In a gritty and alternate 1985 the glory days of costumed vigilantes have been brought to a close by a government crackdown, but after one of the masked veterans is brutally murdered an investigation into the killer is initiated. The reunited heroes set out to prevent their own destruction, but in doing so discover a deeper and far more diabolical plot.
The "Minutemen", a collection of costumed crime fighters, was formed in 1939 in response to a rise in costumed gangs and criminals, and the "Watchmen" similarly form decades later. Their existence in the U.S. has dramatically affected world events: The super powers of Dr. Manhattan help the United States win the Vietnam War, resulting in President Richard Nixon being repeatedly elected into the 1980s. The existence of Manhattan gives the West a strategic advantage over the Soviet Union, which by the 1980s threatens to escalate the Cold War into nuclear war. During that time, growing anti-vigilante sentiment in the country leads to masked crime fighters being outlawed. While many of the heroes retire, Doctor Manhattan and the Comedian operate as government-sanctioned agents, and Rorschach continues to operate outside the law.
Investigating the murder of government agent Edward "Eddie" Blake, Rorschach discovers that Blake was the Comedian, and theorizes that someone may be trying to eliminate the Watchmen. He attempts to warn his retired comrades—his former partner Daniel Dreiberg (Nite Owl II), Manhattan, and the latter's lover Laurie Jupiter (Silk Spectre II). Dreiberg is skeptical, but nonetheless relates the hypothesis to vigilante-turned-billionaire Adrian Veidt, who dismisses it.
After Blake's funeral, Dr. Manhattan is accused of causing the cancer afflicting his former girlfriend and others who spent time with him after the scientific accident that gave him superpowers. Dr. Manhattan exiles himself to Mars, giving the Soviet Union the confidence to invade Afghanistan. Later, Rorschach's theory appears to be justified when Veidt narrowly avoids an assassination attempt, and Rorschach finds himself framed for the murder of a former villain, Moloch. Meanwhile, Jupiter, after breaking up with Manhattan, goes to stay with Dreiberg, and the two former superheroes come out of retirement, eventually becoming lovers. After helping Rorschach break out of prison, Jupiter is confronted by Manhattan. He takes her to Mars and, after she asks him to save the world, explains he is no longer interested in humanity. As he probes her memories, he discovers she is the product of a voluntary affair between her mother Sally (the original Silk Spectre) and Blake, who had previously tried to rape her. His interest in humanity renewed by this improbable sequence of events, Manhattan resolves to return to Earth with Jupiter.
Investigating the conspiracy, Rorschach and Dreiberg discover that Veidt is behind everything. Rorschach records his suspicions in his journal, which he drops off at the publication office of the New Frontiersman, a right-wing tabloid. Rorschach and Dreiberg confront Veidt at his Antarctic retreat. Veidt confirms he is the mastermind behind Blake's murder, Manhattan's exile, Rorschach's framing, and his own assassination attempt. He explains that his plan is to unify the United States and the Soviet Union by destroying the world's main cities with exploding energy reactors he helped Manhattan create. Rorschach and Dreiberg attempt to stop him, but Veidt subdues them, and then reveals that his plan has already been set into motion: the reactors have been detonated, and the energy signatures are recognized as Manhattan's.
Jupiter and Manhattan arrive at the ruins of New York and determine that it must be Veidt's work. They teleport to his Antarctic base just after he has beaten Rorschach and Dreiberg, causing Veidt to retreat and attempt to kill Manhattan. Unsuccessful, he shows them a televised news report in which Nixon states that the United States and Soviets have allied against their new "common enemy," Manhattan. The heroes eventually realize that revealing the truth would only disrupt this peace. Rorschach, however, refuses to remain silent, forcing Manhattan to vaporize him. Manhattan shares a final kiss with Jupiter and departs permanently for another galaxy while an enraged Dreiberg assaults Veidt, who nevertheless defends his actions. Dreiberg and Jupiter leave Veidt to muse on his choices.
Jupiter and Dreiberg return to New York and plan to continue fighting crime. Jupiter reveals to her mother that she has learned that Blake was her father, and the two reconcile. The film ends with an editor of the New Frontiersman telling a young employee that he may print whatever he likes from a collection of crank mailings, among which lies Rorschach's journal, which explains what had happened from beginning to end.
Tagline: This city is afraid of me. I've seen its true face.
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Did you know? The first trailer for the film, which premiered with The Dark Knight (2008) sparked so much interest that it sent the graphic novel back onto the bestseller list. Barnes and Noble Bookstores reported selling out of the novel nationwide. Read More
This city is afraid of me. I've seen its true face. Who will save us now? Justice is coming to all of us. No matter what we do. The existence of life is a highly overrated phenomenon. I am used to going out at 3am and doing something stupid. We were supposed to make the world a better place. We're society's only protection. A world at peace. There had to be sacrifice. Who watches the Watchmen?
