Thursday, March 12, 2009

Watching the Watchmen

The much awaited Watchmen movie is worth the waiting for. Based on an award winning graphic novel (meaning collected comic series) by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-1987), it translated well to the big screen. It is about an alternate 1985 where Richard Nixon is a third time elected President of the United States, and about a world that is on the point of destruction by nuclear war between the United States and USSR.

The movie starts with a rather long introductory credits which fill in details of this alternate timeline from the second world war to the 1980s. Then the movie proper started with the murder of an aging vigilante who called himself Comedian. The Comedian belonged to a group of vigilantes who came together masked to fight crime and do good. They are Nite Owl 1, Rorscharch, Comedian, Dr. Manhattan, Ozmandias and Silk Spectre 1. At the time of the murder, almost all have retired, even Nite Owl 2 and Silk Spectre 2. Vigilantes have been outlawed.

By flashbacks, the characters are fleshed out by showing what they have done and what they are doing now they are old and retired. At first glance, it may be a story about what happen to superheroes when they grew old and retire.

Without revealing the plot and storyline, the movie brings to mind what Plato has written in The Republic about the philosopher-king and his elite whose primary purpose is to do good for their society. What happens if the only way for this good to be achieved for the society is for the philosopher-king and his elite to do evil; like murder and manipulation of people. In other words, does the end justified the means?

This is the question I struggled with when I watched The Dark Knight. In order to preserve Harvey Dent's good reputation and hence the good of Gotham, the citizens of Gotham must never know that Harvey is also the evil Two Face. Batman took the blame for all of Two Face's murders and thus became a hunted outlaw. This was a decision between Batman and James Gordon. A lie has to be maintained for the good of Gotham.

A similar issue arises in this movie. The USA and USSR is on an inevitable nuclear war on which the survival of the human race is in doubt. To save the human race, is it justifiable to commit murder, kill innocent people, deceive and manipulate friends? This is an obvious conflict between Kantian philosophy (the end never justifies the means) and consequentialism (the end justifies the means). The movie is slow moving in parts but cleverly directs the viewers to its inevitable conclusion. I can only sit in stunned horror at the end as the enormity of the plot unfolded. This is a good ending for a movie.

For a movie book based on a comic book, there is little fighting but a lot of conversation, a couple of sex scenes (censored, of course) and a glowing naked blue man walking around. I do not think it is a suitable movie to bring young children. Not only is it very long (about 3 hours), it is draggy at parts. In fact I was distracted by the other movie goers having their own conversations. I believe they are bored.

Nevertheless, I am looking forward for the DVD to come out which I believe and hope will be the four hours long version.


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