"Watchmen" Buried in Faithful Adaptation

There's a great movie buried somewhere in the 163-minute running time of Zack Snyder's long-awaited Watchmen adaptation. If only the director had been more concerned with making that great movie than with making a reverently faithful adaptation, viewers wouldn't have to work so hard to find it.

Rather than use the seminal graphic novel as source material, Snyder and screenwriters David Hayter and Alex Tse have used it as script and storyboard. There are a few notable exceptions: There's no Tales of the Black Freighter—we'll have to wait for the animated DVD to hit stores on March 24 for that—and the movie is, now famously, sans cephalopod. Otherwise, it's all here: every bit of nihilistic moodiness, every grim flashback, every glowing blue manhandle.

The famously snarky geek god Alan Moore, who wrote the original Watchmen book, has freely admitted he didn't have enough material to fill all 12 issues of his series and was forced to throw in a fair amount of filler. (It's really good filler, but filler nonetheless.) The filmmakers would have done well to remember this and streamline their movie; there are lengthy sequences that work beautifully on the page but fall flat onscreen. Anyone who would've really minded was already bound for a stroke brought on by the omission of the Giant Squid, so why not make a tighter, leaner movie?

Other elements of Watchmen are beyond reproach, particularly the production design and cinematography. Though the visuals of the movie are incredibly faithful to artist Dave Gibbons' original work, the book never looked this good. And with the exception of Malin Akerman, who brings the emotional range of a scallop to the role of Silk Spectre II, Snyder has made some truly inspired casting decisions. Jackie Earle Haley is disturbingly spot-on as Rorschach, and it's hard to imagine any actor who could trump Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian.

The first 10 minutes are certifiably brilliant, but Watchmen loses that energy quickly and Snyder never quite manages to recapture it. It isn't the masterpiece some hoped for, but it certainly isn't the train wreck many feared. If you can stomach the pointlessly ramped-up violence, it's worth soldiering through, at least once.