Audio/Video Mismatch In the opening sequence at 09:44 (ultimate cut) the stem of the flower disappears and the flowers hover freely.
Character Error Doctor Manhattan describes a "circulatory system" appearing on the grounds of a government base. However what is depicted is clearly the nervous system, as it features a brain and spinal cord, but no heart or lungs. (This error is repeated from the novel.)
Character Error Near the beginning of the movie, Hollis Mason is listing the other members of the Minutemen besides him. He forgets to mention the Silhouette, who served with Nite Owl I in the Minutemen.
Character Error A newscast lists the arrested Walter Kovacs' age as 35. However, all other plot points, plus the actor's age (47), show that the character's age is 45, not 35.
Character Error When Adrian/Ozymandias is being interviewed in his office the reporter states that he is the second Watchmen to reveal his secret identity the first being Hollis Mason/Nite Owl I. Mason was a member of The Minute Men (the precursor to The Watchmen) which didn't form until he had retired and passed the Nite Owl mantle to Dan.
Continuity The third and final inkblot shown to Rorschach by the psychiatrist is not the same after his flashback.
Continuity In the prison, as Silk Spectre and Night Owl are fighting the inmates down the cell block, Silk Spectre's boots go from high stiletto heels to flats.
Continuity In Dan Dreiberg's underground laboratory, Rorschach rather pointedly drags his finger through a thick coat of dust over a cover on his work bench to indicate its lack of use. Later when Laurie Juspeczyk pulls the dust cover off of the "Archimedes" ship, there is no cloud of dust.
Continuity In the main titles, Nite Owl stands up and his head completely covers the "1940" on the sign behind him. In all subsequent shots of the photograph of "Minutemen 1940" the banner hangs unobstructed above his head.
Crew/Equipment Visible (at around 5 mins) During the opening fight, as the Comedian is thrown across the room, Director Zack Snyder can be seen huddling between the drawer and brick wall, lower, left-hand corner of the screen. (Snyder points this out during his "live" Blu-Ray commentary.)
Crew/Equipment Visible At Karnak in some close ups of Nite Owl's face, the reflection in his goggles shows actor Billy Crudup in his motion capture suit covered in blue dots, instead of a full rendering of Dr. Manhattan.
In the beginning, during the opening credits, we see the original Nite Owl I stop a thief. There are Batman/Fledermaus posters hanging on the wall of the alley. We can assume the people he rescues are Mr. and Mrs. Wayne, the parents of Batman, coming out of the theatre. Thus, there's no need for Bruce Wayne to become Batman in the Watchmen's Universe.
All of the U.S. flags in the film have 51 stars, because in the film's alternate history, Vietnam became the 51st state after America won the Vietnam War.
In the opening montage, Neil Armstrong says "Good luck, Mr. Gorsky" on the moon. In urban legend, the child Armstrong, searching in his neighbors' backyard for his lost baseball, overhears Mrs. Gorsky from the bedroom saying "Oral sex?! I'll give you oral sex when that kid next door walks on the moon!" and so, years later, says "Good luck, Mr. Gorsky" as the first lunar transmission to Earth. This story has been debunked by Armstrong himself and other sources.
The first trailer for the film, which premiered with The Dark Knight (2008) sparked so much interest that it sent the graphic novel back onto the bestseller list. Barnes and Noble Bookstores reported selling out of the novel nationwide.
Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays Edward Morgan Blake, the Comedian. Morgan initially turned down the role after reading the first 3 pages of the script, assuming the character was only a cameo. His agent persuaded him to read the entire script and then make a decision.
In the scene where Silk Spectre and Nite Owl rescue the people from the burning tenement, Silk Spectre can be seen briefly putting paper cups into a compartment. This is a reference to a panel in the comic where Nite Owl offers coffee to the people they have just rescued.
When Dan and Laurie are having dinner you can hear someone in the background say "I'm glad I ordered the four-legged chicken!" In the corresponding scene in the original graphic novel, there is an image of a waiter carrying a four-legged chicken.
The song played during the love scene between Night Owl II and Silk Spectre II is Leonard Cohen 's 1984 version of Hallelujah. This song is often used in movies (by several cover artists) depicting a moment of sadness or heartbreak. In this case it is used in exactly the opposite situation. Significantly, the part used includes the last verse which is usually omitted in most cover versions, but which is fitting in the context of the scene.
Rorschach's name refers to the famous Rorschach inkblot test used in psychotherapy. In the graphic novel, we learn that the material from his mask was intended for a dress belonging to Catherine Genovese, better known as "Kitty" Genovese. Her murder in public view sparked an outcry about bystander apathy.
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