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What to See – Watchmen

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Zack Snyder’s Watchmen offers movie fans a rare pleasure — namely, a film to argue over. Based on the genre-bending 1986 comic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen may be the next Fight Club , a movie that questions our lurid attraction to spectacle even as it offers up brute-force visuals. Older critics will undoubtedly fail to see that Snyder’s violent, sexual, dark film is actually a commentary on the violence, sex, and darkness in comics and comic-book movies.

There’s also the risk that audiences won’t get it — that the bare-knuckle crime fighting of the masked vigilante Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) will be seen simply as tough-guy action and not as a meditation on how scary violence and vengeance can really be. Or they won’t understand why the “smartest man on Earth,” an ex-crime fighter named Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), is forced to live down here with the rest of us. Or they’ll snicker at Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) — a scientist transformed into a superhuman with control of space and time — because he spends much of the film naked, without appreciating the logical illogic of the gesture. If you were invulnerable, and all-powerful, and knew it, why would you need clothes?

Snyder (and screenwriters Alex Tse and David Hayter) deserves credit for making a film that takes up the thorny questions of sex, violence, politics, and power that other comic-book movies glide over. But while the movie can’t, by definition, do what the comic did — the rigid panel-on-paper structure kept Watchmen‘s cold irony frozen — I’m worried that the fluid heat of moviemaking will melt the original’s frigid brilliance and turn cynicism into mere showiness. There are flaws in Watchmen — a rushed finale, moments where the action looks shabby — but it’s far more ambitious than you’d expect any megamillion production to be.

In June, there’s going to be a 190-minute director’s cut of Watchmen released. That news may make you think again about seeing the 163-minute version — but skipping it would be a mistake. Like The Passion of the Christ or W. or The Matrix , this is a movie you’ll want to see as soon as possible — if only to be in on the controversy that is going to swirl around it. Like Michael Chabon’s Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Watchmen is about comics, but it’s also about life in the twentieth century, the wonder and horror of it, and how pop culture is sometimes just the mask history wears when it wants to walk among us in secret.

For an alternate view of Watchmen, check out Eugene Novkov’s review on the SciFi Scanner.

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