Mrs Fleet and I had our first visit to the cinema since the birth of Rothmans yesterday. We went to see Watchmen, the movie adaptation of the most important graphic novel ever written. I first read the graphic novel years back and had been looking forward to seeing the film (with some trepidation) for ages. Alan Moore, the creator and writer of the graphic novel, has disowned it as he has all of movie adaptations of his work, so I don’t suppose we shall ever know how he feels about it, but I was seriously impressed. (I’m going to try to keep the below as spoiler free as possible, but if you have a violent aversion to being spoiled and haven’t seen the movie or read the graphic novel it might be best to stop here.)
Watchmen is set in an alternative 1985, where Richard Nixon is in the middle of his third presidency and the world stands at the brink of nuclear war. The Keene Act has outlawed costumed vigilantes, and Dr Manhatten, the only one among them with genuinely super powers and a one man ultimate deterrent who won the Vietnam war for the US, is working with Adrian Veidt (the former Ozymandias) on an answer to the world’s energy problems. Someone has murdered The Comedian, another ex-Watchman, and Rorschach (an extraordinary performance by Jackie Earle Haley) tries to bring together his old comrades (Veidt, Manhatten, Laurie Juspeczyk (Silk Spectre) Dr Manhatten’s increasingly disillusioned lover, and Dan Driberg, the second Nite Owl, to find out who killed him and why.
It’s an extraordinarily dark, extremely violent and more than slightly disturbing film which more than earns its 18 certificate, in which there is no black and white, only shades of grey – no heroes, no villains. The Comedian is a vicious, quasi-fascistic thug. Rorschach is alienated from society and sees good and evil in absolute terms, refusing to compromise. Ozymandias has become a chiily, arrogant billionaire industrialist, while Driberg is impotent, tired and overweight, living in the shadowy brownstown left to him by his wealthy, disappointed Father, his Nite Owl equipment moldering in the basement. Manhatten, a physicist turned into a near-God by a laboratory accident, is drifting away from his humanity as Laurie Juspeczyk drifts away from him.
It’s a long film at 160 minutes, and it won’t appeal to everyone, but I’d highly recommend it as an attempt to cut to the core of the ‘superhero’ mythos, asking what kind of people might actually have become masked heroes, and finding that the answer is inadequates, exhibitionists and borderline psychopaths. Who watches the watchmen indeed?