. Consider, for example, the character Ozymandias. I'm wondering how many people who viewed the film ever even heard of Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem by the same name. The character even quotes the poem on a plinth in his Antarctic lair. The allusion is amazing. Here's the full quote;
And on the pedestal these words appear -- "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.'
Clearly one must see the allusion to the work, in this case, of a superhero who hopes to leave mankind a lasting legacy, but realizes in the back of his mind that everything is eventually lost in time. Ozymandias was the first poem I ever examined from an expositional point of view, and I was blown away. The use of it in this movie is equally impactful.
Then there is Dr. Manhattan, named, of course, for the Manhattan Project, which yielded the atomic bomb. His character is an allegory for God, and his relationship with man mirrors the apparent detachment with which God sees suffering in the world He created. The deity reference is reinforced often, and one thinks of Oppenheimer's citation of the Bhagavad-Gita, in which Vishnu takes on a godly form and says, "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
In an expository scene in the second act, Dr. Manhattan has a sort of recollection of his life. His account is dizzyingly elliptical, since he does not see time as linear the way others do. This scene has the lyrical feel of my favorite piece of fiction, Alan Lightman's almost unbearably beautiful Einstein's Dreams, and the reference to Einstein cannot be ignored.
But the real beauty of Watchmen is the moral diversity of its superheroes. Each is flawed in different ways, allowing us to inhabit different ethical perspectives, intellectually at least, and witness their consequences. Everything from Rorshach's refusal to compromise, which makes him a doomed fugitive, to the ultimate compromise envisioned by Ozymandias, who can dispassionately evaluate scenarios where millions of lives are sacrificed, calls into question our most cherished beliefs. Where does it leave you? Well, that's for you to decide.
From a purely entertainment perspective, Watchmen is stunning. The visuals are state of the art, and do not suffer from the sort of mental rejection I have for some movies that present too many special effects to swallow at once as reality. And Watchmen doesn't suffer from Hollywood's apparent fascination with camp in comic book movies. Camp works to some degree in Spiderman, since he's a somewhat humorous character to begin with. But the excess of camp rendered the Fantastic Four sequel unwatchable. Watchman proves that superheroes can use more subtle forms of humor, such as irony, without devolving into camp for cheap laughs.
And the music, oh, the music. If you didn't grow up in the 60's and 70's, you will surely miss some of the impact, but don't worry. Even a second hand recollection of such iconic tunes will suffice. I am reminded of the painfully awful Across the Universe, which couldn't even pull together a decent movie built around the greatest catalog in modern music. Watchmen does it in spades.
I LOL'd, I cried. The people in the theatre applauded at the end. I vowed to wait 24 hours before writing a review to see if my euphoria passed. It hasn't.