I know all about Batman, Spiderman, Superman and all the other comics that have been made into movies, but I don’t know much about Watchmen. It is a British comic created by the renowned Alan Moore, who also created V For Vendetta. Watchmen reflects Moore’s penchant for a darker storyline no doubt. I went into the movie, however, not knowing much about the storyline of the comic and perhaps I should have. I’ve never been a huge comic fan and I’d imagine fanboys would have appreciated many of the things in the film more than I did. Those things being laid aside, here is what I thought.
The plot of the story is that there is a band of vigilante superhero types who have been cleaning up society for several years. The start goes through a vignette of the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and 60s and I appreciated many of the references to those eras. Things diverge from history during the Vietnam War, which America wins because of the help of the Watchmen, most notably Dr. Manhattan who is the uberpowerful “blue man” (and who is computer animated unlike the rest of the cast). Anyway, as a result of the win Richard Nixon becomes President for five terms (the Watergate scandal never happens) although it seems as if the only choice was between him and the communists and people do not trust him, calling him “Tricky Dick” as he was known in real life. In 1985, Nixon is still president, technology and history developed a bit differently than actual life (zeppelins made a resurgance), the world is going to pot, run amok by crime and seedy activities, and the US and USSR are on the brink of nuclear war. I’m not going to give away too much of the plot from there for those who want to see the movie.
My favorite character in the whole movie was the character Rorschach. He is a vigilante-type wearing a mask that has a Rorschach ink blot on it. He is a no-compromise, totally black and white kind of guy. In the end things don’t end up going his way and so it is somewhat bittersweet. The basic philosophical dilemma is the battle between Rorschach and the quasi-villainous character. Unlike other characters, this villain is an idealistic utopian, but he is willing to sacrifice innocent lives in order to get to his utopia. Rorshach is equally idealistic but non-utopian and refuses to sacrifice a single innocent individual no matter how good it makes the world. The movie never affirms either worldview but it illustrates a great stark contrast between individualism vs. collectivism and makes people deal with the questions of individual rights vs. utilitarian concerns. Reason magazine, a libertarian magazine, did a piece on Rorshach describing the similarities between himself and some of the characters in the works of Ayn Rand and Steve Ditko. I wouldn’t call Rorshach an Objectivist (Objectivism being Rand’s philosophy) because he is too altruistic and may or may not believe in a God depending on your interpretation of some of his sayings, this in contrast to Rand who embraced “rational egoism” and atheism. However, the elements of uncompromising justice and dedication to individual rights and the black and white worldview that I admire in Rand is all there, so in a sense he borrows all the elements of Rand I like and leaves the ones I dislike to the side. The Reason piece inspired me to watch the movie since I love philosophy, but that is neither here nor there. (Philosophy fans will also notice a similarity between Dr. Manhattan and Nietzsche, but I don’t have time to discuss that, you’ll pick it up.)
As for the movie itself, the filmaking quality is excellent. I thought it was on par with any great movie I have seen. A lot of the intellectual film critic types don’t like movies of this particular genre but I absolutely love it. The places where computer animation was present blended especially well with the live action world. The storyline, however, was somewhat strange and did not make a ton of sense until the very end. I was also highly disappointed with the way the plot flowed. There was some action but there were also long periods of dialogue and simple discussion that I did not like. It seemed like it was a long movie (to be honest I did not check the time) that dragged on and left you waiting for the next action sequence. To be totally honest, the only thing that made this movie worthwhile was the philosophical aspect of Rorshach and Dr. Manhattan. If you really want to do some deep thinking then this is the movie for you. If you are of liberal sensibilities then don’t go to do any thinking because the message this movie will be spitting in the face of all you believe. It is stridently right-wing, which I liked, but which you probably won’t. I thought it was refreshing to see a Hollywood movie not made from a left-wing perspective though.
Overall I would not recommend you go see this movie or if you stay. I don’t think it was good enough for me to say “go” or bad enough for me to say that it isn’t recommended. It’s spring right now, and a long way off from the summer Blockbusters (or at least it seems that way in my part of the country, which is currently too cold for comfort) so maybe it is your best bet for a rainy (or snowy, if you live where I do) day. I don’t know if I spent my seven bucks on something I wanted to, but then again it was decent. Three stars out of five.