Watchmen: A Superhero Movie

By ShihnongShihnong


To begin with, Watchmen is a great superhero movie. It’s entertaining, and it would be a great summer blockbuster if it were during the summer. But it’s not. And it’s not supposed to be a superhero movie.

The Watchmen graphic novel is rated as one of Time’s top 100 novels. I haven’t personally read their reason as to why, and I don’t care. What makes it so spectacular are two things: its philosophy and its meta-quality. Personally, I like the philosophy far more than the meta-quality, so I’ll begin with the latter.

The meta-quality of Watchmen shows just how ridiculous comic books are. They take the archetypal characters of comics: the godlike superhuman, the rich dandy, the avenger with a dark past, the sexy female, and the genius, and give them human qualities. Not to mention they’re flabby out of shape ex-heroes. Most of them anyway. The characters mock how they’re supposed to react: when the villain reveals his plan, we expect the heroes to stop it. But the twist is that he’s already done his dark deeds prior to his explanation. Bam.

The philosophy of the movie is where it shines. Because these are (super)heroes, we expect them to be shining exemplars. But Moore’s work is one of the first in which we are given a darker and more complex identity to each character. Despite their complexities, the only three characters of any true importance are the Comedian, Dr. Manhattan, and Rorschach. The Comedian is designed to be an unlikable character. He’s a violent misanthrope and rapist. But his character reveals that vigilantism is a bad idea if it’s uncontrolled, that soldiers are murderers with a title, and that all of this, whether you want to consider it fiction or philosophical, is all a big joke. Dr. Manhattan is truly superhuman, and because of this quality, he is becoming alien to humanity, despite his desire to keep it. This conflict between his human nature and his alien self is a direct throwback to Superman, but almost all the characters become alien in their decision to sacrifice the lives of millions to save billions. This is where Rorschach comes in. He’s the only one who disagrees. He’s the avenger with a dark past, except he’s also fascist in his resolve. He’s judge-jury-executioner, and no one is ever innocent in his eyes. But he’s the only one who believes the world needs to know the truth about the incident rather than having everyone cover it up. “Not even in the face of Armageddon. Never compromise.” The comic leaves us wondering who was right and who was wrong, and what is the value of human life – what is one life, a single grain of sand in a sea of sand, in comparison to billions.

The movie, however, forcibly feeds you that you do not sacrifice one life to make billions. Sure, no one says anything like in the comic, but you see Night Owl spiritually side with Rorschach despite his actual inaction to do so. That is enough to wholly push the film toward preservation of life. It dumbs down the philosophy by offering no choice. When Rorschach’s journal is found at the end, everyone is meant to feel accomplished to know that the truth will be revealed despite the fact that this truth would most likely lead to global nuclear war. This thought is completely removed in the movie version especially with Dr. Manhattan’s line “Nothing ever ends” becoming Laurie’s line. By having the alien Dr. Manhattan say it, we see a macro perspective of humanity – that this moment of peace is but the eye of the storm. In the movie version, it becomes this never ending struggle for the heroes.

So, the philosophy is trampled over in the movie. What else is trampled over? Well, its anti-superhero quality is missing. People’s bare hands crunch when they form a fist. Try curling your hand into a fist. If it crunches, seek medical attention. These heroes are able to do superhuman feats. Ozymandias is the Olympian build – he’s the physical and intellectual limit for humanity. That still should not enable him to jump twenty feet without a running start. The world record for the long jump is 29.5 feet, but that’s with a running start. The one deterrent from vigilantism is the blood. This movie is bloody. Period. Rather than having people think about the ramifications of vigilantism, Snyder shows rampant blood to deter people. Unfortunately, there are people out there like the Comedian who wallow in gore.

This is a personal vendetta against the film. I honestly do not believe this movie needed 80s music. That cheesy electric guitar that appeared every so often and the music selection simply drove me insane. But that’s personal preference. I just don’t believe period films necessitate period music – especially “alternate realities.”

It’s an action movie. But if you’re expecting the substance of the comic book, then you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

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