When you speak to comic book readers, the older ones, about the greatest story ever told, you'll get many different responses, for me it was the dark phoenix saga as told in the x-men comics in the early 1980s, the story which was prison raped into a B-story then left to dead in the lake near the last house on the left by the abomination of movie making that was X-Men: The Last Stand, and even more of them, will tell you the greatest story ever put into comic book form is The Watchmen. An iconic cold war allegory written by Allen Moore, that spans from world war 2 America all the way till the story's violent start in 1985, it tells the tale of two generations of superheros, the first being The Minutemen, who would later gave way to The Watchmen. Its a dark and twistingly beautiful tale of how ultimate power can lead to ultimate insanity.
It all starts with the death of a man called The Comedian, a former hero of sorts, who was killed as brutally as he lived, which was, in an ironic way, the most fitting way for a man like that to end his life, when you are a “hero” who wasn't so much a hero as a mentally unstable killer and rapist, it kind of makes sense that he will in time probably die that way, which he does, after a brutal fight that is set beautifully to “What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, he is, well, tossed out of a window plummeting 62 floors to the street below. As I said, a fittingly violent end, to a violent life where everything was a joke... atleast to The Comedian.
As The Comedian lays dying on the dirty sidewalk outside of his upscale new york city, his blood running into a gutter and his trademark smiley face pin becoming stained with blood, one of the most familiar images of the entire series, even to this day, the film shifts to a beautifully done series of “captured moments” going back to the early 1940s and the dawn of the superhero as this world knew it, all the way to current times, all set perfectly to Bob Dylan's “The Times They Are A Changin”, I loved this scene so much, because it says so much, and so much of what the story is really about, the changing of our world over the 40 year span that the movie, you see the early days of the comedian with his first group “The Minute Men” in the early 1940s, you see their work, their triumphs and their downfalls, and their fading away into the past, you then see the rise of Doctor Manhattan, the man comprised completely of nuclear energy, which leads to the creation of The Watchmen, you see their wins and losses and rise and fall all the way into the early 1980s, when third term president Richard Nixon (yes you read that right) outlaws superheroes, at which point they all retire, well all except for one apparently, Walter Kovacs, the paranoid and completely insane vigilante known as Rorschach, who you meet as he investigates the death of The Comedian, and through an internal monologue you find out just how deep the paranoid burn for blunt and unyielding justice that fuels the fever mind of Rorschach really goes. As he looks around the apartment, eventually discovering where The Comedian hid his superhero gear, and realizing who had infact died, he starts to place together a theory that someone, for some reason is killing off superheroes, or “Masks” as they are called by many apparently.
Next you move from the dark and violence of that, to a happy scene, this is where you meet Hollis Mason, the former minute man known as Nite Owl, writer of the book “Under The Hood” a book telling many behind the scenes and unknown to the public things about the public and private lives of The Minute Men, of which, as of 1985 the only one's left alive are Hollis, who by the end of the comic book is killed by a gang of super villains called The Knot Tops, but in the movie remains alive and running his auto salvage, towing and repair yard, Sally Juspeczyk who goes by Sally Jupiter, or her superhero name The Silk Spectre, Sally retires from The Minute Men when she becomes pregnant with her daughter Laurie, who would grow up to become the second Silk Spectre who would later go on to help found The Watchmen, Sally now lives in a retirement community in California where she keeps her suit in a glass case and all of her pictures from her days where she was not only a hero, but a sex symbol, framed on the walls, she spends her days answering letters to her fans, at one point laughing in a flattered way when one of her fans sends her a very valuable adult comic book which depicted her having sex in various ways with various men, which her daughter claims to be filty, in the comic she quips that there are a lot out there of her daughter as well, and one where they “team up”, however in the movie she just laughs at her daughter's reaction. The last of The Minute Men left alive is Byron Lewis, The Mothman, who though you don't really meet directly, its explained that he was locked away in a mental institution do to his mental illness (implied to be schizophrenia) becomes out of control do to his almost at times crippling drinking problem. The other Minutemen are stated as dead by Hollis, Dollar Bill, apparently was killed when his cape was stuck in a revolving door when he was stopping a bank robbery, he was shot repeatedly and killed by the robbers. Captain Metropolis, the man who its implied “founded” The Minute Men, was killed in a car accident in 1974, it was said that his head was chopped clean off his body, in the comic its implied that he is in a homosexual relationship with Hooded Justice, who apparently “disappeared under mysterious circumstances” in the movie there is no mention or implication of their relationship, Silhouette, who was forced to retire after she was outed as a lesbian in pre-sexual revolution America where being homosexual was viewed as many as a crime, which is why Hooded Justice and Captain Metropolis kept their relationship a secret, Silhouette and her lover are both murdered in their bed by villain seeking revenge on her who happens to find her lifestyle an abomination, he infact writes “lesbian whores” all over their bedroom walls in their blood, in the comic its explained that they were murdered, then cut from their crotches upwards with what seemed to be a small but powerful cutting tool, in the movie this scene appears in the opening montage set to The Times They Are A Changin, and is just shown to be a violent murder with their bodies laid together and the statement written in blood over the bed, it was, thankfully, toned down, the last of the Minute Men, The Comedian, as we all know, died a the beginning of the film.
