Who Watches? The Watchmen Review (Minor Spoilers)


At just under 3 hours the Watchmen movie is a thinking person’s film. Much of the story is taken up introducing the not so pristine characters and their psychological motivations. We learn why most became heroes and why many left the job. We are also asked to think about the world of vigilantism in more complex ways than is offered by people like Captain America or Superman. The heroes of the Watchmen world are rapists, murderers, ambivalent omniscients, drunks, and liars. And when they make decisions to intervene in the lives and affairs of the world, history changes and genocides are excused away. And yet, most of them are deeply committed to saving the world and the people who inhabit it.


Without giving too much away for those who have not read the graphic novels, the plot is basically that someone in their wnixonranks is killing heroes and bringing the world to the brink of war in the process. In order to figure out who it is, the Watchmen must reunite and care about a world that has seldom cared about them.

The story unfolds in an alternate timeline in which Nixon has successfully changed the constitution and managed to remain the sitting president for 4 terms. The cold war is still raging between Russia and the U.S. and the fear of communism has resulted in a repressed and repressive society riddled with violence. And all of it is to blame on the intervention of Dr. Manhattan in the Vietnam war at Nixon’s request. Dr. Manhattan’s intervention prevented the pendulum swing in the U.S. that led to massive innovation and creativity and the development of a liberal consciousness. And while the movie does not mention this, such a move would also have prevented the militarization and consciousness raising of communities of color that ultimate led to movements like the Panthers, AIM, and the Brown Berets, and that means no second wave feminism and radical woc feminism either. wnewsWithout those movements, or similar pushes for civil rights that appear to be put down by the Watchmen in the name of stability, another act of heroism gone array, there are no major civil rights changes in the U.S. Instead, the world is stuck in a 1950s like shrinking capsule whose release was permanently forestalled by an act of “heroism.”

Given the number of comic books that unfold during wars and posit the heroism of all American superheroes against the regular evils of fascist regimes, the centrality of the destructive nature of Dr. Manhattan’s nationalist intervention into war is a powerful one. And the destructive nature  that comes with acts of superhuman heroism, whether unforeseen or excused away, is at the base of the plot. (It is also one of the critiques I levied at Iron Man‘s irresponsible use of violence against warlords in the villages in an unthinking act of vigilantism that gave no thought to what would happen to the villagers after he flew away. Guess what die hard fans of Iron Man, if I am stupid for questioning what happens when heroes don’t think about the consequences of their actions, then so are the writers of thewhiny Watchmen, one of the most well read graphic novels of its time.)

The moral questions the movie raise are ultimately resolved as unsatisfyingly, as they would be in real life. The one loyal and completely honest hero in the movie is killed because he alone thinks truth and freedom trump a manipulated peace. The wishy-washy “superhero,” who is part of the team because his dad left him money to build their equipment, and who spends most of his time afraid, in denial, or pining after Silk Spectre II, gets the girl; the man she really loves and who loves her leaves the planet in an unspoken punishment for what he has both wittingly and unwittingly done. And the gay window dressing mastermind of the team, Ozymandias, suffers no consequences for the genocides he has engineered to keep the world at peace or for the lives he has taken. Oft-overlooked, Silk Spectre I, is overlooked again when culpability comes down the wire even tho an interview at a bar near the end of the film proves she is pivotal.

Gender and Sexuality

whousewife(For those of you who don’t think gender and sexuality matter, you can skip to the next subheading for a review of the actors stellar performances. But really, you should care.)

As the story unfolds, we are given an insider’s look at what makes each character tick, except for Oz whose interior is left behind to give us a glaring picture of his present. And what is great about Oz’s present is the way it questions the commercialization of heroism and how that skews the perception of vigilante justice all the more.

Silk Spectre II is also less well fleshed out beyond her present relationship drama in which she desperately loves Dr. Manhattan but ultimately ends up in the arms of the imminently less heroic or interesting Night Owl II. It seems her entire moral dilemma and motivation boils down to “mother issues.” I’m not even sure what her particular powers are except to land on her feet when jumping out of an owl shaped plane and kick butt as good as the boys do. And honestly, I am a little sick of sexually exploitative images of women excused away because they can walk freely at night and kick ass without breaking a nail.  I can do that too, but it doesn’t mean I have to do it in a Spandex swimsuit and platform thigh highs w/needlepoint heels; and if you’ve ever actually worn those shoes, you know how impossible that would be AND you recognize the irony in the rape scene in which the jdsilkComedian so skillfully manipulates those heels to try and get his way. (The Watchmen graphic novels clearly have a sense of humor about this that the film does not, since the first book in the series has Silk Spectre II meeting Night Owl II for dinner and immediately taking off her shoes to massage her feet. There is a moment in the movie when the same character laments her latex outfit by saying “I didn’t want to disappoint mom” but let’s be clear, mom isn’t the one dreaming of pinup girls nor changing Silk Spectre II’s drapy yellow dress in the comic book into a Fredrick’s of Hollywood knock off for the film.)

