My Love/Hate Relationship with Comic Book Movies

1 Aug

It never fails. You fall in love with a book, a character, a video game and so do a lot of other people but then one day…HORROR. You catch wind of buzz for a movie version and your heart is swallowed in a black hole of grief. You cry to the heavens, “Khaaaannnn!” I mean, “Whyyyy?”

Some of you may have felt this way about the Harry Potter series or Jane Austen novels. Maybe, like me, you hang your head a little lower every time a Resident Evil movie pops up. And are all book/game-to-movie adaptations terrible? I don’t think so. You should see how worn my Pride and Prejudice DVD is. But mostly? Yeah, they’re awful and I’ll give you my opinion on why.

I don’t think directors give enough thought to how non-theatrical elements translate to the screen. Books and games don’t come in a scripted format that’s been edited for length and efficiency. Characters don’t reveal themselves in a novel as they would in a play or a movie. Although all art forms influence each other, there are still very real and vivid differences in how they operate. The way I see it, when you’re making a movie from a different form of media, you not only need to look at how to edit the content but you would also need to envision the characters, events, and environment as living things. You have to pick them up from one place and set them down in another, asking them to translate all that they are in a way that makes sense for the movie. Things that would have been shown through subtlety, background, and internal thought will need to put into action and dialogue. It’s not an act of changing the material but of changing the way it’s expressed. Often, though, movies skip over those elements and I think what pisses most of us off is when a director changes something entirely. We’re willing to overlook things left out but to change it altogether? Blasphemy.

In comic books, I think the changes are even harder for people to deal with. In a way, they are probably the easiest form of storytelling to make into a movie because, like a movie, they reveal everything in action and dialogue. Characters act as though they’re on a stage. They have over-sized personalities and gestures. They give one-liners that, while we all hate them, are a part of the charm of comic book heritage. These are things that are perfectly suited for adaptation to a movie. However, things fly in comic books that can’t in modern cinema. Let’s take a look at one of the first attempts at this: Batman. The Michael Keaton version.

Jack Nicholson as the first Joker.

This movie communicated everything as it was in the comic. It was extremely theatrical and…well, some would say cheesy. There were dramatic stares, bad punching sound effects, actors had superficial and stereotyped lines. It also had one of my favorite Jack Nicholson lines ever, though. (“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”) It was awesome. Tim Burton was the director and…lots and lots of people hated it. I liked it because, though it didn’t line up well with any particular series as far as the plot went, it followed everyone’s MO. Batman was serious and heroic, always saving the girl and Joker was…Joker, off doing things just because he could and it amused him. Over all, a shallow but entertaining representation of the comic and characters. So what was missing?

Well, modern cinema was moving away from theatricality and as directors scratched their heads, all the comic book fans said, “hey, why don’t you stop making us look bad?” The truth is, comic books are often over-the-top and somewhat expected. This is especially true for those meant for younger readers. The plots are easy to follow and usually if you’ve read one, you can kinda guess what’s going to happen in the rest. Typically you know what to expect from a hero or heroine and all events surrounding him/her are predictable. Now, there are adult, deep, thought-provoking series out there but they’re a little overshadowed, aren’t they? Comic book movies, for a very long time, didn’t help with this. Just look at the rest of the Batman series prior to Christopher Nolan’s entrance. Directors hadn’t quite figured out how to make comic movies appeal to everyone but with the first X-men movie came change.

It was the first time anyone had attempted to make a comic book movie just like any other action movie. The one-liners were taken out. (Okay, mostly.) The characters wore practical uniforms not at all like their comic book personas. If a person’s background was sketchy compared to the mainstream, it was skipped. (Take Aurora/Storm. African goddess? Would have never guessed from the film.) Overall, the core idea remained but lots and lots of things were changed or omitted.

This has kind of been the way of things ever since. Comic movies have teetered between being just like any other action movie and retaining the stereotypical flair of the books. With each director, comes a different flavor ranging from theatrical and (almost too) authentic (take the Spiderman trilogy) to dramatic and deep (Nolan’s Batman). There’s a constant debate in the comic community between which version is best and for that reason, this trend of never knowing what to expect and cringing when you see a trailer is likely to continue as long as comic movies are in production. There’s probably a few more subtleties underlying why comic movies are so diverse and aggravating but here’s my very own list of why I love to hate them:

The Good

1. Attractive Heroes (and sometimes villains)

2. Following a story I love (when it’s not screwed up)

3. Plots that address the human condition

4. A love story (tragic or not)

5. Action sequences

The Bad

1. Predictable Villains (and sometimes heroes)

His name was Sinestro, for crying out loud! If you needed a bigger red flag, just look at the eyebrows. You can always tell a villain by the brows. Just watch.

His brows are practically patented.

 

Need I go on?

 You just learned something new.

2. Wimpy ladies.

Leaver her there! Looks like someone should start carrying mace.

 The Ugly

1. Musical numbers.


Okay, eff Spider Man 3 all around. Worst comic movie ever. Even more embarrassing than that first Hulk movie no one even remembers.

2. Screwing up significant plot lines.

The director of The Last Stand is one of those people I would beat half to death if I met him in alley. He messed up one of my all time favorite characters and I do believe I cried in the theater when the credits started rolling. Hot tears of fury.

3. S&M-looking anti-heroes

Uuuugggh *vomit*

 

Don’t get me wrong. Scantily clad women in comic books get a pass…because it’s a comic book and that’s kind of the way of things. My absolute favorite heroine ever happens to have a pretty revealing costume but she’s not a slutty character. What they did to Catwoman in the movie was unacceptable because it altered her character. She’s always been a flirt but she wasn’t trashy.

Of course, this isn’t everything that I love and hate about comic movies but move on to what you think. What makes your love/hate list?

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