This is a difficult one to write and I expect you can find more in-depth coverage elsewhere, however here are some thoughts if you’re interested.
First off, it’s important to establish that I knew nothing of the Watchmen series prior to seeing this film. The history of The Comedian, Rorschach et al means nothing to me, so what follows is based solely on my experience with the film. I won’t really go into detail on the plot either – it’s a bit fuzzy in my head anyway to be honest – since I feel other reviewer’s could do it more justice.
Suffice to say the film is, at least initially, explored from the point of view of Rorschach and his journal entries. Following the death of The Comedian, Rorschach tries to uncover the ‘mask killer’ who he thinks is out to get him and his fellow Watchmen. The film takes place in an alternate 1980s with the US and Russia on the brink of nuclear war. The Watchmen, a group of masked vigilantes, have been retired. It seems they’ve fallen out of favour with America despite their popularity in the past, and the country has become one of criminality and vice. All but one of the Watchmen – Dr Manhattan – don’t have superpowers. As the original Nite Owl explains to Dan (Nite Owl II), the Watchmen were started by frustrated cops deciding to wear masks like the criminals they put away.
Watchmen is a dark, at times gruesome film. That wasn’t unexpected. Having seen Sin City, I expected a similar dark and gritty graphic novel to movie adaptation. Watchmen, however, makes Sin City look like Toy Story. Unlike the superheroes of Marvel and DC, which only dabble with controversial themes, the Watchmen are not the usual knights in shining armour kind of superheroes. They’re all shades of very dark grey in between. Some of them, like The Comedian and Rorschach, are psychotic, while others are megalomaniacs. While it was refreshing to see superheroes who weren’t really superheroes, I felt the film overemphasised their flawed natures, to the extent that it was difficult to identify with any of them.
This was particularly evident with The Comedian, the embodiment of vice in the film. [SPOILER] I felt the scene where he tries to rape the original Silk Spectre was in bad taste. While i’ve come across rape scenes before, Watchmen’s delivery almost glorified it with the camera angles, particular of Silk Spectre’s body. While the rape didn’t take place (although it could be argued the attempt itself was a form of mental rape), and it reinforced The Comedian’s sexist nature, I felt it was overplayed, fetishing the whole thing.
Dan, aka Nite Owl II, drives the narrative with Rorschach and, despite being among the cleanest of the group, he was a bit wishy-washy for me and never seemed to take action. Of course, I think the intention was probably to juxtapose those two characters and it worked, but it made a film that left me feeling pretty frustrated. Rorschach, despite being the character I most identified with, was difficult to stomach. [SPOILER] I liked that he exuded confidence and the glimpse of his back story really helped, but his demise knocked the wind out of me.
That was the hardest part of this film to swallow. At times it seemed to glorify war, while at others it seemed to be anti-war. The latter half of the film saw the main characters desperate to prevent nuclear meltdown, with the frustration of having a character, Dr Manhattan, who could prevent it on a whim, doing nothing. [SPOILER] To witness his return from apathy to concern, only to have him side with the idea that peace at all costs is worth it – ie, the murder of millions to save billions – was intensely frustrating.
Needless to say, I’m still feeling the after affects of a film that paints such a dark picture of the human condition. The film suggests it’s a parody (I fail to see the humor), but it’s a depressingly possible future for us. It seems every other day that some country or another is shaking a stick at everyone else and I suspect it’s only a matter of time before someone decides to throw it.