Watchmen Receives Mixed Reaction

By Dan McAndrew
The Minstrel

Watchmen is not your usual blockbuster film. Although it did make $55.7 million in its first week, and held the number one spot at the box office, “Watchmen” by no means fits the comic book movie mold that has become so popular in the last several years. It’s nothing like the “Spiderman” movies, nor the “Dark Knight,” nor even “300”—despite having the same director, Zac Snyder.

Based on the 1986 graphic novel of the same name, written by Alan Moore and animated by Dave Gibbons, “Watchmen” is not about super heroes, but rather “masked vigilantes” who have no real powers. The film, like the graphic novel, takes place in an alternate reality of 1985 where Nixon has been elected to a third term as president, costumed crime fighters are a part of everyday life, and the U.S. has won Vietnam thanks to the only real superhero, Dr. Manhattan.

Unlike most comic book stories, the “heroes” that inhabit the world of “Watchmen” are very flawed. Even the god-like Dr. Manhattan who has the power to manipulate matter and see all time simultaneously is losing touch with the humanity he once swore to protect.

Among the other protagonists of the film are Rorschach—a sociopathic vigilante with unflinching morals, Nite Owl—an out-of-shape, timid hero who relies on his gadgets to put down criminals, and the beautiful, sexy Silk Spectre who fights crime only to make her mother happy.

Together, these vigilantes, along with Ozymandias—a costumed hero who is known as the smartest man in the world—and the Comedian—more of an anti-hero who chose to make himself into a parody of the destructive nature of mankind—formed the watchmen and were supposed to take up the mantle from the older heroes who retired after the heyday of crime fighting. Unfortunately, they were forced into early retirement when the government outlawed vigilante crime fighting.

The main events of the film take place almost a decade after the watchmen have been put out to pasture, although there are many flashbacks which add crucial details to the plot.

The story begins when Edward Blake, the Comedian, is murdered in his home by an unknown assailant. Rorschach, convinced an evil plot targeted at the watchmen has been put in place, becomes hell-bent on finding the killer, and eventually Nite Owl and Silk Spectre come out of retirement to aid him.

As one might guess from this synopsis, “Watchmen” has a very complex plot and it is very long, clocking in at 162 minutes. The running time and character flaws aside, what really sets this film apart from other superhero movies is the violence. The film more than earns its “R” rating with scenes of strong graphic violence, not to mention an extended sex scene.

All this, coupled with a dialogue-over-action plot structure, makes for a very surprising—maybe even shocking—movie experience for anyone going into the theater expecting to see another Batman movie.

With all this in mind, it’s easy to see why the reactions to the film among DeSales students have been very mixed. Seth Conklin, a sophomore philosophy major, calls it “[a] great movie,” and a “good representation of the human condition,” whereas freshmen nursing major Melissa Wilkins says that it was “just really long and boring,” and that she felt awkward watching it because of the “blue guy [Dr. Manhattan] who [floats around] naked the whole movie,”—two very different reactions to the same film.

Conklin and Wilkins both represent the audience demographic which was at a disadvantage going into the film; neither of them had read the graphic novel. Those unfamiliar with the “Watchmen” story make up a very large part of the film’s audience and they have had the most varied reactions to the film.

“I hadn’t read the book, but I expected something very different from most superhero movies because of the director and what he’s done with past films,” Conklin said.

Although she was in the same boat as Conklin, Wilkins did not feel as prepared for the film as Conklin did: “As someone who had no background [about ‘Watchmen’] going into the theater, I did not appreciate it. I made assumptions that were completely wrong.”

Joe Yoha, sophomore sports and exercise science major, was also unfamiliar with “Watchmen” when entering the theater and he felt similar to Wilkins, “I thought it was extremely long and I was confused for most of the movie.”

As for those who had read the graphic novel, the reactions seem to be very positive. Shannon Sulick, sophomore theology major and fan of the graphic novel, said: “I really enjoyed it. I liked how well it stayed with the comic book, and I didn’t mind the changes they made to the ending.”

The movie has proven to be a “love it” or “hate it” experience for moviegoers—although one’s opinion of the film seems to increase if he or she is familiar with or has read the graphic novel. What can be said about the film is that it follows the source material with meticulous detail, and the actors are completely absorbed with their roles, truly bringing the comic book to life. But, because the book is a complex narrative filled with heavy emotions and dark realism, anyone going into the film expecting a light-weight, action-packed superhero movie will be either pleasantly surprised or unpleasantly shocked.

If the audience is able to accept “Watchmen” for what it is, then the movie should turn out to be a powerful and moving experience.

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