Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

06 Jan 2012

(Movie - 2009) Watchmen, directed by: Zack Snyder

(Reaction) Never Fear, The Watchmen are Here by: Patrick Shane Diaz

View other reactions on works by Zack Snyder.

Heroes without Costumes

Watchmen depicts an alternative reality wherein crime fighters and masked people become vigilantes in order to protect society. Though being portrayed with superhuman abilities, Watchmen successfully depicts the humanity of these heroes; they are vulnerable, they have their flaws, as well as shortcomings.

Tracing the history of the United States of America starting from the 1960s to the 1980s, the film depicts an alternate reality, a modified history such that the viewer sees a what-if scenario, given the characters involved. This was the best representation of the impact of these characters on society, such that their mere existence would create an alternate story to the past. This explains the reason why the plot is told in an alternative present, with flashbacks of the past to show how events lead to that day.

An example would be during the Vietnam War, wherein the USA had a very easy victory caused by Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian. Another would be the Cold War, wherein the countries allied themselves versus a threat(Dr. Manhattan) they thought bigger than their opponent country. However, the film also depicted that there are just some events that cannot be stopped, like JFK's assassination, or Nixon's re-election.

Given their character flaws and misguided judgments, the characters are portrayed as human, only with extra abilities. They may have different goals and means of achieving then, but all of the characters are humane creatures with the end goal of protecting society. Given that they are obsolete superheroes, they are seen struggling to do what they think is right, even if it meant exerting their own belief system into society.

Society therefore rejects them, because society thinks for itself. Society has its own belief system. What people do not understand, they fear and shun. Society rejected that which protected them. It is possible that society saw it as an excess of pride for these heroes? It may be seen in the film that they believe that no one person or group for that matter should control society. Fear of losing control caused them to shun these heroes, even to the point of outlawing them.

Heroes with Costumes

Starting off with the plan to combat organized crime, the Minutemen, as they call themselves, were celebrated heroes, until society decided to shun them, implemented by the Keene Act that banned vigilantism for non-government sponsored heroes. Having superhuman abilities and intellect, they later on move to shape, safeguard and effectively control the society on a global scale.

Ozymandias, named after a pharaoh, is the smartest man in the world. Portrayed as god among men, in ability and wealth, Ozymandias is the antagonist of the plot, who aiming to avert nuclear war through violent and destructive means. He tends to think and act long term, no matter the cost, believing in the the end justifies the means, and a few for the good of many mantras.

Nite Owl II takes his name from his predecessor Nite Owl I, who had the idea of a nocturnal protector based on an owl, patterning his gadgets and costumes to it. Relying more on technological ability over brawn, he still has excellent hand-to-hand combat skills. Nite Owl II is the main protagonist of the plot, having the proper perspective of good and evil, which he believes in devoutly. He is your textbook superhero.

A madman, suffering from alternative personality disorder, completely forgets his real self and lives by his alter ego. This is triggered by his hard childhood, abusive prostitute mother, and the crimes he witnesses. Having a mask containing shifting patterns of ink blotches in the Rorschach test, he takes the name Rorschach as his alter ego. He is extremely violent, cold hearted, emotionless, and brutal. Rorschach lives by his own law, his own interpretation of right and wrong.

Dr. Manhattan is the superhuman product of a molecular experiment, which gives him powers over anything. He also obtained the non-linear perception of time, such that he sees the past and the future. He is however unable to change it, which possibly explains his general indifference to mankind's welfare, as seen by his inaction to prevent catastrophe. He lacks will, and is hardly affected by emotion, which is balanced by his extensive senses and abilities.

The Comedian was one of the government sponsored heroes. Having a brutal and yet effective style of crime fighting, the Comedian is more seen as a mercenary. He is the only hero of the story who believes in the ineffectiveness of what they do, since he thinks that old fashioned crime fighting methods were not useful for saving the world when the threat of nuclear war was looming. He is more of a realist, seeing things as they are, and not as how they should be. He later loses hope in himself, saying it's all just a joke, pertaining to what heroes stood up and fought for.