You find out that Hollis is telling his story to Dan Dreiberg, the man who took up the name of Nite Owl, and was forced into retirement when Richard Nixon passed the “no masks” law, which made superhero activity illegal. Dan sees Hollis as a sort of mentor of sorts, both as a childhood fan who was able to take up his hero's mantle, and not only live up too, but surpass what his childhood hero did, but was able to earn his own place in the history of superheros, Dan is the only person that Rorschach actually views as a friend, and its said that the two of them were a crime fighting team before the formation of The Watchmen. Dan is implied to be a sort of Batman, meaning a middle aged man with a seemingly unlimited amount of money who lives alone in a large home and has a secret lair under his home with a secret entrance, where he keeps his suit, gadgets, equipment and his mode of transport, a flying pod like transport ship he calls “Archie” which is short for Archimedes, the pet owl of Merlin The Mystic of Arthurian Lore. As he is leaving Hollis' home they speak of how The Comedian had died, Hollis expresses his dislike of him as a person, but respect for his need to get the job done, he then asks Dan if he misses being a superhero, Dan thinks for a moment and answers a very unsure “no.”, Hollis smiles and then bids his friend good bye, this is the last time you see Hollis in the film, its implied he's alive, though as I said, in the comic he's beaten to death later.
Dan comes home to find his door broken and partly open, he his heroic senses kick in and he slowly looks around the house with out making a sound, hoping to surprise whomever has broken into his home, thinking maybe an old supervillain, a common burgler or a drug addict looking for a fix, he is apparently not surprised to see his old partner Rorschach sitting in his kitchen eating beans. Its implied at this point that Rorschach is actually homeless. He tells Dan of his theory that someone is out there killing heroes, saying it has to be someone who knows who The Watchmen are, and that it has to be an inside job because only they know each other's identities, Dan snaps that no one knows Rorschach's, or even what he looks like under the mask. Rorschach dismisses this and heads down to where Dan keeps all of his Nite Owl equipment, as he walks around noticing the thick layers of dust on everything, he tells Dan that an attack on one of the watchmen is an attack on all of them, and though they were ordered by law to retire or face jail time, he's never stopped fighting for justice, and says thats what a true hero would do, fight for what is right no matter what. He then hands Dan the bloody smiley face pin he lifted from the gutter where The Comedian died, and left Dan's home in an angry state.
We then follow Rorschach as he breaks into a military base where he is to speak with the last two people on his list of names to speak with, Doctor Manhattan and the second Silk Spectre, who infact live there, given that they are a couple. As he sneaks in, Rorschach muses to himself of how there are no real heros anymore, they're all either to old, out of shape, dead or afraid of what they used to be. Before Rorschach walks in to speak to Manhattan and Spectre he says “I now have to tell a man who can not die, that someone is planning to kill him”. He finds Manhattan working feverishly on a giant reactor which will bring about free unlimited energy, the way they made Manhattan look in thie film was always one of my biggest worries when world had come around there was going to be a watchmen movie, believe it or not its very hard to picture a naked man who is made of blue glowing energy working in live action movies, however thanks to modern CGI they did so beautifully, my only real quip would be that he needed to wear the speedo like he did in the comic book, the fun of uncomfortable chuckles from everyone around me when you see Manhattan's glowing CGI crotch area wears off after the first few times. Through his conversation with Rorschach you find out that Manhattan, or John, to most, basically exists outside of our concepts of time, space, reality and knowledge, he can see the past, present and future, and as you find out later in a kind of funny pseudo sex scene, he can be in many places at once. Manhattan refuses the help Rorschach, claiming he is unable to see the future past the next few days for some reason, and speculates it has something to do with a possible nucular war that is hinted at as the movie's b-story wiping out the entire world. Rorschach accuses Manhattan of no longer caring what happens to human beings and states that he's becoming less and less human everyday, for which the Silk Spectre tells him off and asks him to leave, when he refuses claiming that before he goes he needs to tell Manhattan off, Rorschach is teleported by Manhattan to the gates outside of the military base, where he walks off angry into the rainy night.
