Written by: Sarah Tennant First thing’s first: I am a Watchmen geek. I know my Keene Acts and my Tales Of The Black Freighters. And yes, Watchmen the movie is a faithful adaptation of Alan Moore’s dystopian masterpiece. There’s no doubting director Zack Snyder’s fanboy credentials when it comes to creating the alternative-reality 1985 New York of Moore’s vision: President Nixon has been voted in for a third term and superheroes - recently outlawed by the government - are ordinary people with no real superpowers. So far, so promising; but this loyalty to its source material is what makes Watchmen a difficult film to absorb. So, do we analyse the film on its own merits? Or do we compare it to the novel and laugh at its inferiority? Let’s face it, Watchmen was never going to please everyone. If it strayed too far from the graphic novel, it had to contend with the wrath of the nerds. If it remained too faithful, it ran the risk of confusing everyone else and seeing its box office suffer as a result. Snyder went for option number two, and his slavish devotion to the book - though admirable in the face of grumpy bastard Moore’s disdain for all things Hollywood - feels more like a copy/paste job of key comic panels. It’s a beautiful film, no question about that; an 80s neon noir chokes the landscape in thunderstorms and steam rising from the sidewalks. If marks were being awarded for visual appeal, Watchmen would be the best film of the year. But they’re not. So it isn’t. And Snyder doesn’t so much ignore the material’s newcomers as he does forget about them. All those expecting a save-the-day-get-the-girl story need go no further; the ‘whodunnit’ (in this case: who murdered former costumed-hero The Comedian?) you think you’re going to get at the beginning of the film is, as Alfred Hitchcock would have put it, a ‘MacGuffin’ - a red herring designed to kick-start the elaborate web of plot strands and political musings. Doesn’t sound much like The Fantastic Four, eh wot? Moore’s insistence that his novel was un-filmable elaborated that Watchmen’s point was to show off the very things a movie can’t do. Besides the cascading overflow of audacious and spectacular comic and literary ideas that would take a lifetime to decipher - chapter five, Fearful Symmetry, for example, is completely symmetrical. Go ahead, have a look. We’ll wait right here - there’s just little room in Joe Public’s life for a movie that can combine superheroes, nuclear war and attempted rape. The marketing - look kids! It’s a film about superheroes! With explosions! And a hot chick in a PVC catsuit! - on the film’s initial cinema release did it no favours; this ain’t your average beat-em-up. Which leads us to the violence. There’s a point at which a fight or death scene can get a smidge overblown. Pornographic, almost (Eli Roth, I’m looking at you). Remind me: is there any point in the Watchmen novel at which we learn Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II are masters of a ballet-esque form of martial arts, handy for snapping elbows and bumping off perpetrators of prison riots? Don’t worry, I checked: there isn’t. Snyder’s love of slow-mo punch-ups, complete with wires and acrobatics, voids any point the plot tries to make about whether extreme violence is a necessity required to maintain peace. It’s more than a little jarring to take in a scene of Ozymandias - entrepreneur, former costumed hero, smartest man in the world - and his theatrical theories, only to immediately be attacked by the sight of several of his colleagues being brutally shot in the face. All of it in glorious, high-definition close-up, of course. The disturbingly stylistic approach to the violence doesn’t even stop at the discomfort of watching an attempted rape. The camera ogles the body of costumed-hero Silk Spectre while she undresses, right before she is attacked. The brutality of the act is non-existent, such is the application of action-movie sound-effects. A gang of thugs are vaporised in a bar, their blood and entrails splattering over a nearby girl while a bone swings from the ceiling. In slow-motion. Being squeamish doesn’t even come into the question here; is it really so necessary to cram in a few more snapped limbs and gleeful blood spurts where they’re not needed? Many of Snyder’s artistic choices simultaneously work for and against him. His decision to eschew the comic-within-a-comic Tales Of The Black Freighter makes sense, as does the alteration of the novel’s ending - the infamous alien squid has been replaced with something more believable. However, Snyder focuses so little on the event at the end of the film - an act of unflinching genocide and destruction - it’s understandable if you didn’t actually notice what happened. And herein lies the film’s main failing point: it’s far too emotionally cold. By the time the End Game finally rolls around, there’s no emotional investment in the minor characters who suffer. They’ve been left out for the director’s cut. And remember the pages upon pages encompassing the post-apocalyptic nightmare at the end of the novel? Nothing approaching that level of soul-sucking bleakness is on display in this film. Maybe Snyder used up the budget on the fake blood. Snyder’s cast produces a mixed bag of results. Malin Akerman is pretty terrible in what could have been an interesting role as Silk Spectre II, although in her defence a lot of the character’s complicated back-story is relegated. The real standout performances here are from the brilliantly-cast Jackie Earle Haley as loveable nutcase Rorschach - full of unsteady charisma and the searing tension of a build-up to the vicious attack of a pit-bull (his quips upon dispatching a couple of prison inmates reveal both a terrifying temper and an entertainingly dark sense of humour) - and Patrick Wilson as the tortured and lonely Nite Owl II, a man unable to define himself without his cape and gadgets. There’s so much to love in Snyder’s film, it’s a shame it’s often weighed down by a disjointed jump between a bloated devotion to the book and a silly pandering to popcorn movie conventions. Crucially, there’s a lot of meandering over the subject of morality, and the plot’s ultimate question of whether the end can justify the horrifying means. Alan Moore’s intention was to ask how superheroes would actually work in the Real World of politics and fear; it’s way too big a topic for one film to tackle, but Snyder’s made a (very) decent stab at filming the un-filmable and doing his idol proud. Rating: 7/10