In a career full of divisive movies, Zack Snyder’s Watchmen still stands as one of the most polarizing. It’s not as universally hated as Batman V Superman nor as universally tolerated as 300. Instead, it’s loved and hated in equal measure, and those differing reactions often have to do with what people think about the film’s relationship to its source material: Is it faithfully adapting, subverting, or willfully missing the point of Alan Moore’s iconic comic series from the 1980s? That’s why it’s interesting that this new video from the Wisecrack YouTube channel comes down in favor of Snyder’s Watchmen without really analyzing its relationship to its source material at all.
The video is interested in Watchmen less as a piece of cinema than as a piece of philosophical commentary. Its oddly high-concept narrator celebrates the film’s flawed, morally complex heroes, all of whom subvert traditional superhero archetypes. And he digs deep into the film’s philosophy by breaking down the ways in which Ozymandias’ consequentialism (the ends justify the means) stands in contrast to Rorschach’s deontologism (you must judge people by their actions, not the consequences of those actions). The video praises the fact that Snyder’s Watchmen allows you to empathize with both of these view points, without offering a clear cut hero and villain.
What the review doesn’t touch on one way or the other is whether or not Snyder’s Watchmen undercuts the complex morality of Moore’s comic with its adaptation choices—something the film’s detractors often argue, including this other video essay from last year. In other words: Does the film’s deconstruction of superheroes work when it’s also glorifying violence to the point that their actions seem “cool” rather than horrifying? By eschewing that question, Wisecrack basically ends up arguing that there’s plenty of thematic heft to Snyder’s adaptation, regardless of what it may have changed along the way. And for those looking for a defense of Watchmen, that’s about the best one they could hope for.