This is a true ensemble piece with no clear Hero’s journey for an individual. As a result, just like in Xmen 2, the stages are dropped onto different characters depending on who the story’s point of view is being told from at that particular moment. So I wouldn’t recommend reading this one first if you are unfamiliar with all the stages, instead, try reading Iron Man which has a more classic use of the journey.

Ordinary world

Superheros exist in the world, they helped win the Vietnam war but now they either work for the governemt or their vigilantism has been outlawed. The many flashback scenes through out the film flesh out the world

Call to Adventure

Rorschack believes someone is hunting and killing the Watchmen after an assassin kills The Comedian.

Refusal of the call

Rorschack tells Ozymandias about his theory that someone is hunting the Watchmen but he doesn’t believe him and regards the Russians as a far bigger threat to world peace.

Rorschack then seeks out the Night Owl and he doesn’t believe him either. Then he tracks down Dr Manhatten and Silk Spectre II to tell them but they are not interested either.

Supernatural Aid

These are all experienced heroes so generally they don’t need a mentor as they have a code they live by. Ozymandias is the closest character to a mentor in The Watchmen, everything that happens is by his design and all the other characters are rats in his maze. He is the most brilliant man on Earth and is the answer to the question “Who watches the Watchmen?”

Crossing the First Threshold

The Comedian is buried, a number of the heroes have flashback memories of the Comedian

Belly of the whale

Rorschack is framed for the murder of Moloch and imprisoned.

Dr Manhattan exiles himself to Mars

The Road of the trials

The investigations into Rorschack’s conspiracy theory.

Meeting with the Goddess

Nite Owl and Silk Spectre II become a couple. They want to ‘play superhero’ together. They both serve the purpose of the Goddess for each other by inspiring each other to be superheroes again.

However Silk Spectre II also serves as the Goddess for Dr Manhattan as he has lost his interest in mankind and no longer cares if they die or not. It’s her influence on him that brings him back to Earth to confront Ozymandias.

Death of the mentor

Rorschach and Nite Owl discover that Ozymandias is behind everything.

Atonement with the Father

Silk Spectre II discovers that The Comedian is her father. This explains to her why she has a broken relationship with her mother and why they will reconcile at the end of the film.

Apotheosis

Ozymandias reveals his entire elaborate plan, killing The Comedian and Moloch, arranging for the toxic gas to give people around Dr Manhattan cancer and setting off the explosions which will kill millions and Dr Mahattan will receive the blame. Apotheosis in this case refers to the God like knowledge of all the events of the story so far.

Ultimate Boon

Dr Manhattan  works out that Ozymandias is  responsible for the destruction and knows he’s at his lab in Antarctica. The Ultimate Boon refers to gaining the knowledge Dr Manhattan needs to complete the journey.

The Magic flight

Dr Manhattan teleports to the lab and gets fried in a reactor, similar to the one which created him. Slk Spectre II shoots Ozymandias and they think he’s dead but he actually caught the bullet and prepares to fight the remaining Watchmen. Dr. Manhattan resurrects himself and captures Ozymandias pretty easily.

Rescue from without

Rorschack refuses to go along with the plan and will reveal everything. Dr Manhattan is left with no choice and vaporizes him. Thus Ozymandias’ plan has been saved. This is an unusual type of Rescue from without however it serves the purpose of creating dramatic irony, an unexpected response. Essentially Dr Manhattan realises that Ozymandias’ plan is the best solution for all of humanity when he sees the Russians and the Americans uniting against him. Heroes often have to sacrifice themselves which is what, both Rorschack and Dr Manhattan do.

The crossing of the return Threshold

Dr Manhattan leaves the Earth in search of another galaxy and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre II leave Ozymandias alone in his lab.

Master of two worlds

Silk Spectre and Nite Owl return to New York City and will continue to fight crime.

Freedom to live

A young employee at the New Frontiersman gets the opportunity to publish the journal written by Rorschack

 

I couldn’t find any moment or character which fulfilled Woman as Temptress stage, which is fine as not all stories have to have each stage. Feel free to leave a note in the comments section if you see it.

The Hero’s journey can be extracted from this story and I think it’s a very creative use of hitting the beats by using different characters. If you have a story which is essentially following the journey but you feel it’s a bit predicatble, why not flip the stage onto another character or do a reversal where the opposite of the stage happens. This story also plays double down on a Meeting with the Goddess and Belly of the whale which is another option when you have multiple character with different story lines.

It’s a pretty interesting Superhero film in a number of ways; visually and content-wise.  One of the lead characters assassinates the President, attempts to rape one of the other heroes, eventually fathers her child and makes sexual advance towards his own daughter. No other Superhero film has gone that dark and has no stars, although after 300 you can say Zach Snyder is the film’s star.

4 thoughts on “The Watchmen – The Hero’s journey breakdown

  1. I tip my hat off to you Sir, for some time now I’ve sited The Watchmen as an example of how the Hero’s journey does NOT apply to a story. I see now that it can. My mind wasn’t flexible enough to wrap around the concept as you have done so eloquently here. This was a very difficult task done extremely well.

    1. This is funny as I was challenged to write this one by someone who said there was no Hero’s journey in The Watchmen. There interpretations of the stages get broader when you start flipping them onto multiple characters or doing reversals.

  2. Good job! This is a hard one to tackle. I would argue that the rescue from without actually comes from Rorschach’s journal making it to the journalist. In this way, Rorschach’s world view survives from what appears to be a final death (Rorschach being disintegrated in Antartica). It is ultimately left to the viewer to decide, but it’s not a far leap to see that Ozymandeus’ plan would unravel if Rorschach’s journal is published.

    1. Rescue from without is hard to place in this story because it is a multi-character hero’s journey so it’s hard to identify who is the hero has earned enough karma to deserve a rescue. I looked at it from the point of view that Ozymandias’ plan was core of the hero’s journey and Dr. Manhattan came to an awareness that even though Ozymandias had been duplicitous, the ends had justified the means. So to prevent the plan from becoming unraveled he disintegrated Rorschack.

      I can also see your point of view if you took the journey, at the stage, from Rorschack’s position.

      There’s a lot to like about this story with some similar structural elements to X-men 2, another ensemble piece which David Hayter also wrote.

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