In an ironic turn that speaks to the handling of female characters in this new superhero-cinema world, not only are most of Silk Spectre II’s companions more complex than she is, but Rorschach is among them. His motivation: “mother issues.” Rorschach’s mother issues lead him down a dark road of vengeance on criminals who target women and girls. They have left him with no love for human beings but a profound sense of honesty and moral commitment to freedom. His mix of extreme violence and moral superiority soon spills over to acts of violence against anyone who threatens him regardless of the reason; while he still only beats up on criminals, sparing the doctor who helps incarcerate him for instance, his actions beg the question about why we condone violence against suspected or one time criminals from masked figures when we know our justice system does not always allow for justice.

Violence against women dots the entire film, as it does the comic book. Some of it is necessary in order to establish vietnamesewoman1pivotal plot points, others are gratiuitous. Thus the Comedian shoots a pregnant Vietnamese woman through the belly, killing her and his unborn child, because she dares to hold him accountable. And while some will argue that this scene is to establish how depraved he is, the film includes an attempted rape scene, the shooting of innocent civilians in the back, and the assassination of JFK all by the Comedian’s hand. If that does not establish him as an unhinged megalomaniac in tights, then the fact everyone refers to him as one throughout the film should. There is no need for the violent murder of the pregnant woman; and while the long slow shot of her bleeding out on the floor while Dr. Manhattan contemplates the fragility of life above her, may accurately reflect the graphic novel neither is exempt from racialized misogyny b/c of it. While the attempted rape scene is essential to the plot, it also seems to run long just so the director can highlight another violent, superpower laden, beat down. Silk Spectre I’s complete inability to fight back is ridiculously reminiscent of the longheld belief in the comic world that female superheroes can only hold their own against female villains. If they are Superhuman than shouldn’t they be able to defend against regular humans? And if they have superpowers, shouldn’t they also be able to at least fight back with some success against others with superpowers?  Shouldn’t Silk Spectre I be able to get in more than one good punch? These moments typify the genre more than they reflect a particular guilt of the Watchmen movie; while the director’s decisions are culpable in this film, the issue of misogyny in the genre is a much larger than this film.

A shorter, throw away scene involves dogs chewing on a little girl’s leg bone still socked and attached to little pink shoe and the tossing around of her soiled underpants. The discovery of her underwear in the fireplace and the bloody fat andrapesally meat infused cutting board that is clearly her remains were plenty to establish the depravity of the child abductor, just as the dogs fighting in the yard over a long thin bone was more than enough to tell us what they were eating. While the graphic novel may have illustrated these scenes in a similarly graphic fashion, it seems unnecessary in both film and novel format. The tossing around of her underwear in particular seemed callous and disrespectful.

The film also gets in some unnecessary digs at homosexuality. The theater of mostly men gasped when the opening montage included Silhouette grabbing a jubilant passerby and kissing her. Moments later when Silhouette was filleted on her bed with her lover, the word “whore” dripping down the wall behind them, written in her own blood, no one but me gasped. In a montage of violence against masked heroes by the human population, which highlighted both the violence of the human silhouette_lrace and the uneasy tension between heroes and the population, the voice over blamed Silhouette for her own gay bashing. As the camera lingers over her bloody bed, Rorschach says, it was her own “disturbed lifestyle” that had done her in.

Prefacing The Comedian’s death with this array of misogyny makes it hard to stomach the mournful funeral scenes and the fact that he is the catalyst for the entire plot. At the same time, many of those scenes are necessary for the main tenants of the series to be played out, ie the issue of vigilantism as something that should be questioned even if it is done in an outfit and the toll of heroism on both heroes and the people they “save.” They are also critiqued by the female characters at various points in the film. There is no similar justification for the voice over on Silhouettes death. She could just as easily have been shown with a voice over about how the conservative backlash against heroes extended all the more to people on the margins. Such a statement would have raised the issue of civil rights movements that were stalled or non-existent in the parallel world because of the intervention of superheroes in human affairs. In so doing, it ozymandiaswould have tied her more concretely to the plot at hand.

The graphic novel clearly included a lesbian character as heroic, so why include her in the film just to justify her brutal gay bashing? And no, the total window dressing that is Ozymandias does not make it any better, even if it is the ever lovely Matthew Goode under all that froo-froo. (update: According to someone who read the graphic novel – see the comment section- her lifestyle was not the motivation for her murder so this rings all the more homophobic and unnecessary. end update)

Mainstream movie critics have also noted the director’s ongoing tendency to fail to represent women as fully fledged characters in general in his movies. The evidence is not only in the decisions about how the women are portrayed or how long or how often misogyny is highlighted, but also in the basic marketing of the film. In this case not only do many of the television promos feature long shots of Silk Spectre II’s inner thighs or tight shot of her spandex and thigh highs where you can see the most skin or the accentuate curve of her bottom, but also posters like the one pictured to the left are designed to make her seem vacuous. Rather than being a “stupid girl” when she says this linew_silk in the film, Silk Spectre II is actually agreeing to go out on patrol, a plan she actually suggested; the result, is that she and Night Owl II save an entire apartment complex of children trapped in a burning building. In the poster at the start of this section she is pictured as self-absorbed. Yet, Silk Spectre II is much better off than the advertising for Silk Spectre I, which has Carla Gugino in fishnets holding a prisoner by a belt leash with the caption in an image reminiscent of Abu Ghraib photos except this time the sexualized body is the woman holding the leash. The image is both sexist and racist, and offensive given what we know about how leashes were wielded in the war in Iraq. (Subtle racism also dots this film by the way, including posters that remind us that there is still a famine in Africa and Vietnamese people worship Dr. M as a God – I guess superheroes cannot save backward brown people from their backwardness . . .)

