The USA, 1985, and Richard Nixon (Robert Wisden) is still president,
and the world is on the brink of nuclear war:
- Meet the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who has become a masked
superhero in the 1940's, has aided American victory in World War II,
has later become a CIA operative who was instrumental in killing JFK,
has yet later fought in Vietnam, and fought dirty, too, and has
retired in 1977, when masked superheroes were outlawed - except for
those who cooperated closely witht he gouvernment. Now, 8 years after
his retirement, the Comedian is murdered ...
- Meet Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), another masked superhero, one
with a reactionary mindset, and one of those who has been outlawed.
But that doesn't keep him from patroling the streets of New York
anyhow, punishing those he considers guilty in a most violent manner,
and torturing the information he wants out of his often innocent
victims. Rorschach investigates the Comedian's death and soon comes to
the conclusion that somebody is killing off masked superheroes, no
matter whether they are active or not.
- Meet Doctor Manhattan (Billy Crudup), the ultimate superhero, the
only one with real and almost limitless superpowers, caused by some
atomic explosion or other. And since then, he can look into the past
and future, has power over all matter, is a walking atom bomb, and he
has single-handedly won the Vietnam War for the Americans back in
1971. Nowadays though, he becomes more and more detached from
humanity, which is why his girlfriend, superheroine Silk Spectre
(Carla Gugino), ultimately leaves him.
- Meet Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), once a Batman-like
superhero who has given up crimefighting after his kind was outlawed,
and he now lives a quiet life. But then Rorschach, his former partner,
pays him a visit and lets him in on the mystery he is about to
investigate. And then Silk Spectre, having nowhere else to go after
her breakup with Doctor Manhattan, moves in with him, and somehow, the
memories of the good old days get them horny ... and make them get
into their costumes once more.
- ... and meet Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), labelled the smartest man
on earth, who has used his past as superhero to build a business
empire, and now he even has the gouvernment in his hands ... but he
has loftier goals than making a few bucks, world peace for one.
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Now the stage is set up for big adventure, and before you know it,
Rorschach is jailed (its a set-up) and Doctor Manhattan leaves earth for
Mars (another set-up) ... but Nite Owl and Silk Spectre free Rorschach,
and while Silk Spectre convinces Doctor Manhattan to return to earth, Nite
Owl and Rorschach find out that it is actually Ozymandias who is behind
everything. But to what avail?
Ultimately, they find out at Ozymandias Arctic hideout: He wants to
blow up a few of earth's major cities and blame everything on Doctor
Manhattan, thus uniting all countries of the world against a common enemy
and making their conflicts amongst each others obsolete. Thsi would mean
killing millions of people - but saving billions. Nite Owl and Rorschach
try to stop him, but alas, they come too late, the deed has already been
done. Enter Doc Manhattan, who is less than happy to have become the
world's enemy number one, but he soon becomes convinced that what
Ozymandias did was the right thing to do nevertheless - and he has become
so detached from humanity as it is that he can start anew literally
anywhere. Nite Owl and Silk Spectre soon become convinced that saving the
humanity was worth the right price as well, only Rorschach wants to expose
Ozymandias, because his peace is based on a lie, and the fact that peace
is peace just doesn't count inhis mindset - but Rorschach is ultimately
disintegrated by Doc Manhattan who's hell-bent to save humanity from
So everything is good, peace is here, no more war, everybody's happy.
Now that's great, but unfortunately, Rorschach's journal has found its way
into the office of a right-wing newspaper hell-bent on exposing whatever
Watchmen the comic is one of the best-written superhero
comicbooks (or rather graphic novels) there are, a satirical look on both
its genre and world politics, circa mid-1980's. However, its complex
structure needs a few hundred pages to properly tell its story.
Watchmen the movie is directed by Zack Snyder, a man obsessed
with surfaces and action mechanics, but hardly an intellectual filmmaker.
Which means that Snyder has put his focus on replicating the comicbook's
images, often to the t, and he has also mirrored its complexity to keep
fanboys all over happy, but he has completely lost the source material's
satirical potential along the way, has attributed the comic's
socio-political undercurrents to a safe but distant past (an alternate
universe's 1980's) to rid the film of any kind of underlying message, plus
by keeping the comicbook's complexity, he has turned the material that
worked well as a multi-part graphic nocel, into a bit of a convoluted
cinematic mess that goes on a bit too long (> 150 minutes) to remain
exciting throughout. On top of that, the ensemble cast is uniformly less
than special, Snyder's predilection for surfaces robs the story of much of
its emotional impact, and the action scenes all look great on a purely
technical level, but by and large lack excitement.
That all said, Watchmen is not the worst film ever, not even the
worst superhero-movie, but I wouldn't attribute this to Zack Snyder or to
a good script, merely to the power of its source material ...
By the way: The film interestingly veers away from its graphic nocel
source only once, in the big finale when Ozymandias bombs earth's major
cities instead of sending a secretly built mock alien to New York, and
that's an improvement over the source material. Maybe more original ideas
would have helped the movie (though the alien angle was one of the
comicbook's few weaknesses) ...