When it comes to translating comic book heroes to the big screen, fans and studios have always been at odds. That dreamlike direct translation of page to picture has always seemed like an oasis in the desert- the trailer has you salivating, but when you reach the waters, all you get is a mouthful of sand. I learned to read with comic books, and have been searching for that perfect comic book film since the first X-Men movie. Alas, after years of film and graphic novel writing and study, what we as fans have to come to terms with is the concept of adaptation.
Studios are trying to sell to a worldwide audience. While countless people around the world know the big house superheroes of DC and Marvel, there are overwhelming amounts that have no idea who they are, and those that have an idea, have no notion of who the characters actually are. So, the attempt of our studios is to make a good film (that will make tons of mullah) based on our favorite comic book heroes.
Unfortunately, they rarely get this right. Films like Blade Trinity, the Fantastic Four franchise, X3: The Last Stand, and many others fall into the category of bad films, based on comic book heroes. However, we do get those films that do hit the mark. The first two Blade films were solid films (especially the first) that were clear adaptations, as they did not completely follow the mythos at all. The first two X-Men films fall into that category as well. Two solid films, which strayed from the source material, but still remained true to important points of the mythos and it’s characters.
Avengers, which stayed very close to its source material, was well received by comic book fans and the world at large. This was due mainly to Marvel’s brilliant crossover idea, but also due to the tweaks done to appeal to a wider audience. Iron Man’s progress was updated to current comic arcs very quickly. His armor is much further along than where his character was a few years after building the suit in a cave in comics. Thor’s Asgard is made a superior technological force, rather than one of magic and cosmic prowess. Captain America had no martial arts training, not nearly as many missions, and his freezing incident was drastically different than in the comics. Not to mention the shadowy Hawkeye and Black Widow character build ups. Sure, Marvel stayed closer to the Ultimate Universe story lines, but the differences are still there, and we have great films.
DC has had its share as well. We have the good with the recent Man of Steel, the Batmans, and lets not forget the classic 's and films. Yet, there are the bad Superman III-IV, the and Batman travesties, and the ugly Green Lantern botch-up. However, lets not forget the lens of adaptation. Nolan’s films were awesome movies, but his Batman was far from the Bruce Wayne/Batman of the comics. Nolan completely took the super out of Batman’s superhero. His gadgets were minimal, his knowledge was far from brilliant, and the great detective was highlighted in only a few scenes. Then, there are those near clone adaptations that prove the material works on screen as well as it does on the page. 300, Sin City, and Watchmen are among that few. Good films, that have very few striations from the source material. There are the bad here as well, included in this category is my guilty pleasure, Spawn, and the Ultraviolet nightmare.
What all this comes down to is my cry for comic fans to stop wailing for that perfect straight from page to screen, and demand a better movie. Very few protested Nolan’s neutered Batman, but were up in arms about Superman killing Zod (which he’s done at least twice in comics). Let’s stop nitpicking at things like, Wolverine not being the master martial artist, and get angry about filling films with tons of mutants, killing them off, and have no continuity in the film to explain any of it thoroughly. We need this genre to be filled with great films, rather than direct translations, or we will see the superhero film bubble burst within the next 5 years. If that happens, we’ll be left with Stephanie Meyers-esque franchise films, as the studios continue to search for their next Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter franchise.