Don’t Watch the Watchmen

Who watches the Watchmen? Me, unfortunately. But you can learn from my mistake and stay away, far, far away, from this viciously repugnant film. I cannot explain what is wrong with the movie without revealing key elements of plot, so if you are already determined to see the movie, DO NOT read on. At least you can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Though a movie superficially about “super heroes,” these “heroes” are either brutal murderers, vicious psychopaths, or impotent sideliners.

I’ll get right to it. In order to get the United States and Soviet Union to start working together in a common cause, rather than blow each other up in nuclear war, Ozymandias murders some 15 million people in various cities around the world and lets the world believe Dr. Manhattan, another of the Watchmen, is to blame. Dr. Manhattan, who set up Richard Nixon for additional terms as president, “understands” this mass murder while neither condoning nor condemning it, right before splattering another of the Watchmen for threatening to tell the truth about what happened.

The theme of the movie, then, is that the ends justify the means, however barbaric, murderous, unprincipled, detestable, and horrific. (In reality the chosen means would achieve only suffering, tyranny, and death.) Notice a couple of things. It is the very existence of Dr. Manhattan and his support of Nixon that led to Nixon’s continued presidency and the continued cold war, and thus the “need” for Ozymandias to murder 15 million people. And Ozymandias is known as the “world’s smartest man.” The movie thus attacks heroism as such at the deepest level.

The film’s stylish artistry, along with its two characters of any virtue, serve only to mask the film’s basic indecency. Ultimately, though, those two characters — Silk Spectre II and Nite Owl II (brilliantly portrayed, I confess, by Patrick Wilson) — serve only to illustrate the fundamental futility of true heroism.

Though Flibbert is basically correct about the film, he doesn’t get these characters’ relationship quite right. Owl can’t express his romantic interest in Spectre so long as he surrenders to fear. So he comes out of retirement and, with Spectre, first saves people from a burning building and then breaks a compatriot out of prison. Here these characters are tough, resilient, actually heroic, and very bad-ass. But these adventures do not impact the broader course of the movie. In the end, they accomplish nothing. Ozymandias claims that their greatest triumph is failing to stop the mass murders.

This disgusting film — which got a 65 percent “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes, leading me to question the sanity of movie critics — made $55.7 million opening weekend. It cost around $130 million. My only hope is that those of us suckered into seeing it tell all our friends to abstain from rewarding this monstrous film with additional ticket dollars.

7 thoughts on “Don’t Watch the Watchmen”

  1. I sat through this mess of a movie, and feel the same way. I was also, like you, struck by Dan Dreiberg’s performance. I thought the rest of the acting was poor at best.

  2. The name of the actor who played Nite Owl II is Patrick Wilson. Dan Dreiberg is the character’s fictional ‘real name.’

  3. Thanks for the correction. I corrected the original post by replacing “Dan Dreiberg,” the name of Nite Owl’s alter ego, with “Patrick Wilson,” the actor who played Dreiberg/Owl.

  4. The Watchmen weren’t heroes in the simplistic comic book sense. They were ultimately misguided, deranged, impotent, etc who were trying to do good for others, sacrificing themselves. Ultimately evil either in action or accepting of the result. One man knew it to be evil and while he could not exact justice; he would tell the world or die trying. Heroic indeed.

  5. I think you misunderstand the point of the Film/Comic (I’ll refer to them one and the same, because it is a very faithful adaption).

    The point Alan Moore was making was certainly not that the ends justify the means, nor that it is right for heroes to be ‘murderers… psychopaths or impotent sideliners’.

    Those who walk away from the film thinking that the film is justifying those things, make the same mistake as those who walk away from Fight Club, thinking that it glorifies nihilism.

    It is meant to make Heroism look futile, I’ll agree there. However, that is really more of a plot-device than a theme, since it is used to get to this deeper question of this whole ‘ends justifying the means’ thing, and the question of ‘Who watches the watchmen?’.

    I actually hope more films are made, not with this sense of film, but with respect to: casting; depth of plot and theme; complexity; soundtrack; and, visuals/style.

  6. Er, realised a typo in my previous comment. It should read, “I actually hope more films are made, not with this sense of LIFE…”

    What I meant was that qua film, it’s very well done. It handles it’s theme and subject very well and produces a very good film – as a work of art, what it represents, is something thought (and emotion) provoking, but with very malevolent and depressing overtones.
    As someone said on Diana’s blog, in the latest Sunday open-comment: Moore seems to think in images and present them very well. The actually conceptual substance behind them, however, is severely lacking.

  7. One more thing:

    A quote from Alan Moore. His stated intention with ‘Watchmen’ was to create an…
    “admonition to those who trusted in ‘heroes’ and leaders to guard the world’s fate.” He added that to place faith in such icons was to give up personal responsibility to “the Reagans, Thatchers, and other ‘Watchmen’ of the world who supposed to ‘rescue’ us and perhaps lay waste to the planet in the process”

    His point was not that heroes are bad. What he is criticising are the supposed “heroes” that people put their lives in the trust of, asking them to take moral responsibility, and to do the things – horrible, unspeakable things – that they would not dare do themselves, but thought would be necessary.

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