Silk Spectre II is the daughter of Silk Spectre I and the Comedian. Having a normal life, she is thrust into the crime fighting business to follow the footsteps of her mother. She does not completely see and believe in what they do, only seeing how it will please her mother. Yet, upon a revelation in the end, she realizes the value of her own life, and the lives of those they protect. She seemed unsure and going with the flow, until she developed her belief as to why they do what they do.

Just Heroes

The question remains, do these heroes have the right, or the burden, to correct society based on their beliefs? Are they granted permission to use the rules of society as their justification for vigilantism, or is their vigilantism permitted by the rules of society?

Given that a vigilante is acting on the rules of society (right or wrong), rule of law conflicts. Since right or wrong is not absolute, the law dictates what is right or wrong. As proven by the film, rules of society differ on the subject gauging the situation. Societal rules were enough for the heroes in the film to act and become vigilantes. They were protecting society governed by the given rules of society, yet being feared, society used the rule of law to limit their control and influence on society.

Silk Spectre II and her life story became the perfect explanation for their vigilantism. Life is a miracle, given the most improbable odds, create a life so special and unique. Though discovered late into the film it showed the audience a justification besides the rules governing the society or law. Life is to be treasured and preserved at all costs.

A conflict in the movie was the opinions of the Comedian and Ozymandias. Ozymandias believed that they, as heroes, are capable and charged with protecting society to the most of their abilities. He believed that he can shape and control society into a peaceful environment. The Comedian however believed otherwise, that not one person or group can influence something on a global scale. Though they both believe in protecting society from everyone, even itself, using any means necessary.

The film portrayed numerous symbolisms. The Comedian was aptly named to symbolize life as a joke, as believed by the character. The irony is that the character portrayed the epitome of life, the seriousness of life in his personal point of view, and life as a joke in the macro and external point of view.

The Comedian believed that people do not control their life, that they cannot do anything if the world ended up in nuclear war. This was the reason he said life was a joke; he lost faith in himself, and in the society he swore his life to protect. The character did not realize that he was one half of the miracle of Silk Spectre's life, yet he saw his life as insignificant in the campaign against nuclear war.

Watchmen brilliantly defined the plot of the film. Characters as Watchmen safeguard society, by any and all means possible. They protected society from criminals, thugs, other superheroes, and most of all from itself. They fought to protect those that outlawed them, depicting the title perfectly. Whether welcome or not, the protection they gave sought one end goal: society living in peace with itself.

One of the best ironies in the film was the change of outlook and belief system of some characters. Nite Owl II operates on the rule of reason and concern for society, which he changed in the end by choosing to remain silent about the plot of Ozymandias.

Rorschach on the other hand operates on insanity and self belief, right or wrong based on his own perspective. In the end, he changed his point of view and put society over himself, saying they needed to know. Even if he was murdered for it, his right and wrong was in line with reason.

Dr. Manhattan operates on indifference and action based on duty, being neutral on the right or wrong point of view. He later turns his back on society based on belief in the guise of protecting society by choosing that Ozymandias was right, to the point of him murdering Rorschach.

Ozymandias was a character who operates on self belief in the guise of societal preservation. It can be seen that his intention was to avert nuclear war, yet his methods cost lives. He lost sight of what was right and wrong, just so that he could protect society.

Four different characters and four different beliefs and outcomes made the film interesting to view. All four had the goal to protect society. All four had different ways and means to do it. In the end, they got the job done, but at different costs, a life, dignity, belief system, honor, etc. Does the end justify the means? That was one of the ending questions of the film.

As seen in the film, one of the ending morals was that the truth will always come out. No matter how much the characters decided to silence Rorschach and keep the plot within themselves, a journal was sent to a newspaper, the truth will eventually get out.


I would rather the Watchmen did not protect us. They might just end up killing us in the process. They should concern themselves with protecting their sanity and correcting themselves rather than the problems of other people.

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