The movie Watchmen was important for one very huge, underlying reason: it showed us that heroes can be flawed. Now you could argue that we already knew this, that it was shown in movies before this that heroes aren’t perfect, but Zack Snyder took this element to a different level with the Watchmen in that he not only made them flawed as they were in graphic novel, he highlighted the worst parts of them as they were meant to be seen. If you really want we can go down the list, but only a few are really all that relevant. One of the most obvious is Rorschach, who’s a certified psychopath and yet still serves as a moral compass for the group. His ways are pretty harsh and he has no trouble dishing out pain when he needs answers, but somehow on a much deeper level he’s committed to helping people for the greater good, no matter if the greater good isn’t always the best thing for anyone.
The Comedian is another psychopathic individual that simply doesn’t care. Unlike Rorschach he’s the kind of guy that will happily gun down a pregnant woman without a second thought, and will assault the same people that heroes are supposed to protect if they get in his way. His whole angle is that the world is already on its way to hell in a handbasket, and it’s the funniest damn thing he’s ever seen when heroes try to make it right. He’s perhaps one of the oddest heroes around since he seems to live for the mayhem and little else. The others, Nite Owl, Silk Specter. Dr. Manhattan, and Ozymandias, are all messed up in their own ways, but Nite Owl and Silk Specter do at least have a moral code that doesn’t allow them to just punish people unless they deserve it. These two will actually attempt to help people and try to be upright in what they’re doing. Ozymandias unfortunately is a man that sees the greater good as something that is not only highly destructive, but preventative in a way that seems utterly horrifying. In other words, he’s the type of man that would kill indiscriminately in order to force people to rally together against a common enemy.
Dr. Manhattan, who becomes the enemy at the end of the movie thanks to Ozymandias, is so far removed from humanity that his contemplation of the species is all he has left in terms of dealing with them. His god-like status has created a being that no longer fully understands what it is to be human, and therefore can’t relate in even the smallest way.
The reason the Watchmen were important to the evolution of superhero movies is simple, it showed that heroes are just as flawed as anyone else and are able to lose. For so long the only time we’ve seen heroes really lose has been in comic books, never on the big screen. People have wanted to believe for so long that heroes are those that can stand against anything and accomplish such great deeds that failure is not an option. But the Watchmen made this reality come to life when they made it loud and clear that not only CAN the heroes lose, they tend to do so more often than people realize. This movie gave way to many that would come later in which it was showed that the moral ambiguity of heroism is something that deserves more attention than people have normally given it. The hero can be wrong, the hero can fail, and the hero can be someone that’s not right in the head. Those ideas haven’t been all that popular with audiences in the past, but Snyder managed to push forward and show people just what happens when heroes aren’t as perfect as we think.
It even goes to show this in the beginning of the film when the original team is being formed as one of them is shot and killed after getting stuck in a revolving door, while another is sent to a mental hospital and another is killed for being a lesbian. The near-rape scene between the Comedian and the original Silk Specter was also another hard scene that has influenced a great number of movies since. While it was superhero movie that was hard to accept thanks to its gritty and unforgiving use of violence and mature content, it’s also the reason why superhero movies are easier to relate to these days in terms of their humanity and the very real flaws that the heroes, and even the villains, possess. Giving way to a more adult sense of humor and using such material did manage to divide fans when it came to the movie, but it did push forth an important shift in the superhero movie that has been greatly appreciated.