First Reaction: Watchmen

We've seen half an hour. Super but not heroic...

If the final cut of Watchmen does end up being two and a half hours long, then has just seen a fifth of it – thirty minutes of early footage, spread over three extended scenes.

We saw unfinished versions of the opening scrap between The Comedian and his (as yet) unknown assailant; Jon Osterman’s transformation into Dr Manhattan and Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre’s Rorschach prison breakout.

It’s footage that’s been much discussed online for about a month now, but for those of you who don’t spend your days poring over online blogs, here’s our impressions...

The footage opened on The Comedian watching TV, a cigar in his mouth and a copy of Hustler on his coffee table. A spot of channel-hopping neatly establishes the universe we’re in – Nixon is President (despite the adverts having a definite ‘80s tinge to them) and humanity is on the brink of nuclear extinction – before The Comedian’s door is kicked in and we’re thrown face-first into a burst of brutal action.

What follows is an extended fight scene, complete with slow-mo face-punches, glistening knife tosses and thudding violence, before The Comedian laughs his way out of his front window and we segue neatly into the sublime credit sequence – a montage covering the history of a world in which superheroes really exist.

We see one Watchman hanging out with Mick Jagger and David Bowie (a superhero in his own right, complete with costume and alternate identity). We see JFK shaking hands with Dr Manhattan, shortly before The Comedian blows all the President’s brains out from the grassy knoll.

And for the super-geeks, we see Silhouette meet, kiss and die with her lesbian lover; we see Mothman move from being respected hero to mental asylum resident; and a gang of cops gazing down Silk Spectre I’s top...

The intro, set to Bob Dylan’s Times Are A Changin’, is fabulous - with a few caveats... It's too long, and as an entry level intro to the characters for non-fans, utter gibberish.

At one point, you get a blink-and-miss-it glimpse of a young Rorschach. Ace for fans, meaningless and even confusing for those not familiar with the universe.

One minute we’re meeting superheroes, the next we’re with a little kid in a hallway, then we’re back to the superheroes… Wait! Who the hell was that kid? What’s he got to do with anything? Oh, a blue bloke with JFK... Er, cool.

The second scene was a loyal translation of the graphic novel’s most elegiac sequence: Dr Manhattan, on Mars, dropping a photograph and jumping around in time through the memories of his past.

In the comic, it’s a philosophical comment on the concept of space-time and how all moments arguably exist at once – the person you were is as present in the moment as the person you are. In the film, it’s a neat flashback scene that shows us how the world’s only true superhero came to be.

As with the intro, it’s a goose-bump experience for fans - to see even part of the most moving sequence in comics translated to the big screen. The effects are stunning, with Manhattan’s slow reconstruction – complete with organs and organ on show - particularly impressive.

But non-fans may wonder why Snyder waited so long (the scene falls toward the end of the second act) to properly introduce the only powered character in the flick. After all, Spider-Man got its spider-bite out of the way in the opening ten minutes...

 The final sequence was another extended fight – complete with trademark slo-mo scrapping. Here’s where we start to have real misgivings...

We loved the opening fight and, despite the fact we subscribe to Paul Schrader’s philosophy regarding film scenes (they're like parties - you arrive late and leave early) we understand why it had to be extended from the book.

But the prison scrap is a part of the original graphic novel that doesn’t need to be strung-out; we don’t need to see Nite Owl and Silk Spectre striding through waves and waves of prisoners, high-kicking and low-sweeping as they go.

In fact, their physical prowess takes something away from the charm of Alan Moore’s creations – flawed people who pulled on costumes and found themselves slightly out of their depth.

It might sound like we’re picking holes for the sake of it, but Watchmen isn’t an ordinary superhero movie. It’s the Holy Grail of superhero movies, with its apparent inability to move between mediums as key to its backstory as Krypton is to Superman.

The problem is, where Snyder succeeds in that transition, in bringing the true Watchmen to the screen, he risks alienating non-fans; where he succeeds in opening it up to action-junkies, he fails Watchmen fanatics. We’re worried that the struggle to appeal to both camps may succeed in disappointing both.

One of The Dark Knight’s major successes was how faithfully Christopher Nolan stuck to the source material for fans while still delivering an edge-of-the-seat crime caper for a wider audience. So what's the wider audience appeal of Watchmen?

We’ll hold judgement until we see the finished flick – like you, we can’t wait. After that, though, our excitement has a new edge, and we’ll be clutching our copies of Alan Moore’s original book and our Dark Knight DVDs a little closer to our hearts as we fall asleep tonight. Not literally, of course...