In 2007, director Zack Snyder took on the task of adapting Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons magnum opus “Watchmen”. Famous for revolutionizing DC Comics, “Watchmen” had had a troubled history making it to the big screen, but in 2009 was finally released to the public. The movie opened up to polarizing reviews, with some critics loving the film for its visceral atmosphere and others hating it for the same.
Six years later, in the post-“Avengers” renaissance of superhero films, “Watchmen” continues to be discussed by fans and film aficionados alike. Having seen the theatrical, director’s, and ultimate cuts, we at Taste of Cinema have deemed “Watchmen” to be a masterpiece of the genre that is more than worth your time. Check out our reasons below:
1. Doctor Manhattan
Few fictional characters remain as perplexing as Doctor Manhattan. Here is a being who is omnipotent, yet limited by determinism; can see the future, yet gets surprised; looks like a human, yet acts like an alien; is worshipped like a God, yet remains governed by man.
Bringing this being to the big screen was no easy task, but Snyder alongside visual effects supervisor John “DJ” DesJardin, cinematographer Larry Fong, and actor Billy Crudup managed to do it.
Doctor Manhattan was more than just a feat of CGI, however; he was a philosophical being that elevated the movie above the urban constraints of a superhero film. His ponderings about the nature of humanity, and ultimate conclusion that miracles are more common than we think, made for some of the movie’s best moments.
Doctor Manhattan was such unique entity that the late film critic Roger Ebert devoted an entire blog post to Manhattan’s creation and execution, soon after seeing and reviewing the film.
2. It wasn’t afraid to take risks
It is a well-known fact that Hollywood is not as willing to take investment risks as it was back in the day. Movies cost a lot to make and distribute, and if there are no guaranteed profits to be made, then you can expect a project to be put on the backburner.
Thus, it was a miracle that “Watchmen” ever got made considering that it was: rated R, starred a cast of relatively unknown actors, and was budgeted at over $100 million. But add onto that the fact that it included graphic violence, sexual content, and brutal sociopolitical themes, and you have a movie that did what many other entries in the superhero genre fail to do; it took risks.
For better or worse, “Watchmen” faithfully-adapted most of the elements from its eponymous comic, and fails to be matched to this day.
3. Many of its themes are still relevant
Rural decay, classism, and nuclear proliferation. Every single one of these issues was major when Alan Moore first wrote “Watchmen”, and has only gotten worse in the decades since. Characters like The Comedian, Rorschach, and Nite-Owl II all represent different facets of this society; Comedian has come to view everything as a joke, taking advantage of situations as they arrive because he feels the common man cannot do anything in the face of government decisions.
Nite-Owl II, on the other hand, is much more optimistic, thinking that they can make the world a better place. Rorschach falls in-between, sharing Comedian’s cynicism, but also believing that one can work to create a better tomorrow, no matter how miniscule the efforts.
We see these same factions play out in modern-politics, where anti-authoritarianism and authoritarianism continue to clash in sometimes violent ways. “Watchmen” touched on a lot of themes that still remain powerful to this day, and when a work of fiction does that, it means it has aged very well.
4. It created the sense of a graphic novel
As stated above, “Watchmen” is both famous and infamous for attempting to be as faithful to the original graphic novel. With the exception of the ending, many scenes from the film were lifted straight out of the comic, with Snyder literally using Gibbons’s panels as the film’s storyboards.
In doing so, “Watchmen” remains the only superhero film to genuinely feel like a graphic novel. Everything about it, from the production design to the costumes to the VFX to the editing were all created to evoke the sense that you were reading the “Watchmen” comic in motion picture form; something genuinely outstanding when you consider all superhero films are based off comic books.
5. It is genuinely grey
Superhero movies these days tend to fit into a paradigm of good vs. evil. It is an ancient conflict that has led to some of the greatest myths and stories ever told by mankind, but it can also simplify things to create a justifiable scenario. Even among sympathetic villains, there is usually a trait that makes them just evil enough to make the hero look considerably better (i.e. both Zod and Loki willing to commit genocide).
What was great about “Watchmen” was it turned this template on itself. Superheroes were now vigilantes; punching criminals actually broke bones, and doing this work for a long time mentally wore down on both the heroes and society as a whole. Beating up gangs, while making a community safer, did nothing to stop the larger political threats that loomed overhead.
“Watchmen” showed us how vigilantes can do as much harm as good in the scheme of things, and how this realization can breed disturbing, yet strangely rational thoughts about the future. When a film has done that, it has pushed beyond the boundaries of regular action fare.
Author Bio: Red Stewart is big fan of the entertainment industry, with insights into film, television, and video games for starters. Despite growing up in the 21st century’s era of modernization, he prefers many retro era ideas over the current trends found in many of today’s media. Personally he’s an introvert who loves reading as much as gaming.