"Snyder’s spot-on production values and sets bring the pages to life aesthetically while the frequently-verbatim narrative follows the text as closely as possible."

After years seeing his creations brought to the big screen in a way he passionately disliked (see From Hell, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V For Vendetta), you can’t blame acclaimed comic writer Alan Moore for hating Hollywood. However, despite the philosophical scribe’s understandable assertions that his opinion-splitting magnus opus Watchmen was “inherently unfilmable” (not to mention the fact he describes those in the industry as “viperous bastards”), director Zack Snyder felt otherwise.

And thank your smiley-face badge that he did. Hot from his style-over-substance adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300, Snyder takes on the near-impossible realisation and renders a visually-striking epic full of beautiful shots, body-splattering violence and a slavish attention to detail. Okay, so the sheer magnitude means it constantly threatens to topple under its own weight and makes for a very tough watch, but Snyder deserves major kudos for wrapping his head around material that other directors – including Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky and Paul Greengrass – couldn’t even begin to.

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In a parallel universe 1980s USA, superheroes have been outlawed and a team named The Watchmen have mostly retired. However, when former member The Comedian (Dean Morgan) is murdered, old teammate Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) suspects foulplay and tries to rally the rest – including Night Owl (Patrick Wilson), Laurie Jupiter (Malin Akerman), Dr Manhattan (Billy Crudup) and Adrian Veidt (Matthew Goode) – to investigate. Meanwhile, nuclear war with the Soviet Union looms large.

More adult-orientated than your garden variety superhero flick, the young visionary has also crafted another picture peppered with hyper-stylised violence and carnally-gratifying sexuality. One minute we’re seeing limbs broken the wrong way and being sawn off (seriously), the next we aren’t sure whether to cheer or cringe as the Owl ship sees some action and our favourite quantum-powered blueman swings freely in the wind.

Though bringing this enormous undertaking to the screen is an incredible achievement in itself, perhaps the most impressive aspect is how superbly realised it is. Essentially the graphic novel on screen, Snyder’s spot-on production values and sets bring the pages to life aesthetically while the frequently-verbatim narrative follows the text as closely as possible. As for any changes made, though whiny fan boys will complain that the ‘Tales Of The Black Frieghter’ sub-story was cut-out (just wait for the DVD, you cry babies), removing he ridiculous squid-ending was unquestionably the right idea.

As a side-effect of this faithfullness, we also get the same flaws. The overly-cynical tone produces little sympathy or romanticism, the story arc-juggling plot is so heavy that we feel the 160-odd minute running time (well it was a 12-part novel) and most of the characters can't escape reminding you of more well-known icons (The Night Owl is a Batman-type hero, The Comedian as a killer vigilante combines The Punisher with Wolverine and Veidt's brainy billionaire philanthopist wreaks of Lex Luthor). Elsewhere, the soundtrack might boast iconic artists like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, but it's just downright distracting at times.

Thankfully, the cast all prove to be wise choices. Standing out, Jeffrey Dean Morgan chomps cigars with venomous-likeability, Wilson brings a nice Clark Kent-ish vibe (see, they do remind you of other heroes) and Haley steals the show as the gravel-voiced investigative sociopath Rorschach (plus his shifting ink-blot mask is incredibly cool). In smaller roles, Carla Gugino is attention-grabbingly attractive (Akerman isn’t bad either) and Robert Wisden looks more like the plastic masks in Point Break than he does Richard Nixon.

Fans of the graphic novel will likely get more out of it than newcomers expecting an X-Men-type effort, but Zack Snyder's labour of love is an amazing accomplishment. Regardless, there will be plenty of people watching The Watchmen.

Reviewed on: 11 Mar 2009
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Watchmen packshot
An adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel in which self-proclaimed heroes fight for the good of humanity - or for what they interpret as such.
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Read more Watchmen reviews:

Anton Bitel ****
Scott Macdonald ***

Director: Zack Snyder

Writer: David Hayter and Alex Tse, based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

Starring: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson, Carla Gugino, Matt Frewer, Stephen McHattie, Laura Mennell, Rob LaBelle

Year: 2009

Runtime: 160 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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