Dark and Gritty, Not Sparse and Shitty

Watchmen Has the Goods


Unlike most attempts at serious superhero storytelling, Watchmen does more than say a curse word and show boobs.

I’ll do you a favor and let you know if you should even bother with this review: Logan and Joker are two of my least favorite movies. Still with me? Cool!

The reason they’re two of my least favorite movies is because both films seem utterly convinced they’re somehow more mature and challenging than typical superhero fare. Despite showing gore and not bleeping out some dirty words, both movies are every bit as goofy and tame as Avengers. I wish I were famous just so that last sentence would incite angry fanboys to start swatting me.

This nasty habit is what keeps me from enjoying the “dark and gritty” subgenre of superhero movies and TV. They think “dark and gritty” means dim cinematography, grungy set design, and brutal violence. Unfortunately, they forget to actually explore any adult themes. Logan and Joker are PG-13 content cosplaying as R-rated. Then there’s Watchmen

HBO’s new adaptation of Alan “Geek Culture is Embarrassing, Now Come Worship a Snake God with Me” Moore’s classic comic book is distinctly not for the kiddos. I don’t think you really need to worry about taking your kid to see Joker. On the other hand, Watchmen will traumatize your little ones, for better or worse…if that’s a thing.

Set in an alternate 2019 where Robert Redford is president, white supremacist terrorists plot against post-reparations America, police officers wear masks, and a giant squid belly-flopping on New York City is the parallel universe’s equivalent of 9/11. Showrunner Damon Lindelof’s series follows Angela Abar (Regina King), aka Sister Night, a masked cop investigating the murder of her police chief in Tulsa. Because it’s Lindelof, every so often, an episode takes a deep dive into major supporting characters, like the new remix of Rorschach who wears a disco gimp mask or the untold origin story of the first ever costumed crime-fighter.

Framed as a “loose sequel” to the original comics, Watchmen even gives us neat little updates on what Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons playing a demented Jeff Goldblum meme) and Dr. Manhattan (no one plays him yet because HBO is waiting for this show to be a hit before they invest in a CGI dong) are up to. The real reason Watchmen works as a sequel is because of how it expands on the bizarre tone of the comics. Watchmen feels like the spiritual cousin to FX’s Fargo in terms of how it feels more like a continuation of the tone and general intent of the original story, instead of just continuing the initial plot. What gives Watchmen the edge over Joker and Logan is that it never forgets it’s a comic book.

Although Joker and Logan were terrified of seeming “comic booky,” Watchmen is clever enough to lean into its comic booky-ness. For example, giving us a Joker who just sort of shoots people and dances around instead of using laughing gas just makes your comic book movie feel mundane. In Watchmen, when a giant squid kills 3 million people with a telepathic blast and an entire episode explores that national trauma through a startlingly realistic lens, it’s some legitimately wild shit! Sure, a few dark and gritty superhero shows and movies come pretty close, but Watchmen is the first to get the tone absolutely right. The pitfall of reviewing any series is it can poop the bed down the line. As of right now, Watchmen is the best superhero show or movie of the year.

Grade = A


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