I am of the belief that if you want to make a big budget movie, then you should commit to going all out on its quality. Zack Snyder is one of the few directors who really gets this idea. His 2009 adaptation of the classic Alan Moore graphic novel is heavy handed, explosive and lengthy...all the signifiers of a great high-end production. However, it differentiates itself from other blockbusters by being intellectual, artistic and most importantly cynical. It, unlike other superhero movies, offers no form of redemption for its characters and allows immoral behavior to occur if it promises to placate human natures desire to consume and destroy. Watchmen is the antithesis of a blockbuster film, yet uses every element of the genre to advance plot, amaze viewers and most importantly earn money. It is the rare gem we rarely see in Hollywood, a major motion picture that has a legitimate social commentary.
Watchmen is set in a counter-1980's that is witnessing abysmal living conditions, particularly heavy distress for nuclear fallout, and the third re-election of Richard Nixon. This set up alone makes the films criticisms rather blatant. The film, however, follows a group of ex-superheroes who have each for various reasons splintered away from a crime fighting gang known collectively as the Minute Men. They include a gun-wielding, cigar smoking wise guy named The Comedian (Jeffery Dean Morgan) and a psychotic bandaged noir-like character named Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) as two polar opposites for the possibility of superheroes. Rorschach has taken it upon himself to find the purpose behind the recent murder of The Comedian, because he feels strongly that it is only the beginning of a string of attacks up masked heroes. In hopes of ending the carnage, Rorschach attempts to regroup the remaining members of the Minutemen. This includes the female vixen Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman), the tech genius Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) and the post-nuclear uberman Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup).
This task proves impossible for Rorschach, because each member seems disillusioned by humanity and incapable of finding motivation to fight justice any longer, particularly Dr. Manhattatn whose psychic abilities make him believe human life to be laughably futile. Despite bickering and misdirection the group eventually joins together to destroy The Comedian's killer. In the sake of the ruining the plot, I will not reveal who the killer is, or what the outcome of the situation is, but my next paragraph my spoil the narratives outcome given its rather bleak nature.
Watchmen is both a scalding critique of United States politics post-1968 as well as a dismissal of escapism in to grandiose ideas of a higher moral power that exists to correct the actions of wrongdoers. Each of the superheroes comprising The Minutemen are flawed and showing the dark side of placing trust in a believed higher being, even if they are not a manifestation of god. The Comedian, represents the ideal American superhero in his rough and tumble, to hell with everything attitude. However, his flaw is indiscretion and brutish anger lead to him becoming a murderous, alcoholic waste in his later years leading up to his death. Nite Owl and Laurie Jupiter are flawed because they are incapable of removing themselves from the expectations of parental figures, who like themselves fought crime, to them both it is as much a forced duty as an act of good nature. Even the gun-ho Rorschach is problematic, given that his moral compass is skewed by psychological trauma that makes his Robin Hood-esque vengeance tantamount to serial killing, more so that crime fighting. Finally, the omniscient Dr. Manhattan is the most problematic, because he is afforded vision into the future. He knows the outcome of events relating to him. He is by no means omniscient though, because his future visions, are inextricably tied to his moral compass, therefore his choice of right and wrong is relative to his own situations not necessarily the entirety of humanity. He cannot help successfully predict the future, because even in an ideal situation it is still biased to his inner being. The film ends only with words and the possibility of a redemptive lesson, which can, for the first time, truly ensure humanities peaceful advancement.
This is the best superhero movie I have ever seen. It is what High-Definition televisions were made for and Snyder certainly knows how to create a all-encompassing experience. Not to mention any movie with Bob Dylan songs is a good movie by me. Buy it and love it...I am certain it will blow your mind.