Neither woman’s posters are as a sexist as the Comic-Con poster for Night Owl II. Patrick Wilson stands in full costume in front of the owl ship, adjusting his glove. Above him the caption reads

It’s all crap. Who needs all this hardware to catch hookers and purse snatchers?

The quote is lifted directly from the graphic novel, written in 1986. Thus the misogyny is partially the part of the film and partially embedded into the series itself. And I for one am concerned about the way the genre continues to cultivate a disdain for women amongst pre-teen boys and worse how it teaches them that wabughraibbeing a man means treating women like objects and prizes. Shoot them when they mouth off.

On the brighter side, Silk Spectre II is also the one who says they need to save Rorschach, while his male companions are all willing to leave him in jail to rot or die. Her humanitarian act of loyalty is juxtaposed with a decision by Ozymandias, revealed at the end of the film, in which her decision is ultimately less humane. These two moments and their results once again reveal the complexity of what heroism actually means in the world of the Watchmen. Silk Spectre II’s decision also highlights once again her import to the plot despite the misogyny here.

Honestly, many of these complaints amount to fleeting moments in the film and advertising most consumers will never see. Both Silk Spectres are integral to the plot and Silk Spectre II has more positive screen time than most of the other characters. Despite the fact she and her mother spend time in skimpy outfits, both also spend a considerable amount of time clothed. And both have moments in the film where they express their sexual agency clearly and counter to dominant definition or the desires of the men in their lives. These positive aspects should not be overlooked simply because of both racialized and normative sexism in this film nor do these positives negate the offenses.

I’m sure the die hard fans are going to come a runnin’ with their name calling and their “its true to the graphic novel” comments like always. And like always, I say to you, cinema is a new media with the license to edit or depict material as it sees fit. There are ways to stay true to the basic tenets and plot of the genre without prolonging misogyny or promoting homophobia.

As the caliber of storytelling and cinematography gets better with each passing comic book film, I continue to hold out hope that the isms will slowly fade away. I write these reviews as a fan of the genre who knows where many of these stories come from and as a media professor who also knows how to tell them without bigotry unrelated to the plot. I believe that when pre-teen male comic book readers xmen-goodturned 30 something male comic directors confront their own investment in a certain kind of racialized masculinity this genre will kick on all of its cylinders. It is not a matter of PC politics or ignoring the era in which these heroes were first inked, especially since graphic novels like Wanted, Watchmen, 300, etc. are all contemporary and most of the genres icons, Batman, Superman, Spiderman, are still running in comic or graphic novel form today. Whether the misogyny originates on page or storyboard doesn’t make it any less problematic or necessary to confront and change. Given that the genre targets pree-teen boys, it is also important to their unlearning bigotry. One needs only look at the Bryan Singer X Men films or even Superman Returns to see how easy it is to produce a fan-driven, brilliant, entertaining and true to the original film in this genre that does not demean women, GLBTQ people, or people of color.

Characters and Conclusions

Ultimately, despite a little bit of a drag in the middle, and far too many endings, the film is interesting for both intellectual and special effects viewers. There are plenty of fights and cool costumes and sexual encounters that appeal to both male and female audiences. Most of the special effects are spot on, except I do wish someone would have introduced blowntobitsSnyder to a pair of black Calvin active boxer briefs, which actually do mirror those worn by Dr. Manhattan in the graphic novels, b/c those bikini briefs were only slightly more visually upsetting than when he is hanging free and running down hallways. Nobody needs to see the twig and berries or the black “thong diaper” as we dubbed it.

The characters are all compelling. From the minor to major roles every single actor in this film turns in a stellar performance. Special nods go to Crudup, Goode, and Haley who overcome facial feature skewing makeup and/or morally ambivalent characteristics in order to offer up characters the audience will remain invested in until the last shot. All three captivate on screen, and not just because of special effects. In lesser hands, Rorschach could never be the character who leads us into this world, but Haley infuses him with pathos and passion that cannot be ignored. Goode is hardly recognizable as Ozymandias and his turn in the film, punctuated by the appearance of that odd feline, is utterly unexpected for those who haven’t read it first. Goode is truly underrated as an actor who consistently chooses new characters to play, most of whom require a new body type, hair color,wbpr-28 accent, etc. each time. Carla Gugino turns in one of the most subtle performances of her career; while her Silk Spectre I is still the boozy bombshell that has typified Gugino’s career (that and cops), this performance is just subtle enough that it is wrought with the necessary guilt and anguish to make it come alive. I also give her points for subtlety b/c no one sees her coming in the pivotal role she plays, which is sadly overlooked by the wrap up at the end. Worse, most critics seem to have forgotten her all together in order to focus on what they did not like about Malin Akerman’s performance or the Silk Spectre II character. I liked both, though I do think Silk Spectre II was largely reduced to “love interest.” While the love affair between Silk Spectre II and the Night Owl II is trite, the love affair between her and Dr. Manhattan is interesting. So even though a better director would have given us more well-rounded characters, both women are essential to the plot, and both do a fine job.

