Watchmen (2009) - Themes of Anti-Heroes and the Deconstruction of the Superhero Trope

06 April 2023
"Watchmen" is a film that deserves to be celebrated for its remarkable attention to detail, its bold exploration of complex themes, and its stunning visuals. From its opening moments, the film grabs the audience's attention with its stark, vivid imagery and ominous soundtrack. Zack Snyder's direction is impeccable, bringing the world of the graphic novel to life in a way that is both faithful and cinematic.

One of the standout features of "Watchmen" is its complex characters. The film eschews the typical superhero tropes of good versus evil, instead presenting flawed and deeply human characters who grapple with morality, mortality, and their place in the world. Each character has their own motivations, their own backstory, and their own demons to face, making them feel like real people rather than archetypes.

At its core, "Watchmen" is a meditation on the nature of power, the human condition, and the costs of vigilantism. It challenges our assumptions about heroism and asks tough questions about the morality of violence. The film is unflinching in its portrayal of the brutality and consequences of the characters' actions, leaving the audience to ponder the ethical implications of their choices. Overall, "Watchmen" is a bold and thought-provoking film that raises the bar for superhero movies and leaves a lasting impression on anyone who watches it.

And it is a deeply thematic movie. 

The line between heroism and vigilantism

In "Watchmen," the theme of the line between heroism and vigilantism is central to the story. The film raises complex questions about the nature of heroism and the morality of taking justice into one's own hands. The characters in the story are all former superheroes who have either retired or gone underground due to the outlawing of vigilantism.

On one hand, the superheroes in "Watchmen" are praised for their heroic deeds and their willingness to fight for justice. However, the film also portrays them as deeply flawed and sometimes violent individuals, who are prone to making questionable moral decisions. For instance, the character of Rorschach is portrayed as a ruthless vigilante who will stop at nothing to expose the truth, even if it means killing people.

The film also raises questions about the role of government in regulating and controlling individuals. The government in "Watchmen" has outlawed vigilantism, arguing that it is too dangerous and that it undermines the rule of law. However, the superheroes argue that the government is corrupt and ineffective and that they are the only ones capable of bringing about justice.

Ultimately, the line between heroism and vigilantism in "Watchmen" is blurred, and the film leaves it up to the audience to decide where they stand. The characters in the story are not black and white, but rather complex and flawed individuals who are struggling to navigate a world that is full of ambiguity and moral complexity. In this way, "Watchmen" challenges the audience to think critically about the nature of heroism and the role of vigilantes in society.

sally jupiter watchmen

The distinct lacking of a moral compass for The Comedian 

The character of The Comediani s known for his amoral behavior and lack of a clear moral compass. He is portrayed as a violent, cynical, and nihilistic figure who is willing to commit any act, no matter how heinous, in pursuit of his own self-interest, including rape. 

The Comedian's lack of a moral compass is perhaps best exemplified by his role in the death of a pregnant woman named Vietnamese woman named Phan Thi Kim Phuc. In the story, The Comedian is shown committing this brutal act during the Vietnam War, and it is clear that he feels no remorse for his action.

Throughout the graphic novel, The Comedian's moral ambiguity is further highlighted by his behavior towards his fellow Watchmen. He is willing to betray his former teammates in order to protect his own interests, and his actions ultimately contribute to the destruction of the group.

However, it is worth noting that The Comedian's character is also portrayed in a sympathetic light at times. The reader is shown glimpses of his tragic backstory, which includes a troubled childhood and a failed relationship with the mother of his child. These glimpses of vulnerability and humanity add depth to the character and make him more than just a one-dimensional villain.

Is Watchmen an actual deconstruction of traditional superhero tropes?

"Watchmen" is a film that subverts traditional superhero tropes and deconstructs the idea of the superhero as a flawless, moral paragon (consider the 'classic' American Pie version of Superman). The film questions the morality of masked vigilantes and explores the psychological toll of violence and trauma on those who choose to fight crime. Here are some examples from the film that highlight these themes:

The character of Rorschach is a prime example of the deconstruction of traditional superhero tropes. He is a brutal vigilante who is willing to use violence to achieve his goals, and he shows little regard for human life. He is also portrayed as psychologically damaged, with a deeply traumatic childhood that has left him emotionally scarred.

