The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Nihilist Heroes set 'Watchmen' Apart

2 min read


In Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen,” the audience becomes immediately intrigued. The film opens with the death of the vigilante hero, The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a montage showcasing the rise and fall of the original group of heroes, The Minutemen in the 1940s, and the rise of the second generation of heroes, The Watchmen.

The opening montage functions as a back-story for The Minutemen, displaying their glory days as well as their eventual downfall.

One hero is hauled off to a mental asylum while another is shown dead at the scene of a crime.  This important scene imparts a truth shared by all the film’s superheroes, with the exception of Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup):  They possess no superpowers; they are all “only human.”

Since the superheroes are merely human and don’t possess laser vision, the ability to fly or any other powers, they are subject to the same weaknesses and imperfections as normal people.  This is what truly sets “Watchmen” apart from other superhero films.

For instance, “Watchmen” touches on a dissatisfying emotional and sexual relationship between Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman) and Dr. Manhattan.  Silk Spectre II then runs into the waiting arms of the film’s somewhat geeky hero, Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson).

Amid this superhero love triangle, the hardened, gruff Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) goes in search of the person that killed The Comedian.

While the other heroes have hung up their costumes and attempt to enjoy their retired lives, Rorschach remains obsessed with maintaining his superhero responsibilities, patrolling the streets, hidden behind a mask of shifting inkblots.

The film’s antagonist, Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), is a former member of the Watchmen who has gone on to create a superhero merchandise empire out of his former stint alongside the other heroes.

Amid the backdrop of a fictional 1980s in which Nixon is still in office, the heroes must deal not only with the search for The Comedian’s murderer, but also their own temptations, obsessions and corruption.

In one flashback, The Comedian fires a shotgun into a crowd of protestors.  Looking on in disgust, Nite Owl II asks, “What happened to the American dream?”

“It came true!” the Comedian responds.

In most other “standard” superhero comics and movies, this sort of nihilism and bitterness is not normally expressed in a character that is supposed to represent the “good guy.”

This humanization of superheroes (who are supposed to be “above human”) is what makes “Watchmen” a truly unique film.

Though the plot of “Watchmen” becomes slightly muddled as the film progresses, I feel that the presence of a concise, linear plot was not the point of the movie.

The film has its faults, just like its characters, but “Watchmen” has a unique concept that is executed wonderfully: the representation of superheroes as human, complete with all the flaws and eccentricities that accompany humanity.

On these grounds, “Watchmen” is definitely worth watching.