Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

The biggest laugh Watchmen got at the sold-out, 9 a.m., IMAXsuburban-theater show I went to on Saturday occurred [SOMETHING OF ASPOILER ALERT HERE — LOOK AWAY IF YOU MUST!] when the LeeIacocca-businessman-figure said, “Free is just another word forsocialist.” It was the happily derisive laugh of a crowd that wastotally into the movie, and which also seemed well aware of the recenteffort to label the Obama stimulus package as “socialist” — and theaudience clearly thought the use of that supposedly-inflammatory wordwas a joke.

Of course, director Zack Snyder couldn’t have known that line would have that context when he was filming Watchmenhowever many months ago, but movies have a way of capturing what’s inthe air at the moment of their release-date in uncanny ways.

In general, no matter what you may think are the flaws in directorSnyder’s version of Alan Moore’s book, it does one thing consistentlyand assiduously: It seizes upon Moore’s long-standing sympathy for’60s-style politics, strips away much of Moore’s bluster (that’s one ofthe advantages of having to pare down the novel), and hammers at theidea that Nixonian politics don’t work. Even the libertariansentiments spouted by the movie’s Rorschach, positioned in the movie asits most interesting figure (thanks to a combo of his CGI mask andJackie Earle Haley’s terrific performance) are viewed by Moore/Snyderas Walter Kovacs’s one crucial character flaw.

Watchmen is the most “political” movie in theaters now, and will beseen by many people who’d never dream of going to a Michael Mooredocumentary or of Netflixing All The President’s Men (I caught at least two shout-outs to Woodward and Bernstein in Watchmen).Pretty soon if not already, those who disagree with Alan Moore maystart inveighing against the movie. They’ll argue about the cleansingpower of…what? Liberalism? (Let the “masks” coexist with ordinarycitizens!) Anarchy? The nihilism some people (not me) believe isinherent in the movie’s violence and sex? Pretty soon those people –mighty Rush Limbaugh, perhaps? explodin’ Bill O’Reilly? — may come tosee Watchmen as a ripe target. Me, I think it’s just moreevidence that pop culture works in mysterious ways that even itscreators cannot predict.