Next you see Dan going to meet the last member of The Watchmen, Ozymandias, now a billionaire who is known as an international playboy, philanthropist, industrialist and champion of world peace and free energy, he is also the man who you find out in a flashback formed The Watchmen in the late 1960s or early 1970s, its not exactly clear when, its implied that Ozy, as he's called for short, and Rorschach have some bad blood, which is why he doesn't even bother to contact him but seeked out everyone else, Dan tells Ozy of Rorschach's theory of a superhero hunter out there, which Ozy dismisses, assuming its just the ramblings of a paranoid sociopath who is looking for one last shot to be a hero. Dan states that the theory makes a lot of sense given recent events and that he really had only come just to warn him, given that he is the most public profile of all of the former Watchmen, and unlike Manhattan the other highest profile of them, Ozy is still just a human being, and that he can be killed just like one. After that Dan is next seen going to dinner with the Silk Spectre, with whom its implied at this point there is a strong attraction between the two.
With all of the major cast members now introduced the film starts to tell you their story, both jumping between the films setting in 1985 and various points in the past, you get to see the history of both The Minute Men and The Watchmen, both the good and the bad, you get to see The Comedian attempt to rape the first Silk Spectre, as well as his murder of a Vietnamese woman who is pregnant with his child in a bar after the end of Vietnam as a puzzled Doctor Manhattan, who was sent by Richard Nixon to end the war, looks on, after Manhattan yells at him and says he has no regard for human life, The Comedian states that be doing nothing to stop him, Manhattan is the same way. You also see the early days of The Watchmen, and how they play out their roles through history in this world, as well as the return to action of both Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, at one point Manhattan while in deep thought of if he is really human anymore at all, outlines the time line starting from the 1940s to their present day. You also finally get to see under Rorschach's mask as he's finally caught after being framed for the murder of a former villain, the prison scenes are some of the best in the film, not just because of the midget that gets murdered in the toilet or how hot Silk Spectre looks kicking the crap out of rioting inmates and guards when she and Nite Owl break Rorschach out of jail, but because you get to see just how insane one man can be, plus after the phych evaluation and story of Rorschach's first case as a hero, you see just how far gone he really is, its scary in a way, but still you can't help but love the character and how well he was transfered to film.
I won't give away much more of the film, instead I will now express my likes and dislikes of it, simply because I feel if I give more of the film away, it'll be ruined for anyone that hasn't been waiting sense 1986 for this movie, and well I would really hate to do that, for its really something worth seeing, yes its almost 3 hours long, and yes it can be both violent and disturbing at times, but still, it is a beautiful adaptation of one of the greatest comic book stories ever told. I loved so much about the film, from how Rorschach's mask kept changing shape, to mimic how in the comic book its never drawn in the same pattern, ever, to how realistic Manhattan looked for blue glowing naked man who sometimes wore a speedo or a suit. Almost all of the elements from the comic book are jammed into the film too, which I think is really good, readers who have been waiting to find out if the kraken appears, I hate to drop the spoiler on you, but it does not, but thats alright, the film adaption works just as well with out it, plus one less action scene worked better for the progression of the story, atleast I thought so, there are afew other scenes from the comic that are missing, Ozy's last scene for instance is cut short and doesn't have the monologue, but really it doesn't take away from the film at all, nor do the other scenes that were left out, which makes a lot of sense really, movie goers who weren't aware of the comic and how it was written would have had issues with following the story as well as the “Tales of the Black Freighter” story with in the story, though its been stated when the dvd is released, there will be a special edition that will feature an “ultimate” edition, which will have the story with in the story, as well as all the removed scenes except for the Kraken, which the director honestly believed wasn't that over all important to the story itself, and though I did enjoy the scene in the comic, I must agree, it didn't really seem to fit the flow of the movie, and given the time and care put into making this as realistic and true to the comic as possible, literally going panel by panel using the comic as a guide to set up sets and poses as close to their original drawings, I could see someone not wanting to ruin that with a kind of hokey fight with a big squid.
My only real complaints where with little cosmetic things, like the Watchmen toys scene in Ozy's office are made by today's super modern toy making technology which, well the hight of toy making tech in 1985 was making the original transformers, which as any fan will tell you, 90% of were bricks with movable arms, there is no way they were even close back then to replicating the way toys are made 20 years later, other little nitpicky things were that Ozy's computer was way to advanced for the time period, and that the hearse that drove the comedian's body to the graveyard in his funeral scene was a 1986 Cadillac Fleetwood by Superior, which was not available in 1985. I ofcourse mention these things only because I like to point out the bad as well as the good, even in a film that I rave about, I would hope that these minor things do not take away from your want or even just curiosity to go and see this film. Infact infact I hope i've made you want to see it more then you did before, and if not, I encourage you to go anyway, because its truly a piece of beauty. I wouldn't harold it as better then say, The Dark Knight, but its in the same vain, which I'm sure many people will enjoy, and its enough realism that even those who aren't comic book fans will enjoy it. So please, if you are able too, go out and find the answer to the question that everyone has been asking for years; Who watches The Watchmen.