Friday, 13 March 2009


When Alan Moore’s Watchmen was released in 1986/7, it became the flagship for a new generation of comic books, and helped to demonstrate that super-hero stories didn’t have to be pulp—they could tackle serious themes in a serious style that was all their own. Unfortunately, despite the comic’s ambition and intelligence, the one quality its descendants have consistently and convincingly expanded upon is its depiction of brutal violence.

Today, with super-hero movies seemingly undergoing a renaissance of their own, Watchmen is primed to take centre stage once more, this time in the form of a two-hour Hollywood blockbuster with a nine-digit budget, helmed by the “visionary director of 300”, Zack Snyder. And what does Snyder bring to the project? You guessed it: violence in abundance.

Beginning with the murder of the Comedian, a retired “masked hero” turned government agent, the film charges through its various dissociated scenes at a pretty frantic rate, pausing only to indulge in spectacular fight sequences (mostly conducted in slow-motion) and feats of CGI. The Comedian’s former colleagues begin to examine their own lives, eventually reassembling and uncovering a murderous conspiracy of global proportions, but the plot never really coheres, and the supposed climax feels abrupt and emotionally unsatisfying.

Slavish attention has been paid to recreating the visuals of the comic, even to the extent of using parts of it to storyboard, and very little has been significantly changed. The real problem is the wealth of detail that has been omitted, and more particularly Snyder’s inability to effectively compensate for it. The result is a film that looks good (lots of primary colours, in contrast to a certain dark-hued rival) and delivers plenty of memorable sequences, from the horrifying to the comical. But whatever it was that made Watchmen a great comic book, you won’t find it here.

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