Now that we have completed our review of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), why not look at one more comic book movie? So here is our review of The Watchmen (2009). Unlike the MCU, there is very little fun in this film. It is dark (tonally and lighting-wise), it rains almost the entire time, and everyone is sad about something. There’s more: Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) is impotent, Walter Kovacs/Rohrschach (Jackie Earle Haley) is a psychopath, Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup) is a disinterested god, Edward Blake/The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is a murderous rapist, and Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) is a genocidal maniac. And these are just the superheroes!
As you might be able to surmise from the last paragraph, The Watchmen features a group of characters that would be classified as anti-heroes. They all inhabit an alternate reality version of the United States where Richard Nixon is serving his fifth term as president. This is a bit tenuous when you give it some serious thought. Apparently with the all-powerful Dr. Manhattan firmly entrenched in the American camp, the ultimate nuclear deterrent that is the glowing blue superhero bolstered the law-and-order presidency of Nixon. This is my own summation using my memory of the film and knowledge of history, and it may or may not be supported by the events of the movie. It was unclear, and I guess it means no Watergate. While this seems trivial, it is actually central to the plot. There may have been no Watergate, but there was definitely a Cold War. Throughout the clock is ticking towards nuclear holocaust between the United States and Soviet Union, and Nixon is portrayed as being moments from launching missiles.
The threat of nuclear annihilation is what gets events going in The Watchmen. Clearly that possible outcome is something society would look to superheroes to stop from happening, and the world’s eyes turn to Dr. Manhattan prevent it. Instead, traipsing around his laboratory in the nude, he is working on an alternative energy source with Ozymandias. Unbeknownst to the blue one, Veidt is using the technology to reproduce Dr. Manhattan’s power in order to unleash what amounts to several nuclear attacks simultaneously against cities around the world. Actually working to prevent it is the Comedian, who is murdered personally by Ozymandias after he figures the plan. He is succeeded by Rohrschach, who then teams up with Nite Owl and Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) to continue the investigation. Before they can all take steps to stop Ozymandias, he carries out his attack and kills millions. That is the most basic summary of this film, and there is not a lot to it. It pads out the rest of its runtime with a ton of backstory. Nearly every scene has a flashback, whether it is explaining to the audience how everybody is connected to each other, or to demonstrate how each became a superhero.
As strange as it might sound, the character in The Watchmen that I find easiest to root for is Rohrschach. To be sure, his behavior is part and parcel of the deplorable stuff I discussed at the beginning of my review. In his backstory, we see him bury a meat cleaver into the skull of a man who had kidnapped and killed a little girl. This act forms the basis for his zero tolerance, bloody approach to fighting crime. Despite the gore, Rohrschach has a rigid code by which he lives. This is carried through to the end where Ozymandias not only successfully carries out his plan, but manages to convince Dr. Manhattan that the world coming together in the wake of tragedy is the right thing to do. The one potential pitfall to this new harmonious world is Rohrschach. He sees it as an empty peace and plans on exposing the lie at the heart of it. While I find Rohrschach’s violent tendencies disgusting, his instincts are on the side of life. We all want peace, and protecting life is clearly imperative for myself as a Catholic. Yet if somebody came along and said that a global golden age could be ushered in with the death of so many, that would not be a Christian deal.
There is a reason why The Watchmen is rated R. Other than the violence and blue nudity referenced above, there is also a graphic sex scene. To say the least, please do not let your children watch this one. I am not even sure adults should be watching it. There is a quote in this film that ultimately sums up what makes it unfit, “God doesn’t make the world this way, we do.” This film is far from God, and the one person in it who has the power to do the most to make it better, Dr. Manhattan, does not seem to care enough to do so. And with Rohrschach, the one flawed character who seems most committed to doing right in his awful way, he is blown apart by Dr. Manhattan before he can reveal what has happened. In the end, this is just a sad and tough movie to watch.