To Watch or not to Watch: a review of the Watchmen

watchmen-poster-groupMy title refers not to whether or not you should watch the film, but about the dilemma of the characters–to watch over others or not.

You should see the film. It’s good to understand the gritty basics of superheroes and why they do what they do, and what kinds of mortals these heroes be.

I’ve bought the book, but I haven’t done more than skim it to see how close it comes to the movie.  I think the movie is faithful to the book.  But for those who haven’t read the book–like me–here’s the skinny on the movie:

The movie explores a history of superheroes in America–as if they really existed. The opening credits are brilliant.  All the moments of American history have as a background these groups of superheroes–mostly non-superpowered costumed vigilantes.  We won Vietnam, Nixon has won a third term as President, it is 1985.  We are in a cold war, but Andy Warhol is painting Night Owl not Marilyn Monroe.

Someone is killing off costumed superheroes who have retired.  Since an Act of Congress, superhero groups and persons have been outlawed or disbanded.  One of the superheroes has become a megamillionaire trying to create green energy; others have just retired without revealing who they were.  The threat of nuclear war is ever present.  One hero has superpowers, Dr. Manhattan, created in an accident (like all good heroes), and he is approaching godhood, barely concerned with humanity, but seeking to help find a way to help the world find an energy solution too.  He is the reason the Russians don’t attack–they are frightened of his nuclear abilities.

These heroes have mixed pasts.  They are more vigilantes, no longer asked to keep vigil.  There is no strong moral code guiding them.  Except for Night Owl, very few of them know what a moral code is.  For Rorschach, whose mask constantly changes shape–a fascinating thing to watch–humanity is disgusting, all the baser natures breeding and leaving nothing of value.  For him, he doesn’t care about humanity–they are all criminals waiting to happen.  When he searches the streets to find answers to who killed the Comedian (who dies in the first few minutes of both the film and the trailer), he beats people up to get his answers.

The movie is more complex than a whodunnit.  And this is what I love about the story.  It will complicate your ideas of justice.  And heroes.  And what responsibility is taken up when you take up a costume and “crimefighting,” and what kind of person needs to have that role, and what person doesn’t need to have it.

The movie shows us heroes who want to do something to help the world, but are filled so much with their own problems that they just don’t have the teamwork, the focus–they aren’t even on the same page.  You thought the Fantastic Four squabbled, but this is chaos.  It’s gritty real, though, at what a “real” group of heroes would be doing–all idealism, but with their own agendas.

If you liked Dark Knight, you will enjoy Watchmen.  It makes you think about vigilantism–what decisions you are allowed to make on behalf of others, and what decisions you shouldn’t make on behalf of others–even to keep them safe.

The movie is also visually stunning.  The sequences on Mars, the blue Dr. Manhattan, the fighting sequences–we’ve come a long way through the Matrix and out again.

The movie isn’t perfect.  I’ve never seen a worse Nixon–he looks plastic, as if he is wearing a mask himself; there are poor choices in music–Leonard Cohen singing “Hallelujah” during a sex scene; the sex scene itself seems a bit long.  But these are small things in a long movie that, overall, satisfies.

It has a lot of gratuitous violence–but I think the violence says a lot about these heroes.  They’ve become numb to it, to the choices they make regarding other people.  The world is something to clean up and guard.  Silk Sepctre II says that the law that disbanded superheroes was the best thing to ever happen to her–she never wanted to be a superhero.  Her mother, the first Silk Spectre, made her.  She hated the clothes. And the responsibility.

The end will keep you talking for weeks.  I promise you.  It is no easy ending and the movie leaves you wrestling with decisions.  Go see it.  Justice isn’t an easy topic.  Our conversation afterwards at Tim Horton’s involved youth who tag buildings with graffiti, but it could have been anything we were upset about.  To what ends does vigilantism aspire?  How far would you work outside of “the law” to get “justice”?  It sparks a lot of difficult conversations.  I’m sure I came across like an idiot–but i tend to let myself talk to see what I might say.  Cause only when I’ve said it, do I get to evaluate whether or not I believe it.

So, go see the movie and see what you start talking about afterwards.

2 thoughts on “To Watch or not to Watch: a review of the Watchmen

  1. Kater March 15, 2009 / 9:59

    I just saw it. You’re right about the violence; it was almost too much at times. I had to plug my ears for about 80% of the fight scenes because it was too graphic.

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