The storyline raises compelling questions about humanity, freedom, and heroism that no other rorschachfilm really has yet. It is closer in feel to the latest incarnation of Batman with acting as powerful and introspective as multiple characters in the Dark Night and Norton’s in Incredible Hulk. Yet Watchmen is surprisingly less gritty and more fantastical than both of those films. As someone who prefers the fantastical, this one gave me just the right amount of “comic book” feel.

While some critics have complained that the Director does not have a handle on the story, I tend to think the story was compelling and unfolded mostly at the right pace. If all you want is action, then you will think this movies runs long but in such a complex world, Snyder’s decision to focus on character development and slow reveal draws us into all of the aching souls that populate the Watchmen world. If I had any complaints about the plot/story, it is that we are not given more background on Ozymandias and that the non-stereotypical aspects of the female characters were not more prevalent.

Overall Watchmen signals a critical shift in the comic book/ graphic novel to film genre that can only mean better acting, plots, and yes, special effects.



  • all images are movie stills from the Watchman film located at the website sited above unless indicated below; all images from that site are co. Warner Brothers Studios
  • “Nixon” Watchmen movie still. Clay Enos/Warner Bros Pictures
  • “The Comedian, Ozymandias, & the newspaper” Watchmen movie still. Clay Enos/Warner Bros Pictures
  • “Night Owl II” Watchmen movie still. Clay Enos/Warner Bros Pictures
  • Silk Spectre II: Comic-Con Poster. Watchmen Movie. Dir Zach Snyder. WB, 2009.
  • Drawing of Silk Spectre I for the Watchmen movie. Artist James Jean. Watchmen Movie. Dir Zach Snyder. WB, 2009
  • Apallonia Vanova as Silhouette. “Art of the Watchmen.” ugocomics.com
  • Silk Spectre II: Watchmen Promotion Poster. Watchmen Movie. Dir Zach Snyder. WB, 2009
  • Silk Spectre I: Comic-Con Poster. Watchmen Movie. Dir Zach Snyder. WB, 2009.
  • X-Men movie still. X-Men Movie. Dir Bryan Singer. 2oth Century Fox, 2000
  • Storyboard for Watchmen Movie. Dir Zach Snyder. WB, 2009

56 thoughts on “Who Watches? The Watchmen Review (Minor Spoilers)

    • thanks! 😀 and welcome to the new blog profacero. I am thinking about those 25 authors by the way, I just have not come up with my list yet.

  1. Pingback: Hot News » Watchmen Review

  2. The photo with Silk Spectre I is supposedly racist because it is reminiscent of Abu Ghraib? That is an awfully far fetched conclusion to make.

    • welcome to the blog Jonathan. I didn’t put the images against one another b/c I don’t want that image on my blog. But I suggest you open the poster image to its regular size in one screen and then open this image of Linndie England in the other and see for yourself. http://www.tyden.cz/obrazek/abu-ghraib-leash-47e012fa2113c_275x183.jpg

      Ultimately, you may disagree with me, certainly people who de-race their kink will, but I think the belted neck images from Abu Ghraib are present enough in most people’s minds that the poster was in poor taste if not extremely offensive.

    • welcome to the blog div. I know the post is long but it seems like you must have quit reading if that is all you got out of it.

      I hope you get a chance to be more substantive if/when you participate here again.

  3. wow
    cry more?
    several things you complain about were in the comic
    the movie was good. but i was still a bit dissapointed
    a tv mini series would have been awesome
    i doubt i’ll stumble upon this website again, so thanks for welcoming me to the blog. that is, assuming you will welcome me. thanks

    • welcome to the blog. I always welcome first time comment makers to the blog, I don’t know why you think that I would change that policy for you. This really isn’t a place where I, or any regular readers, engage in put downs and flaming. It’s kind of a useless way to pretend to communicate.

      Just an FYI in case you do come back, like I said to the previous commentmaker, I realize the post is long but really it would be nice if you read it before making comments. Your pt about the gender issues being in the graphic novels is made by me in several places in the post along w/ a discussion about what I think that means about the genre as a whole and the potential that directors have to change it.

      For everyone tempted to comment on this post, please:
      1. read it
      2. try to say substantive things here so we can have a dialogue or discussion
      3. if you just wanna take the piss, this really isn’t the place for it there are livejournal and facebook fan sites for that, this is an academic blog

  4. Hi, interesting review! A teensy correction for the second paragraph of “Characters and Conclusions” — Rorschach is played by Jackie Earl Haley… not sure who “Moore” is. Certainly not Alan, his beard wouldn’t fit under that mask. 😉

    It’s interesting the way the Silhouette was handled in the movie. I thought the kiss at the beginning was clever and sexy. The murder was both toned down AND up in the movie — I believe the book’s account states that her and her lover’s bodies were found naked and mutilated, which I’m very glad we didn’t have to see in either medium. Then on the other hand, the book says they were killed by a villain whose motivation was vengeance, not hating on lesbians. It’s kind of interesting how much attention the movie has given a character who has one line in the book!

