In a nutshell, this is the conflict at the heart of Watchmen. No matter how much saving gets done, things just get worse. The problems get bigger. They get more complex. Not only that, the heroes of Watchmen have to deal with a society that really doesn't want them anymore. In the eyes of the public, they have lost their luster and so there is bitterness. With the people. And with the heroes. Why save the idiots if they don't appreciate it? And why save them if they just go and do something stupid again?
Gone are the days of Superman. Of the heroes with unconditional love for all things. When you think about it, we've been creeping towards this. Towards this kind of film. We want to see our heroes a little more human. We want to see the scars. To see the bruises. We want to see the cracks in the characters. It's why Batman keeps coming back to us in so many different forms. Rooting for Superman is like rooting for the Yankees. It's not hard and it's not very interesting.
I left the theater Friday night, not feeling like one who had just walked out of a movie based on a comic book about super heroes. I was not charged. Not invigorated. I think the word to describe my feelings would be that of helplessness. If ever there were a time to release this film, it would be now. And yet, it may be the absolute worst time for this movie to be released. Because right now, we sure have made a mess of things. And right now if Superman existed, we would be down on our knees begging to be saved. Without question. Without judgment. So that we could get on with our lives with the risk of making the same mistakes we did before. Unfortunately, things aren't that easy. And Alan Moore knows this.
Moore's vision of this world is not a good one. What does it say about his story that the most conscientious character, Rorschach, is seen as a sociopath? Or that Dr. Manhattan who could save the entire world with a snap of his fingers would rather move to Mars and start a new species? And it doesn't say a lot that his vision has more or less come true 20 years later. I would take pleasure in saying that Moore was nothing but a cynic. To say that this movie was outrageous fantasy much like 1984. But here we are. Not at the brink of nuclear disaster. But in a current economic state of woe brought on by ourselves. And it begs the question: do we deserve to be saved? And if we are saved, will we just go and make things even worse?
It's a great question. A logical one. And yet Watchmen is the first super hero movie to ask it and dare to answer it. And damn if director Zach Snyder doesn't do a good job pulling it all off, mostly because he never steps too far from his material. In 300, I would say that Synder was guilty of taking himself too seriously. But here, his ego serves the picture well. At no time did I ever stop and think how ridiculous all the characters were. If I have a criticism however, it would be that Synder doesn't completely abandon the super hero movie formula. The story of Watchmen is about exploring the humanity of these heroes. But when these heroes fight, it's as if they suddenly have superhuman strength. Bones are snapped like twigs and bodies are thrown through the air like pieces of crumpled paper. And I don't know about you, but I think I'm done with ramping as an interesting visual device.
In Batman Begins, we never get to see what would have happened had Batman not foiled Henri Ducard and Ra's Al Ghul master plan. In Watchmen, we are not afforded such a luxury. And maybe we shouldn't be. The problem with Superman is that he creates a false security. We know that when he's around everything will be alright. And because of this, we never learn to be better people ourselves. We're always looking over our shoulders for someone to save us. Without question. Without judgment. Watchmen tells us that Superman is a myth. That no one deserves absolution. And that if you want safety, it comes at a hefty price. One that we'd rather not pay. But it needs to be paid nonetheless.