Film Review: Watchmen

2009, Directed by Zack Snyder

Based on the highly acclaimed graphic novel by Alan Moore, Watchmen is a story made to show superheroes be in the real world. Superheroes have been a constant target of Moore’s satire and venom. Influenced by Anarchism, Moore sees the superheroes as combinations of lonely, pathetic, psychotic, paternalistic, self-indulgent and fascist. These consistently brilliant comic’s are not just an attack on a pernicious form of culture, but an insightful metaphor about those that would claim to lead us within the current capitalist system. Politicians, generals, priests, media moguls and union bureaucrats can all be read into the cast of powerful characters that Moore has created over the years. The Watchmen graphic novel stands at the apex of this important body of work.

Hollywood has not been kind to Alan Moore and his creations. From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Constantine and V for Vendetta have all been watered down, benign, apolitical, misinterpretations and just appallingly bad films. Since the atrocity of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a dark anti-colonial satire graphic novel adapted into a campy celebration of the British Empire, Moore has refused to let his name be connected in anyway with any adaptation of his work.

Unfortunately, Watchmen goes much the same way as the previous Moore adaptations. This film has many weaknesses, the action is over-stylised, the film is long and boring, and the overall feel is too clean and lacks the grit of the novel. But by far the biggest and most important weakness is the subtext. There is none. In the novel the superheroes are authoritarian defenders of the status quo and from this position they see the mass of humanity as nothing more than unruly scum that need to be controlled. However the point made in the graphic novel is that this is a miss-shaped view created by the fact that their position has disconnected and warped them. Disturbingly, the film is missing this subtext and the psychotic anti-humanity ratings of the Superheroes are taken at face value and therefore become the moral of the story.

This was not surprising. The nihilism and cynicism that the film puts forward conform much more to the view that our rulers try to put forward as being mainstream. The Watchmen graphic novel takes a much more complex and subversive look at those very rulers and why they push such pessimism.

Stephen Hay

One Reply to “Film Review: Watchmen”

  1. I haven’t seen From Hell or The Watchmen and the only book of Alan Moore’s that I’ve read is V for Vendetta. So I can’t comment on those other works. But while I agree that The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Constantine were apolitical (although I confess I enjoyed Constantine in its own right), I can’t agree that V for Vendetta was “watered down, benign, apolitical, misinterpretation[s] and just appallingly bad”. Of course as with most movie adaptations, it was changed and abbreviated but I think it still raised the general issues that were raised in the graphic novel.

    I worked with a student a couple of years ago who was set V for Vendetta as a film study at high school. The teacher had taken the opportunity to use it to discuss political concepts (fascism, totalitarianism, is resistance necessarily terrorism etc) that high school students are seldom introduced to. Since V and Evy are the heroes of the story, the standard definitions of things like terrorism vs resistance etc were challenged. I think the bundling of V for Vendetta in with the other movie adaptations of Moore’s work as completely lacking in merit is a bit harsh.

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