Produced and distributed by Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures
Directed by Zack Snyder
Screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse
Produced and distributed by Universal Pictures
Directed and written by Tony Gilroy
The title of Alan Moore’s 1986 comic-book series Watchmen alludes to the Roman satirist Juvenal, who asked, “Who watches the watchmen?” He was cynically warning that there was no way to control an inconstant wife since she would easily beguile any guard put in charge of her. Juvenal’s question has often been invoked in purely political discussions ever since. How does a society protect itself against its supposed protectors? In the aftermath of the Bush administration’s expansion of executive powers following September 11, the query’s contemporary relevance is quite patent. But as I watched Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Moore’s comic book, it occurred to me that the question might be leveled with yet a different purpose. Just who is watching this film? And how is it affecting them?
At the theater I attended, the meager audience comprised mostly adolescent boys—the film’s demographic, as the marketers say. They were watching a ponderous curriculum that included a paranoid history lesson, a quasi-medical...