    • welcome to the blog Jamie. Thanks for the correction, I will change it in the text when I get home.

      Also thanks for the info about what actually happens to Silhouette/how much time it takes up in the novel . . . that adds a new layer to how I see what happens in the film and a queered reading in general.

      • Hi
        While watching the watchmen you should remember that most of the time audience isn’t supposed to agree with everything that most of the characters do, say or think. The characters aren’t supposed to be one-dimensionaly right or wrong / good or evil and no one of them is potrayed of being absolutlic right or wrong.

        I would like to point out that voice over you mentioned about Silhouettes lifestyle belonged to Rorschach. It was only opinion of one of the characters and that practicular character seems to be ultra conservative and right winged character.
        I think that this is one of the more best things in this movie; we can see that several main characters all have their own opinions about the world and their own morals but in no place film is trying to point out if any one of them is actually right or wrong on their views… it is something that audience is left to decide on their own. There is no absolutic truths or morals in the world of watchmen, all characters have their own flaws.

        Btw, in the novel Silhouette is dispelled from the original minutemen some time before her death after her sexual preferences have become publicly known. Both Night Owl I and Silk Specter I seemed to be uneasy about exspecially because there were other homosexual members in team whose preferences were known to other members but they were not fired because they were male. (It is strongly hinted that Hooded Justice was both sado-masochist and homosexual). Again, this is something that isn’t as much misogynism or anti-lesbian as to point out dual-moralism of some of their team members.

        Also, the scene about child murderer that Rorschack kills is very graphic in nature and many have said that it was too brutal… In my opinion, yes it was graphic and disturbing but on the same time it was necsessary for the character development of Rorschack; that scene does show us why he has become such a character he is and lets the audience see the world (although not necsessarely agree with him) like it is in his eyes. Also, that scene helps the audience to understand where comes his single-minded moral absolutism that prevents him compromicing, ever, in any situation, even in a facing of the armageddon or his own death.

      • welcome to the blog Juho. I’ve already addressed many of your points elsewhere in the comments, so I won’t bore people by doing it again. Constructive criticism is not the same as expecting agreement or 2-dimensionality.

        thanks for pointing out that Rorschach provides the voice over in the beginning. I had missed that. I do think that helps to establish his character’s viewpoint. At the same time, it doesn’t change the critique.

        It looks like those of you who read the graphic novels are in disagreement about what happens with Silhouette in the books. I can’t weigh in on that, but hopefully you all can engage each other about it.

  5. Film was okay, at best. Read the graphic novel. Adapting Watchmen to film was an exercise in futility from the start.

    • welcome to the blog Parisian Dream. The graphic novels are awfully expensive, but I agree reading it is key to understanding the universe of the Watchmen.

  6. I think Ozymandias was one of the more interesting characters, if only because he was ambiguious enough that ‘hero’ and ‘villain’ both applied to him; normally in that situation, it means the hero is more an anti-hero that is a dark and brooding character. Ozy would be a stereotypical hero if not for the minor detail that he was directly responsible for hte deaths of millions. (I’m not saying that it -was- a minor act, mind, only that that is what it was portrayed as. The whole ‘greater good’ justification, and some interesting parallels to Hiroshima.)

    I recall Veidt’s line, where he whispered, “I’ve made myself feel every death… see every innocent face I’ve murdered to save humanity.” It shows the scary thing, that he honestly believed that his was the only thing he could do that would work. And his point that killing millions is worthwhile to save billions seperates him somewhat from those who act entirely without thinking.

    He did get off lightly, though.

    • welcome to the blog morgrim.

      I found Ozymandias very compelling as well. You’re right to pick up on both how he weighed out his decision and then justified it by saying he had absorbed the magnitude of his decision by feeling each death, a very heady rationalization for genocide indeed. For me the crushing blow was that the others were willing to kill Rorschach to maintain “peace,” that an innocent man died to protect the comfort of the others is both sick and all too real these days.

  7. This blog is only about females and racism??
    Were you just watching the film or were you searching for racism and violation of woman rights?

    • Welcome to the blog Jamal.

      Yes, I watched it. As I indicate, I mostly enjoyed it. And I would likely go see a sequel.

      In the future, please read the post, before you comment. Had you read it, you would see that it was not “only about females and racism.” It includes: discussion of the plot, praise for the questioning of heroism vs. vigilantism, praise for the actors performances, and criticism of homophobia as well as the discussions you mention.

      Just b/c you disagree with a portion of my analysis does not mean I was a biased viewer. If you want to discuss specific issues you have with my review as others have done, please point them out. If you just want to dismiss the review b/c you think sexism or “females” and racism are unimportant, as others here have done, you will likely be better served by other forums.

  8. A note on comments – please offset your comments from quoted material so that both I and others are able to read your argument clearly & try not to quote whole paragraphs or cut and splice multiple paragraphs together. I cannot approve any comment whose format renders it incoherent to the average reader & do not feel comfortable paraphrasing such comments in order to make sure that both I and others can respond appropriately.


  9. I’d like to call to your attention this: “No comments are stupid. No words will be censored except hate speech.”

    And that merely ignoring critics is not the path to truth and further that it is an infantilization of your readers to think they could not understand my post.

