Friday, June 12, 2009



Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Mathew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Carla Gugino
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller

This is not the ordinary superhero comic adaptation. It is nothing like the high-on-action, special effects filled no-brainers that one is used to. It is darker and involves a greater level of scheming, but more importantly, it is not a classic superhero versus villain or good versus evil saga. In fact, there are no villains in the movie. It is rather a visual into the moral diversity of its superheroes, each flawed in different ways, allowing us to dwell in different ethical perspectives, at least intellectually, and witness their consequences.

It is not that the movie lacks action sequences or special effects (a movie after all with not one but eight or more superheroes won't have any dearth of action) but the movie, just as in the comic, goes beyond all that. Set in the time of the Cold War, with a great risk of an all-out nuclear war, a superhero, Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt, sets out to bring peace in the world. Nothing new about this concept except that he plans to do so by creating a major holocaust and then to use the fear of a larger, common enemy for mankind to forget all their petty in-fighting and thereby, he hopes to see peace reign even at the expense of a million or so lives. A million lives lost to save billion others, that's the twisted logic behind the superhero's thinking. Naturally a few superheroes, like the Comedian do not subscribe to his logic and they are found dead under mysterious circumstances. The whole movie is about a few other vigilante superheroes, Rorschach and Nite Owl II, who are ignorant of the "bigger-enemy" plan, trying to uncover the mystery behind the murders. Nothing too savvy, but still worth watching.

Amidst all these superheroes there is also the presence of a God like Dr. Manhattan who could if he wanted changed the world with a single move but also is incidentally detached from the suffering of mankind and thus does little to make the world a better place. His inaction is also presented from two different ethical perspectives, one the Comedian's perspective which justifies Dr. Manhattan and then Veidt's perspective of always wanting to do more to ensure that the world is a better place. Naturally, you don't get the gist of the different contexts of thought in one go. It takes the whole movie for the idea to sink in and then only on further reflection do you really get a grasp of the deeper ethical questions raised in the movie. And that is probably why this movie is not for everyone. You want mere high-octane action, then you will be disappointed with this one. If you are in the mood for some deeper reflection from different points of view then this is the first movie you should grab.

Zack Snyder's 300 style 3rd-person narration while the story unfolds from Rorschach's diary clearly gives the movie an interesting point of narration. Add to those scenes, the parts where Dr. Manhattan is introduced and his character sketch is defined, and you would expect to have a really fine movie.

But the movie falls apart in the sense that there were many scenes that do not fit the overall theme and could well have been avoided. The relationship between Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II, who is also Dr. Manhattan's wife were given too much of screen time. That may have been meant to depict his increasingly detached relationship with mankind, finally making him leave the Earth to live in solitude in Mars reflecting upon human suffering and his role on Earth. His detachment from human suffering was needed in the plot for Veidt to execute his plans to the
full extent, for if any person could have stopped him that was Dr. Manhattan. But still, too much time was spent on the Owl-Spectre relationship. Even the development of Comedian's character sketch were in most cases not relevant to the theme. May be that time could have been used to develop the other characters even more. I felt that too less time was given to Veidt and thus we do not get enough time to really understand him and his logic.

But I may be wrong here. I watched an edited version of Watchmen in a theatre in Kerala where many scenes were simply edited out. I read later that Watchmen is a 3 hour movie, but what I saw was just a little over two hours. And that would certainly have taken the weight off many of the scenes that I could not see to its fully developed extent. However, if at all I find a flaw with the movie, it is this one - many scenes could well have been avoided, atleast to make the movie shorter if nothing else, then the proprietors in Kerala Movie theatres would not edit many scenes out just to save time.

3 stars out of five for the concept and Snyder's narration style, one less than what I would have like to give it, the penalty being for either the length of the movie or for scenes that do not fit the overall theme.