I must concede right away that I have never read ‘The Watchmen’ and I had no idea what I was stepping into… To be brutally honest, I had little expectations from it because it was after all another adaptation of a graphic novel. And one can’t really blame me for that! All my life I have watched my favorite comics and graphic novels turned to mindless pop culture enthused garbage which had no representation of what those comics meant to me.
I know I sounded like a comic book geek when I said that. But I will stand by my view. See comic books are much more to those who read them than a bunch of colourful pictures and a non-linear story line. And it is insulting, to watch these characters one so passionately loves, be turned into living jokes, just so that more people will relate to them!
Even though I have never read ‘The Watchmen’, I can tell by this movie that this is the kind of stuff ‘I would want to fall in love with’!
The Watchmen are a group of masked vigilantes, based in an alternate timeline during the cold war era, who took to the streets to ‘finish what the law couldn’t’. They came to be subsequently banned by the government, with just the Comedian, Dr. Manhattan and Rorschach left operating. The vigilante Rorschach chooses to work illegally whereas the other two become government operatives.
The Watchmen may sound like your average superheroes, but they are very different! Here’s the thing, every other superhero that we are aware of has two very obvious characteristics. Firstly, they seldom face personal problems or vulnerabilities that plague every one of us. Even the one’s who do face these problems deal with them in a manner which is picture perfect. Secondly, these heroes stick tenaciously to their set codes of ethics and don’t budge from these idealistic tenets at any cost. Strangely enough, these values, they so greatly believe in, seem to get along well with the system as well as the society in their respective parallel universes.
These very characteristics take these heroes far away from the real world. In reality, our heroes continue to be soldiers and everyday civilians who exhibit relentless and unimaginable courage in the face of adversity. But here’s the thing, these heroes continue to be fallible human beings. Outside their field of work, they continue to be normal vulnerable human beings, just like us. We have all heard of Psychiatrists who pull men away from the brink of committing suicide, and yet fail to save their marriage. Our very soldiers, who would sacrifice their very own sacred lives for absolutely selfless reasons, sometimes fail to fit in a society they defend with their very own blood. The bottom line being that, even though these people display virtues we all look up to, they are still mere human beings.
What this movie does is that it puts into perspective what ‘Superheroes’ would be like in the real world. They reach such lows, that most of them cease to be ‘Superheroes’ completely! It bitterly clashes the concept of Idealist Comic heroes with the unforgiving harshness of reality. These Watchmen are more human that any other Superheroes out there. Even though they are capable of spectacular feats, deep inside they remain mere fallible human beings. They undergo the whole human experience, even the failures in their personal lives.
Some of them fail at relationships; one of them fails to defend herself from a potential rapist. They make shocking personal decisions and at a lot of times simply appall the audience by their failures in character… Yet they dress as superheroes!
They may not be the ‘I shall do no wrong’ towers of unquestionable morality, but they are what reality would do to someone dressed in a cape.
The movie begins with the murder of The Comedian, where he’s thrown off a high rise building. This inspires a bolt of suspicion in Rorschach. He believes that The Comedian was murdered for the virtue of being one of The Watchmen. Rorschach swiftly moves to prove his theory and find the Comedians killer. He tries to warn his fellow Watchmen, but they refuse to believe his claims, and assume him to be paranoid. One can see that most of the Watchmen are in an absolute state of suspension and do not intend to go back from their retirement back to their days of glory. Others amongst them are busy helping the government with an era where USA and USSR are threatening each other with a nuclear war. I will not disclose any more about the plot of this movie to avoid spoiling your experience. But there are certain characters that deserve a special mention:
Firstly, the single most imperfect vigilante amongst them is The Comedian, he is nothing short of a monster and the only reason he is considered a hero, is that he’s on our side as far as the bigger picture is concerned. He may shoot the mother of his child to avoid responsibilities, but he helps U.S.A. win the Vietnam War. He may attempt to rape a helpless fellow vigilante, but he does help the system out when the cops go on a strike. He is the single biggest joke on the hypocrisy of our societies. He relentlessly mocks the human nature for hiding its savageness behind hapless codes of ethics. He is probably the darkest character in the movie… yet he wore a cape.
Rorschach is an absolute rebel who refuses to put his cape away to return to his civilian life. He is also my favorite character in the entire movie. Even though he brutally murders a child killer with a butcher knife, he if by far the one who sticks closest to, what he believes is, justice. The graphic quality of this character is absolutely out of the world! Just watching him in a scene arouses interest and reminds you of those comic pages. Such is his dedication to justice that he continues to operate illegally in such a time when superheroes have been banned, and his services are frowned upon. His string emotional bond with his character causes him to withdraw substantially, if not completely, from his civilian life. He comes to respect the character Rorschach more than who he really is.
Human beings innate imperfections come out most ostensibly in the character Dr. Manhattan. He happened to be a nuclear scientist who was in a terrible nuclear accident resulting in his godlike superpowers. He has control over molecules and can cause matter transformation, teleportation and can even foresee the future. Yet he fails to save his two consecutive relationships. What is even more remarkable about him is that he can see in the future and past simultaneously. Yet he is surprised like anyone else when a shocking event falls before him!
Then there are three other characters the Night Owl, the Silk Specter and Ozymandias. Even though the Night owl and the silk specter remain the central characters for a large part of the movie, I will not reveal their ‘human imperfections’ because they come out during the climax of the movie.
Speaking of the climax, it may not spectacular but it drives the very idea behind this movie to an unforgiving end. It is uncompromising and it is true to the movie. More than this, I cannot say.
Overall, the movie is out and out a visual treat. It has a great soundtrack and all the actors do justice to their roles. Even though the movie is pretty long, it still is thoroughly enjoyable. The gore and the violence add that graphic novel like touch to it. The art is simply outstanding! I especially loved Rorschach’s mask! There is a sense of nostalgia while watching this movie as it brings out the passion one has for comic books.
Though there are some considerable flaws in this movie too. Firstly, there are just not enough punch lines to give you the goose bumps. Even the humor is not nearly as good. But more grievously, this movie fails to gather the courage to make itself an epic. It still gives in to cheesiness at certain portions. Take for example the sex scene between The Night Owl and The Silt Specter. The scene had the warrant to be something legendary, yet it stops at being just average.
But all in all; its one movie that will be close to every comic book geek’s heart. It’s probably the only other movie besides ‘The Dark Knight’ which deserves to represent the graphic novel it is based on. This movie has to be a must watch if you have ever loved a superhero, or secretly had a crush on a beautiful super heroine!
On a personal level though, when this movie ends; I am overcome with a feeling of sadness. The idea of liking such imperfect vigilantes makes me realize is that I have grown up from being an absolute comic book fanatic to a twenty year old who doesn’t laugh as hard at SpongeBob as he used to! It gives me this uneasy feeling that there may soon come the time when I will fail to enjoy comic books completely. And even at this changing time of my life I cay say that even if my geek days are to come to an end; ‘The Watchmen’ makes for one fitting climax!