Watchmen, The (2009)

Rated: R for strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language.
Length: 163 minutes
Grade: BHCA=B
Budget: $138 million
Box Office: $183 million (108 U.S., 75 Intl.)

Written by: David Hayter (X2, Scorpion King, and X-Men) and Alex Tse (No meaningful credits), based on the comic series/graphic novel by Alan Moore (Hellblazer, Swamp Thing, Batman the Killing Joke, and V for Vendetta)
Directed by: Zack Snyder (300, Dawn of the Dead)
Starring: Malin Ackerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Patrick Wilson.

In an alternate universe where superheroes arose in the mid-20th Century to help America fight crime and win wars, especially Vietnam, super-hero teams have been disbanded and America stands on the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. But someone seems to be killing off old super-heroes, and the remaining ones want to know who and why.

Entertainment Value: B
As a comic adaptation that takes the original seriously and tries to bring it to the big screen, this is great. The visual imagery is amazing, and the characters are phenomenally well-crafted. At the same time, I found myself bored at times and not particularly interested in how these washed-up heroes were coping in a gritty, Nixonian environment. It’s somewhat fascinating to watch the idea of a post-Vietnam America 30 years ago with super-heroes. For me, this movie finally became interesting in the last 20 minutes or so when it became clear what was really going on.

Superficial Content: H
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity H, Violence F, Language F, Illegality F
Alcohol and smoking, with one mention of hard drugs. Language is very strong. The violence is realistic and graphic, people being killed in a wide variety of ways with lots of blood. But the real issue here is that, as one person described it to me, this is pornography. And I can’t disagree. Dr. Manhattan is a muscular glowing blue man, and he is fully naked in several scenes. There are loads of sexual references, inferences, prostitution, an attempted rape, and plenty of nudity including one moderately graphic and a second very graphic sex scene (I actually fast-forwarded through it, if that tells you anything). This should be NC-17. It is not for children. It may not be for anyone.

Significant Content: C
The basic problem of analysis here is to decide what view the movie itself takes on the vast question of whether peace can or should be achieved at any price and through any means. As such, it’s a great presentation of the ultimate ethical conflict between deontology (rules and principles which cannot be broken regardless of the consequences) and consequentialism (all rules derive their worth from their ability to achieve good results), or what some people call Utilitarianism (which is actually a specific brand of consequentialism). I think the movie is ultimately reflecting the basic premise of much of Alan Moore’s work that doing good in an evil world requires doing some evil, and it’s far more complicated than you think to tell evil from good. The movie is certainly atheistic.

Artistic/Thought Value: A
How could it spend $138 million based on a classic graphic novel and not be? The two driving questions of this movie are “What makes life worthwhile?” and “What is the difference between an evil person and a good person?” I give this movie a lot of credit for asking good questions and then having the wisdom to refrain from answering them too obviously.

Discussion Questions:
~Rorschach claims to be a man who always acts on principle and never compromises. What are his principles? Can you articulate them in such a way that they make sense of all his violence and also of his objection to what’s going on in the end?
~Dr. Manhattan claims that there is nothing about life which makes a planet more interesting than one without it. Is his criticism of human existence valid?
~Is the Comedian a good man or an evil man? Can you think of any current personalities who seem to be like him?
~What is the significance of Rorshach’s mask?
~The backstory to this movie is Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan striving to create a world with infinite energy resources so that all men can live together in peace. Do you think this is possible? ~Do you think it would work? Is scarcity the source of our problems?
~Why does Dr. Manhattan continually hold a picture of his former self?
~Who in this movie likes rock music, and who likes classical? What does that tell y ou about them? Consider Hitler and Hannibal Lecther, both of whom were very fond of classical music. What’s the difference (if any) between the sort of evils done by people who like rock music and those done by people who love classical?
~A recurring question in the movie is, “Who watches the Watchmen?” What does this mean, and what truth is it trying to express?
~Are there any rules which you would never break? How should we balance the consequences of an action against the rules that might govern that action? Do the ends ever justify the means? Do the ends always justify the means?
~One of the key ideas in Christianity is that people are inherently sinful. Is this reflected in this movie?
~What role does God have in this movie? Do you think the existence of superheroes is compatible with the existence of God? What about a being such as Dr. Manhattan?
~Ozymandias is a poem by Shelley. Read the poem and discuss its relationship to this movie and to the character whose name comes from it. Is the Comedian right that it's sheer arrogance to think anyone can be smart enough to solve the world's problems?
~If V for Vendetta was viewed as a critique of the Bush administration, is The Watchmen a critique of Obama?
~If you knew that the plan in this movie would work, would you still oppose it? If it had already succeeded, would you reveal the truth? Would you publish Rorshach’s journal?
~Plato based his theoretical society, The Republic, on what he called a "Golden Lie,” a necessary idea for everyone to believe in order to establish the perfect state. Do you think that lies can ever be useful? Can lies ever be essential? Are Consider some of the things all Americans believe, either in general or about our country. Is it possible that any of these are actually untrue, but useful nonetheless?
~One theory about human unity is that cohesion and cooperation require a common threat or a crisis that all recognize must be fought against together. A corollary of this is that piecemeal solutions that avert such a crisis point actually do more harm than good. How does this idea fit this movie or not?
Overall Grade: B
Some dark and brooding films are described as film noir. This is noir noir. But interesting noir noir, although pornographic at times.


Naum said...


Curious — did you ever read the graphic novel, er comic book?

There's a wide range of thought about this adaptation, and originally I thought the dichotomy to be whether or not one read the book, but increasingly, in wake of DVD release, have had to reevaluate that thought.

Striking that you nailed it in some of the questions asked?

Personally, thought that while it respected the comic book and did its earnest to reflect that motif, it really made an argument of how cinema can be justified in some creative tinkering with a "book story".

Andrew Tallman said...

I know I've never read the whole thing. I may have read issues 4 and 5, which I own but just can't remember whether I read or not.

Obviously, I reviewed it on its own merits rather than how I might view X-Men, for example.

Naum said...

I saw it when it first came out… …surprisingly, Mrs. Naum liked it (though she closes her eyes in lots of scenes)…

I was amazed how close it was to book (never ever seen a movie follow so closely), some scenes verbatim, though the ending was slightly different (did not affect story and I had no problem with it) but I did have a big issue with scene w/Rorshach and killer - in book he chains him (the killer) to pipe and gives him a saw as he exits building v. movie (oops spoiler alert ;))…

I didn't like the Matrix-y slo-mo bullet time sequences either, yet younger sorts all inform me that any action movie has got to have that vibe these days.

Still, plan on purchasing the Director's Cut :)

Looking around the site here, I noticed you never reviewed "No Country for Old Men" or "There Will Be Blood" — 2 award winning flicks, whereas you've got a lot of stinkers in here… …I found an index but you might want to feature that at the top of the page - oh wait NM, I see it now ;)…

Those were good (No Country one of my all-time favorites now, starting to read through Cormac McCarthy's novels now…) and most movies I see these days are el-stinko (though "Up" is absolutely wonderful!, even better than WallE…)