    • welcome to the blog David. Thank you for finally reading the comment policy (I trust you read the entire thing and not just the quoted section.)

      I am not infantilizing readers. I include myself in the group of people who did/would find your 12 paragraph comment incomprehensible as written. As you can see from the thread, and the blog in general, differing opinions are not censored.

      I spent considerable time trying to re-format your comment to make it intelligible before giving up. When that proved impossible, I made suggestions I hoped would allow you to re-work your comment and still participate in the thread.

      Your response: foul language and insults. (which I didn’t approve either)

      Unlike other blogs you may comment on, this blog is designed for critical engagement. If you want people to engage your ideas, they need to make a modicum of sense in written form. The choice is up to you.

      • Oh, how ludicrous is this? If my post was incomprehensible, I don’t know what someone with a ‘professorialship’ does when reading Hegel, Marx, or Foucault.

      • congrats David, you are the first person I’ve had to ban in 3.5 years. Please find somewhere else to spread your vitriol. (Obviously, I will not be publishing any of your incomprehensible and/or offensive comments left throughout today – or any other day for that matter.)

  10. As far as academic discourse goes, I truly believe the rape scene isn’t even slightly sexist. My basic reasoning is the integrity of the work.

    The Comedian is a harsh and depraved character, as you stated, but he is also the fiercest fighter in the comic book and no one physically “steps up” to him. To have him staved off by a female super hero for the sake of feminism would brutally damage the integrity of his character as the toughest of the Watchmen. The scene was necessary not only for the Silk Spectres I and II storylines, but also to establish the physical presence and prowess of The Comedian.

    I agree that more liberties could have been taken with the original stories, but we must consider preserving the integrity of the work for the sake of the authors.

    • Part of sexism and misogyny is defining male power through the ability to violate women. Did he rape men to prove his ultimate power? no. see the difference?

      • I’m really not certain there IS a difference to be honest. The thing about The Comedian is that he is basically an Id without an Ego or Superego. He has to have the ability to do what he chooses to. His desire is perverse and ugly but that only adds to his character. Violating that woman is just one way in which he is depraved.

      • I hear what you are saying, I am just fundamentally disagreeing with it. Sexism and misogyny have very specific definitions. If you want to argue that rape is part of the exercise of his power then you cannot avoid why rape of women is equated with male power in our society nor the reasons why his brutality toward women was always expressed as sexual humiliation and violation in the film. Moving away from the larger issues into the very specific, you cannot talk about his assault of Silk Spectre without the context in which it was done – she didn’t humiliate him as you have implied, she said no to his sexual advances. In other words, he wanted to sleep with her. She said no. He wouldn’t let it drop. She exercised her right to control her own body and desires. He decided she didn’t have that right and raped her. In both the larger and the more specific ways to analyze this moment and his character it seems fairly clear that we are talking about misogyny and sexism.

    • thanks for making all us men out here who do know rape is wrong look bad man.

      Prof, long time lurker here just weighing in so you’d know not everyone who “watches the watchmen” thinks sexism is normal and entertaining. I’m sorry you have to put up with so many [edited out by blog owner]bags!

      • welcome to the blog feminist man. Yep, it’s unfortunate how much attention misogyny deniers are demanding on this post (on and off blog) but it doesn’t make me any less sure that there are feminist men in our world. Thanks for letting readers know they are also in the comic book shop. 🙂

        PS. I edited a word in your comment b/c of the namecalling policy here

  11. I just saw this movie finally and wanted to say thanks. You put into words all the things that were going thru my head when that pregnant girl was shot . . . I can’t believe they put that in the movie and then expected us to identify with Dr. Manhattan.

    • welcome to the blog Lorna. I think often filmmakers do think we will overlook racism, misogyny, homophobia, and more recently fatphobia as long as it is “minor.” We just have to keep talking and maybe they’ll notice not everyone in the viewing audience thinks rape is excusable.

    • Hm. I don’t think they expected us to indentify with Dr. Manhattan.

      That scene clearly demonstrates that Dr. Manhattan has some “moral issues” as well.

      I don’t quite see how that scene is misogynist.

      It just shows that The Comedian is a depraved character, and that Dr. Manhattans lack of emotional attachment to the world disables him to make moral judgements.

  12. The entire point to Watchmen, as I see it, is that masked heroes isn’t something we’d want in the world.

    The main problem with masked heroes are that they aren’t accountable for their actions in the same way that the justice system is. (or at least should be).

    • actually that is the thesis of this post and something I actually said several times throughout.

      also if you are going to make several comments in one sitting, pls just put them all in a single comment instead of posting several at once. thanks.

  13. One last comment before I’m of to bed…

    I would really reccomend the chapter “Watchwomen” in the book “Watchmen and philosophy”.
    It deals with gender questions in watchmen (The graphic novel, not the movie) from a feminist viewpoint.

    I took the liberty of typing out part of that text, from a part titled “no laughing matter”:

    “The attempted rape plays a complicated role in watchmen in at least three regards.
    First, and most obviously, it calls into question the image of a hero who is unambigiously on the side of “the good”.
    While Edward Blake, the Comedian, as both rapist and crime fighter is an extreme example, his character underscores an important question in the novel: Who watches the watchmen?
    Or can we trust any human being to have moral authority over anoterh?

