Watchmen: An Ode to Misanthropy


watchmen_movieAs Lord Byron so finely observed, "All men are intrinsical rascals, and I am only sorry that not being a dog I can't bite them."

Shakespeare went canine, too, when evaluating humanity in Timon of Athens: "I am misanthropos, and hate mankind, For thy part, I do wish thou wert a dog, That I might love thee something." 

There are dogs, too, in Zack Snyder's visually masterful Watchmen, an adaptation of Alan Moore and David Gibbons' 12-issue comic book that was released during 1986 and 1987. As Wikipedia so authoritatively notes, Watchmen is "regarded by critics as a seminal text of the comic book medium." Oh, as for the dogs? Here we have two mad mutts fighting over the bones of -- if I remember correctly -- a six-year-old girl who had been previously dismembered by a pederast. This perv's just rewards include repeated axe whacks into his skull by a deranged superhero named Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley).

Yes, the "retired" superheroes depicted here are as morally and mentally askew as the masses they had once vowed to protect. The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), for instance, reads Hustler, rapes another superhero after banging her head into a pool table, shoots pointblank his pregnant Vietnamese mistress, and slaughters political protesters with sadistic glee.

His own murder -- he gets thrown through a plate glass window -- is the catalyst for the rest of the film. At The Comedian's funeral, his former crime-fighting pals -- Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), Rorschach, Night Owl (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman), and the blue, well-endowed Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) -- reunite.

Will this disenchanted quintet discover who murdered one of their own, and will they at the same time save the world from nuclear destruction?

Well, yes and partially yes, but don't expect these endeavors to be accomplished in a fun, generic action way. Watchmen is deadly serious in how it tackles God, politics, morality, and the immeasurable idiocy of the world's inhabitants. 

Yet for all its towering self-righteousness, the film is never boring. It, though, at times borders on the ridiculous, especially when Lynda-Carter look-alike Akerman has more than two sentences in a row to speak. Her inability to act and Goode's Shaun Cassidy impersonation transform a few of the film's segments into instant camp.

But in the end, this is the perfect post-Abu-Ghraib, country-in-recession, Madoff-Lohan-Limbaugh adventure. Our country is still Bush-ed, and a Superman would be laughed off the world stage. "What happened to the American Dream?" "It came true." What we need now is a pensive, blue-balled Dr. Manhattan, who is a mass of atomic energy. Someone who can view us humans disinterestedly and then decide if we're worth salvaging. - Brandon Judell brandon.jpg

Mr. Judell, who's currently teaching "Contemporary Israeli/Palestinian Cinema" at City College, has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.