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maryann johanson | #BlackLivesMatter

unpacking the new ending of ‘Watchmen’

After the jump, a spoiler-laden discussion of the new ending of Watchmen that assumes you’ve both read the graphic novel and seen the film.

My spoiler-free review is here.
So all through Watchmen the movie, I’m noticing that one of the major deletions from the graphic novel is this: the whole mysterious subplot about the missing artists is, well, missing. It seemed a reasonable enough edit on the part of director Zack Snyder and writers David Hayter and Alex Tse, but then it makes even more sense when we get to the end of the film and discover how they’ve altered that.

There’s no giant fake alien squid with the cloned brain of a psychic. None whatsoever. Instead, Ozymandias has adapted the alternative, carbon-free, green, unlimited power source he’s been working on with Doctor Manhattan — it’s gonna save humanity! — and turned it into a weapon, which he uses to devastate not only New York City but also London, Paris, and a host of other major global cities.

I like this new ending for a lot of reasons. First, the giant fake alien squid is pretty preposterous, even in the world of Watchmen. And it might have seemed even plausible to audiences today, who’ve seen more than enough realistic-looking alien invasion movies to be fooled by Ozymandias trying to fool the world. And it had never occurred to me before, but mightn’t the fact that only New York gets hit seem suspicious to some people, as if it might be a Soviet trick. You know, with tensions between the U.S. and the U.S.S.S. so high?

And then there’s this. The prospect of widespread devastation in New York is no longer the stuff of fantasy. I was discussing the film with two fellow critics the day after we all saw it, two people who are not familiar with the graphic novel, and they both expressed disgust for the idea of the destruction of New York being used for “entertainment.” As I explained to them, speading the destruction around to other cities may be a way of mitigating that. Certainly, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center loom over Snyder’s 1985 Manhattan in a way that they did not over Moore and Gibbons in the late 80s. And, notably, the towers are still standing at the end of the film. I think Snyder was well aware of the treacherous ground he was covering here, and was taking steps to address them, if indirectly.

The new ending also strengthens the overall theme of Watchmen: the world now thinks that Doctor Manhattan, a godlike superbeing, has now turned on humanity. Of course, one of the masks, Ozymandias, has turned on humanity — at least from one perspective on the film — but no one knows that. If there’s a lesson about the danger of relying on vigilantes, perhaps it comes to fruition in humanity’s turning, in turn, against Doctor Manhattan, even if the why of it is wrong.

I love the new ending. What do you think?

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