    Second, the attempted rape show us something about Sally’s relationship, as a woman, to the men in the Minutemen.
    It demonstrates that she faces a sexist attitude from them that downplays her as a victim. We learn from the actual description of the attemted rape that the Comedian and Hooded Justice react to the situation with blame towards, and indiference to Sally. Their reactions can be interepreted as a representative sampling of the level of respect the minutemen have for sally as a woman and as a commentary on a very commonly held cultural stereotype about rape.

    Moore and Gibbon’s account of the attempted rape is violent and depicts Sally as a victim. Sally says that she is going to change from her costume (in an obviously nonsexual context of leaving a photho shoot) and goes to a secluded room for privacy. Blake enters, uninvited. Next, sally is unambigious in her rejection of his sexual advance. Rather than leaving, Blake attacks her and tries to rape her while she begs him to leave her alone. Even trough Blake insinuates that a woman who dresses like the Silk Spectre must be asking for it, Sally is crystal clear in her rejection of Blake’s advances.

    Unfortunately, Hooded Justice’s verbal respone to Sally is indiciative of an attitude similar to Blake’s. Altough he doesn’t hesitate to save SAlly, he seems to blame her. As she lies on the floor bleeding from the nose, and he says nothing more than , “get ut, and for gods sake… cover yourself”. Hooded Justice is suprisingly and dissapointingly cold, all the more so because we might hope that his internal struggle with sexual orientation would make him more critical of the harmful perception about sex that is influencing his reaction to Sally.

    Both the Comedian and Hooded Justice represent the misguided perception that women are responsible for being raped if they dress provocatively. This perception is a sexist attitude that nearly all feminists would reject, insofar as it follows a warped logic that is disrespectful of men as well as of women. For women, it suggests that a woman’s style of dress trumps her rational, verbal ability to give or deny sexyal consent. For men, it suggests both that men cannot distinguish between style of dress and explicit sexual consent, and that men cannot controll themselves in the presence of a scntily clad woman. Sadly enough, it is an attitude that Sally herself has perhaps internalized (and this is, of course, complicated by her subsequent consensual sexual relationswhip with Blake). Later, sally is asked in an interwiev about the attempted rape, and she express an ambiguous attitude:

    “you know, rape is rape, and there’s no excuse for it, absolutelt none, but for me, I felt… I felt like I’d contributed in some say. Is that misplaced guilt, whatever my analyst said. I realld felt that, I was somehow as much to blame for… for letting myself be his victim not in a physical sense, but… but, it’s like what if, y’know? What if, just for a moment, maybe I really did want… I mean, that doesn’t excuse him, doesn’t excuse either of us, but with all that doubht, what it is to come to terms with it, I can’t stay angry when I’m so uncertain about my own feelings.”

    Sally seems ot have internalized an opinion about rape that slides too easily and uncritically from an acknowledgment of physical attraction on her part to an aceptance of blame, despite the clear fact that attempted rape is physical volence and brutality.”

    Another thing I would like to point out is the Comedians comment to Hooded Justice when he saves Silk Spectre: “You like that don’t you? That’s what gets you hot”.

    Wich is a reference to Hooded Justices homsexuality and SadoMasochism…

    So in a way, The Comedian tries to assert his sexual dominance over Hooded Justice as well, by mocking him for it.

    Since English isn’t my native language, it can sometimes be a bit difficult for me to express the nuances of my viewpoints in English. I hope my thoughts seem comprehensible to you.

    • this sounds like an intriguing article and glad to see it is included in a collection of critical essays so that fans, particularly those hoping to dismiss gender issues, are able to contextualize some of the messages in the series.

  14. Hey Prof!

    Why are their so many people on this thread not reading before they speak. Makes me think most people who watched this movie are probably as bad as the people they’re excusing.

    • Hey Alice how have you been? You have a new baby?

      While normally I’d caution about such a generalization, you should see how insistent some of the people violating ToS in defensive of misogyny around here have been. So on that note maybe its time to close this thread.

      be well Alice. 🙂

  15. Great review. Only there is one thing I’d like to add: the costume of Ozymandias was intended to be a parody of costumes from “The Batman Forever” and that’s why it looks in such a way.

  16. hello,

    I’ve read all of your post and most of the replies, although I agree with you the marketing of this movie could be more dignified for it’s female heroines. I disagree that the story or the character development should change to minimize revealing “true face of the city” (or the world) as Rorschach calls it, one of which as you’ve pointed out being violence against woman.

    Too often big Hollywood movies softens due to political correctness pressures and dilutes the characters and the story line resulting in a blend and uninteresting story. The Watchmen hero and heroines are just as conflicted and flawed as everyday people they try to protect, hence making their character all that much more interesting. When we direct the the film makers to censor their work, are we seeking escape from the responsibilities of judging what is good and evil ourselves, or are we cowering from facing the rancid realities of life.

    Aside from the above disagreement, I very much enjoyed your review of the movie. I too like this movie because in addition to the stunning visuals, creative narration, and superb acting, it pose questions of morality that is brutally honest no other superhero movies of the recent past could follow.

