Watchmen, the wildly acclaimed British comic book series (1986-1987) penned by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, is a must-read for all who call themselves comic book fans. But given that it’s not quite a mainstream work (and more than 20 years old at that!), the opening of the movie certainly created a substantial amount of buzz in Singapore.
This is even more remarkable considering that there are no Hollywood A-list mega-stars in the lineup. In fact, the biggest name in Watchmen belongs to its director Zack Snyder, who (as the movie poster shouts) is the “visionary director of 300”, the Spartan mega-fest that wowed the world with its special effects.
The Watchmen are a group of once-famous superheroes who fought crime on the streets of America and basked in the limelight, particularly when they were sent as weapons to destroy thousands in Vietnam during the War. However, a government ruling outlawing masked vigilantism caused the heroes to disband. Those who were willing to reveal their identities, like the lightning-quick Ozymandias, went on to become celebrities and moguls, while the others faded into obscurity, their once-defining masks pulled off to reveal an all-too-human face.
Still, most of them continue contributing to society the best they know how, as upright citizens of America.
As the limelight of these heroes begins to fade, one of them, the sadistic cigar-smoking Comedian is viciously murdered. The paranoid Rorschach, the only one of the Watchmen who has slipped the law and continues to wear his mask, gets onto the case and soon begins to unravel a conspiracy to snuff out all masked superheroes.
What begins as another of Rorshach’s crazy wild goose chases turns out to be real this time. Rorshach finds himself framed, caught, demasked and in jail facing 200 of the men he put in prison. Dr Manhattan (the physicist turned live experiment) becomes consumed with replicating his own power for what he believes to be the tool to save mankind, and in the process, loses all the humanity he has left.
The Watchmen are not the shiny, latex-and-leather clad bunch from the X-Men or Fantastic Four. Snyder’s mastery of comic book action cinematography gives this movie the comic-come-to-life effect that has won this movie rave reviews from Watchmen fans the world over (not an easy task — most comic book adaptations suffer a fate like Batman & Robin).
For those who have never read the comic, Watchmen will be seem a totally different superhero movie from the Ironmans, Hulks and Spidermans of this world.
The characters in this movie are shocking, contradictory, diverse, hilarious and vicious all at the same time, and far from virtuous much of the time. These heroes hack away at villains till nothing is left but bloodied pulp. One shoots a woman he has impregnated, and rapes a colleague. These are not pretty heroes. (Note the M18 rating)
But more than just a violent gore fest, Snyder has created a rare thing — by keeping 100 per cent true (nearly frame-by-frame) to Moore’s and Gibson’s original work, the story line rises to the level of a political satire of the Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. This tension of nuclear war serves as the backdrop for our heroes and Rorschach’s “conspiracy” to unfold. Watchmen proves a powerful statement about humanity: at its core, true-to-life characters come to messy grips with love, loyalty, faithfulness and self-doubt, as they battle it out amidst the massive themes of world peace, the quest for utopia, and ultimately, sacrifice.