In theaters.

Spotting movies that completely abandon their source material is easy. The characters have different attributes, different motivations, different personalities; the plot veers wildly off course; and the ending bears no resemblance to the original. Trickier, though, are those movies that carefully hold to characterization and plot and yet feel somehow … off.

Watchmen is the latter. The adaptation hews so closely to the landmark graphic novel that much dialogue has been lifted directly from the source and some scenes appear to have used the novel’s illustrations as a storyboard. Aside from a few elisions and a minor modification of the climax (which, frankly, is an effective choice), director Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is scrupulously faithful. And yet, I have misgivings about the adaptation. I wish I could point to something concrete—distorted characters, mangled plots—but nothing so obvious is wrong. The problems are in tone and attitude, elements so amorphous that you could argue that the difference is merely one of interpretation—and you would be right. But with a layered, complex work such as Watchmen, interpretation is all that matters, and if that twists the wrong way, faithful adherence to raw plot points is almost beside the point.