    What I find most shocking was how the all the good hero quietly accepts the killing of Rorschach for standing up for the truth. A devastating blow to the “GOOD” they represent and the “HOPE” for those whom they have been created to reflect.

    • where we disagree is on the entertainment value of oppression; it is a disagreement that many people invested in this film seem to be making which for me only heightens my concerns.

      that said, I do agree the ending was both in keeping with the storyline of morally flawed “heroes” and incredibly sad; but if your argument is that cinema should reflect real lives, then this too is not that shocking at all.

  17. I found the blog interesting. I’ve only watched Watchmen once because my dad wanted to see it and didn’t see much of what you complained about in the film simply because I didn’t pay attention. I agree that some of the homophobia and sexism seems over the top but it has a purpose. Watchmen isn’t a hero movie, it’s a social commentary. This is not a film about SUPER-heroes but about normal people who put on costumes and headed out to “finish what the law couldn’t”: hence the title of costumed vigilante (like Batman) rather than superheroes. The movie isn’t a film about showing people how the world could be it’s about showing the viewers a hyperbole of what they themselves are. Unfortunately, I don’t think the film was promoted the right way and as such people don’t seem to understand that every homophobic, sexist, or racial remark is really a barb at everyone in society who looks the other way.

    • read the post. the point of the film is not in dispute, it’s execution is. This has already been covered repeatedly in comments as well.

  18. I forgot to mention in my earlier comment that part of the reason the Comedian was portrayed as able to take down Silk Specter I, the way I saw the movie, was to prove not that he is more powerful or that she is weak physically but that she is human. And, being a human woman she had less body mass and therefore was unable to fight off a man nearly twice her size who had taken her slightly by surprise no matter how battle savvy she was.

    • Your missing the trees for the forest here. But I do want to point out, that you can defend yourself against someone with a larger body mass than you with proper training. It doesn’t mean that it isn’t a factor or that women cannot be over-powered but there are successful trainings done for both women’s self-defense and to train people who work with violent patients and/or offenders all over the country.

      (And no, trolls everywhere on this thread, this comment is not an invitation to debate women’s self-defense; nor is my response to the above comment an indication that the policies on this blog regarding asked and answered material has changed)

  19. Thanks for this review! It’s very weird to me that people have responded so angrily to it — I don’t view this at all as an attack on Watchmen but rather a prescription for ameliorating the superhero genre.
    I’ve personally had to come to terms with being a huge superhero geek and being a feminist. Part of the genre’s appeal, for me, is this silly form of feminism that I grew up surrounded by, one that espouses the idea that women in tights and lingerie-styled costumes can simultaneously kick ass (in the vein of Charlie’s Angels, etc).
    One way I’m trying to combat this internal struggle is by “queering” the superhero genre. I’m currently trying to (by which I mean procrastinating on) write a 12 page screenplay about an internally-oppressed gay superhero. If you have any ideas for this, or sources I should look at, let me know!
    Thanks again!

    • I’ve listed diverse super heroes on the blog before including those who have been read as queer. There is a wide body of fan fic queering existing super heroes to look at as well. If you speak Japanese, they also have a whole queer genre of manga & anime that includes sci fi, horror , & fantasy. (English translations are not always good)

  20. Hi
    Interesting review. I’m going to read it again.
    However I disagree on some of your viewpoints: I don’t think the “rape scene” or “pregnant women” shooting really deserve any more scrutiny because of the film.
    They are pretty much the same in the comic. And I’m quite sure they are just supposed to be very shocking and repulsive – to show how much an un-hero the Comedian is. I remember Silk Spectre punching him back, so she didn’t just take it lying down (and he IS a bigger guy than almost all of the rest, so I’d expect him to win any fight). And the pregnant woman stood up to the Comedian too, smashed a bottle in his face – she was a totally sympathisable person. As a guy, I didn’t see any comment against women being unable to stand up against men – just that the Comedian was a twisted, really bad man who we shouldn’t even sympathise with.
    That said, Silk Spectre II does seem to me to be the typical Hollywood heroine – fake “empowerment” (I don’t even know what that means anymore – it normally involves a woman taking her clothes off, and being a sex object, again)… but very little actual bearing on the story. I have yet to see an actual, three dimensional, human, feminine, character who impacts the plot in a superhero film. Or most Hollywood films for that matter. She really did just seem to be there just for something to look at.
    Anyway, I’m definitely going to read your review again.
    Peace out

    • Thanks for reading and wanting to re-read and percolate on what is there. I want to register my concern about the kind of easy feminism that you are espousing here, I call it the “she walks by herself at night, so she is a feminist” feminism-lite, because it assumes that if a woman does not just “take it lying down” that somehow that means that a film full of violence against women and unnecessary rape shots is actually empowering to women. If the gaze or the underlining narrative does not change than the plastic wrapping over it should not fool us.

  21. I really like this review. I’d seen the movie last night and found the misogyny and violence against women very disturbing. I hadn’t read the graphic novel prior to watching it so didn’t know what to expect.

    The portrayal of women in these things really shouldn’t surprise me since it tends to be par for the course in action films and comics, but it frustrates me.

    Thanks for posting this well-written review. The trolls and naysayers are going to sit and make hateful comments, but nothing that comes out of their mouths has any depth anyway.

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