The character of Nite Owl is another example of the film's deconstruction of the superhero trope. He is portrayed as a socially awkward, impotent man who is struggling to find meaning in his life. He is also plagued by guilt over his past actions as a vigilante and the harm that he has caused to others.

The character of The Comedian is perhaps the most cynical and jaded of all the superheroes in the film. He is a violent, amoral man who is deeply disillusioned with the world and sees little value in heroism or morality.

The film also explores the psychological toll of violence and trauma on those who choose to fight crime. The character of Dr. Manhattan, for instance, is portrayed as emotionally detached and disconnected from humanity as a result of his superhuman abilities. He is also haunted by the traumatic events of his past and struggles to find meaning in his existence. He is perhaps the most alone person on the whole planet. 

The morality of Adrian 'Ozymandias' Alexander Veidt's plan to bring peace to the world through death of many humans

The morality of Ozymandias' plan in the Watchmen film is a highly controversial and debated topic. On one hand, his plan did achieve its intended outcome of bringing about global peace, as the world's nations united against the perceived common enemy, the alien entity created by Veidt. However, on the other hand, his plan involved sacrificing innocent lives in order to achieve this end.

Veidt's justification for his actions was that the sacrifice of a few million lives was necessary to save billions of others from the constant threat of nuclear war. He believed that by creating a common enemy that posed a greater threat than any nation alone, he could unite the world in peace. Additionally, Veidt's plan was based on the premise that the ends justify the means, which is a highly controversial moral stance.

However, the moral implications of his actions cannot be ignored. Veidt's actions were inherently selfish and unethical, as he made the decision to sacrifice millions of lives without their consent in order to achieve his goal of global peace. He also took on the role of judge, jury, and executioner, deciding for the rest of humanity what was best for them, without giving them a choice in the matter.

Furthermore, Veidt's plan raises important questions about the morality of utilitarianism, the ethical theory that the rightness or wrongness of an action should be based solely on its ability to bring about the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people. While Veidt's plan may have achieved global peace, it did so by sacrificing innocent lives, which goes against many people's beliefs about the value of individual human life.

Of memory and trauma

silk spectre II watchmen mental trauma

In the Watchmen film, the theme of memory and trauma is central to the story as the characters grapple with the consequences of their actions and the events of their past. Each character has a unique history that has shaped their personality and behavior, and their struggles with trauma reflect the broader societal trauma of the film's dystopian world.

One character who is deeply affected by trauma is Rorschach. His childhood was marked by abuse and neglect, and his vigilante activities are rooted in a desire for justice and revenge. As he investigates the murder of The Comedian, he is forced to confront his own traumatic past and the trauma that has been inflicted upon others. His experiences leave him disillusioned with the world and consumed by a sense of nihilism.

Another character who grapples with the impact of trauma is Laurie Jupiter, also known as Silk Spectre II. Her past as a superhero and her complicated relationship with her mother, the original Silk Spectre, have left her emotionally damaged. As the film progresses, she struggles to reconcile her feelings for Dr. Manhattan, who represents an alienated and inhuman perspective on the world, with her own human emotions and desires.

Dr. Manhattan himself is also a character marked by trauma. His transformation from a human being to a being of pure energy has left him disconnected from humanity and unable to understand human emotions. He is haunted by the memory of his own transformation and by the realization that he has become something beyond human.

The trauma of the past also plays a significant role in the character of Adrian Veidt, also known as Ozymandias. As a child, he witnessed his parents' murder (oh hi there Batman), and this experience has shaped his worldview and his actions as a superhero. His ultimate plan to bring about world peace through mass destruction is a reflection of his own trauma and his belief that the ends justify the means.

The Watchmen film is a meditation on the impact of trauma and memory on individuals and society as a whole. Through the experiences of its complex characters, the film explores the ways in which trauma can shape behavior and how individuals can struggle to reconcile their traumatic pasts with their present selves.


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My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

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