Movie Review – ‘Watchmen’

watchmenposterfinal1So, I saw a movie yesterday that is one of those movies that, whether you like the movie or not, you almost can’t stop thinking about. It’s one of those movies that raises so many interesting questions that you almost can’t process it all. It’s also one of those movies that, if you don’t know what you’re getting into (or what your kids may be getting into), could be too much to handle in an effective way. The movie – the new ‘superhero’ movie Watchmen.

Sometimes I hate reading a lengthy review with a succint summary at the end, so I’ll do mine backwards – summary, then a little more in-depth.

Summary – Watchmen is a very interesting and compelling look at human nature that explores important questions about morality, who we look to for justice and security, and how human beings deal with power. However, it explores these issues in an extremely graphic (oftentimes unnecessarily so) way that is not appropriate for anyone who cannot think seriously about the issues raised, or is easily disturbed by graphic (although comic-book-like) depictions of sexuality and violence. Just as with any movie with an ‘R’ rating, I would highly recommend that parents watch it first (or at least with their child) in order to know how to effectively discuss the issues afterwards. I would recommend that no student be allowed to see this movie without an in-depth moral and philosophical discussion from a Biblical perspective with their parents afterwards.

In Depth Review

Plot (Spoiler Alert!) – Here is the plot summary from Wikipedia.com. It’ll save me some time.

In October 1985, New York City police are investigating the murder of Edward Blake. With the police having no leads, costumed vigilante Rorschach decides to probe further. Discovering Blake to be the face behind The Comedian, a costumed hero employed by the United States government, Rorschach believes he has discovered a plot to eliminate costumed adventurers and sets about warning four of his retired comrades, Dan Dreiberg (formerly the second Nite Owl), the superpowered and emotionally detached Doctor Manhattan and his lover Laurie Juspeczyk (the second Silk Spectre), and Adrian Veidt (once the hero Ozymandias, and now a successful businessman).

After Blake’s funeral, Doctor Manhattan is accused on national television of being the cause of cancer in friends and former colleagues. When the U.S. government takes the accusations seriously, Manhattan exiles himself to Mars. In doing so, he throws humanity into political turmoil, with the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan to capitalize on the perceived American weakness. Rorschach’s paranoid beliefs appear vindicated when Adrian Veidt narrowly survives an assassination attempt, and Rorschach himself is framed for murder and imprisoned.

Jaded in her relationship, and no longer kept on retainer by the government, Juspeczyk stays with Dreiberg; they don their costumes and resume vigilante work as they grow closer together, ultimately forging a romantic relationship that begins after the two make love while on board Dreiberg’s owl ship. With Dreiberg starting to believe some aspects of Rorschach’s conspiracy theory, the pair take it upon themselves to free him from prison. Doctor Manhattan, after analyzing his own personal history, places the fate of his involvement with human affairs in Juspeczyk’s hands. He teleports her to Mars to make the case for emotional investment. During the course of the argument, Juspeczyk is forced to come to terms with the fact that Blake, who once attempted to rape her mother, was her biological father. This discovery re-engages Doctor Manhattan’s interest in humanity.

On Earth, Nite Owl and Rorschach continue to uncover the conspiracy surrounding the death of The Comedian and the accusations that drove Doctor Manhattan into exile. They discover evidence that Adrian Veidt may be behind the plan. The pair then confront Veidt at his Antarctic retreat. Veidt explains his underlying plan is to save humanity from impending nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union by faking an alien invasion in New York City, which he hopes will unite the nations against a perceived common enemy. He also reveals that he had killed The Comedian, arranged for Dr. Manhattan’s past associates to contract cancer, and staged the attempt on his own life in order to place himself above suspicion, all in an attempt to eliminate those who learned of his plan. Finding his logic callous and abhorrent, Dreiberg and Rorschach attempt to stop him but discover that Veidt has already enacted his plan.

When Doctor Manhattan and Juspeczyk arrive back on Earth, they are confronted by mass destruction and wide scale death in New York City. Doctor Manhattan notices his abilities are limited by tachyons emanating from the Antarctic, and the pair teleport there. They discover Veidt’s involvement and confront him. Veidt shows everyone news broadcasts confirming the cessation of global hostilities, leading almost all present to agree that concealing the truth from the public is in the best interests of the world. Rorschach refuses to compromise and leaves, intent on revealing the truth. As he is making his way back, he is confronted by Manhattan. Rorschach tells Manhattan that Manhattan will have to kill him to stop him from exposing Veidt and his actions, and Manhattan responds by vaporizing the vigilante. Manhattan then wanders through the base and finds Veidt, who asks Manhattan if he did the right thing in the end. In response, Manhattan states that “Nothing ever ends” before leaving the Earth for a different galaxy. Dreiberg and Juspeczyk go into hiding under new identities and continue their romance.

Analysis – The story itself is compelling (at least to me) for a couple of reasons…

1) Its treatment of the heroes themselves – The writers of this graphic novel took great pains to portray its main characters as real people. Even the worst of them have redeeming qualities, and even the best of them have serious flaws.

2) Its exploration of human nature – Watchmen is, for me, sometimes overly pessimistic, often bordering on nihilistic. However, the assessment of human nature in the story (that human beings will inevitably move towards catastrophic conflict with one another unless we have a common enemy to be united against)  is disturbingly realistic.

Here’s the deal – If you’re looking for a movie that explores deep issues about power, justice, human nature, and conflict, and if you are not easily disturbed by graphic images, Watchmen may be for you. If you’re looking for another fun, (basically) family friendly movie (a la Spiderman, Ironman, or X-Men), this is not the movie for you.

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