Movie Review: Watchmen

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By James Zimmerman

Headshot of James smiling.

Don’t arrive late for Watchmen. The first ten minutes, featuring a gasp-inducing fight sequence that doesn’t flinch which segues into a back-story montage set perfectly to Dylan’s Times They are A-Changing, are the best ten minutes of the film. But Zack Snyder’s long-awaited screen adaptation of the classic graphic novel Watchmen certainly gives the viewers plenty else to take in during the remaining 152 minutes. Dark, dreary shots of a city in perpetual nighttime, choreographed violence that blurs the line between fighting and dancing, nonlinear story-telling, cultural commentaries, a superb soundtrack, and buff characters – some in barely-there superhero costumes (and sometimes not even that) – running around saving the world, saving themselves, and saving the world from themselves, all adds up to a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it adventure.

Snyder’s movie is ambitious, and that’s appropriate, considering the source material. Based on arguably the most popular graphic novel of all time, it’s tough to judge the picture without comparing it to its predecessor. In some ways, it succeeds: it handily depicts half a dozen main characters and provides enough backdrops for us to care about them in the present. The non-linear storytelling is in keeping with the novel, though in film format small snippets of the story, so valuable in the novel and to the tale itself, are lost in the quick flash of the screen. Viewers who come into the theater with no working knowledge of Watchmen might find themselves confused: Where did Rorschach get that disguise, and how does it work? Why does Dr. Manhattan walk around naked for most of his screen time? What’s with Bubastis, the lynx/slug hybrid always skulking around Ozymandias? If you’ve read the comics, these tidbits not only make sense, but actually enhance the characters. If you haven’t read them, no amount of repeated viewing of the film will bring any clarity.

You’ve probably deduced by now that this is an extremely detailed story, hinging on equally detailed back story. There’s so much comic book mythology kicking and jumping around in Watchmen that, for many years, it was considered unfilmable. Snyder gets kudos for, at the very least, transferring the epic into a viewable, comprehensible spectacle. He makes some compromises (the loss of Black Freighter, the story-within-a-story, is a travesty made only marginally better by its promise to appear as an extra on the DVD), but he also manages to improve on the original in a few limited areas (the antagonist’s blame-placing is more logical here than in the novel).

Atheists will be pleased to discover that, during its entire run time, there are no appeals to the supernatural. None of the heroes (or villains) labors under the delusion that a god is going to step in and fix their problems. As the masked crusader Rorschach (played faultlessly by Jackie Earle Haley) noted: “God doesn’t make the world this way. We do.” And, in answering questions about his omnipotence, Dr. Manhattan, the anti-Superman responded: “I don’t think there is a god, and if there is I’m nothing like him.” His observation is spot on, as we never see him inflicting punishment upon grandchildren for the errors of their grandparents (see Numbers 14:18), causing famine (see Genesis 41:31, 32), displaying a fetish for foreskins (see Exodus 4:23-25), or forcing parents to eat the corpses of their children (see Jeremiah 19:9).

  • Depiction, where explicit or implicit, of deities: 5/5
  • Depiction, whether explicit or implicit, of religion: 4/5
  • View of valuing this life as opposed to an afterlife: 4/5
  • Positive view of self-reliance: 3/5
  • Championship of reason: 4/5
  • Bottom line: 4/5
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