In Watchmen, Adrian Veidt, the world's smartest man and ex-vigilante, is probably the story's more mysterious and interesting character. Yes, fans love Rorschach for being the uncompromising one, but Veidt is the real star of the show. He's the one driving the whole story all along. He turns out to be the villain all along. He concocted the vast plot to save the world from nuclear Armageddon and murdered everyone who could possibly threaten it.
There's a lot of debate over his actions. Some people justify his actions by saying he did it for the greater good. Some people say he made the hard choice in an impossible situation, that he did it to save the world. I've read dozens of articles and think-pieces about him and I'm surprised no one ever said the one obvious thing:
Adrian Veidt is insane
Really. He's bat-flap crazy. Cuckoo for cocoa puffs. Round the bend. A complete and utter nutter. A flaming lunatic. He's every bit as crazy as Rorschach, they're actually flipsides of the same coin. He may be the smartest man in the world, but his elevator doesn't reach the top floor.
I wonder why so few pieces about him lead with that.
It takes a mad man to come up with the crazy scheme he did. He spent millions to create a fake giant alien psychic squid, then hush it up by murdering everyone who helped. Then drop the giant squid on New York City to kill three million people in what looks like an alien invasion. All this in order to scare governments into calling off World War III and unite against an alien threat.
The giant squid is actually a symbol of how insane and out of touch with humanity Adrian Veidt is. He had been aloof and emotionally detached from people all his life, observing and calculating them from above. It takes insanity and detachment to turn three million victims into a statistic to shock the US and Soviet governments into declaring world peace. When Zack Snyder got rid of the alien squid in the movie because he thought it was cheesy, he missed the point. The giant squid was supposed to be cheesy and absurd because it was a symbol of how nuts Veidt is. He took on the weight of saving the world in the most horrendous way possible because he thought it was necessary. Because he's a flaming lunatic.
He is proof of the thesis that a crazy clever person is incredibly dangerous. Because he thinks he's doing the right thing.
Every Version of Veidt is the Same: Crazy
The actors who played Veidt in the movie and TV show seem to understand this about him.
Matthew Goode in the movie played him with an iciness that gradually reveals his insanity. It's a subtle, understated and underrated performance in a hugely flawed film.
Jeremy Irons in the HBO series seems to relish playing him as an aging, plummy, decadent aristocratic nutcase who enjoys his own insanity.
But in the end, it's the richness with how Veidt was written in the comic that depicts his reasoning as rational and justified, so seductive that some people end up agreeing with him. That's not disturbing – that's good writing when you get taken in with the villain's reasoning for his monstrous actions.
Adrian Veidt is crazy, and that's why he's one of the great villains in pop culture.