This is a companion piece to another article, "5 Comic Book Adaptations That Got It Just So Right."
Sometimes, it seems that for every comic book adaptation to get it right, there is at least one that misses the mark. Some generations have been kinder to the superhero than others, but it seems that we are destined to always be plagued with at least some comic book adaptations that just don't get it. A director is hired, for whatever reason, and maybe he doesn't understand the material enough to be able to tackle the adaptation, or perhaps it is the studio who doesn't understand the material or the audience. Either way, there are some comic book adaptations that just don't get the feel, the character, the world, something. And it doesn't necessarily make them bad movies, but they are so far removed from their source material that they could fall into the category of adaptation in name only. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but here are a few of them.
Although he has all but disappeared into obscurity these days, during the 1990s Spawn was the comic hit of the decade. One of the first comic books published by then brand new creator-owned publishing company Image Comics, Spawn burst onto comics shelves in 1992 and almost immediately became a cultural phenomenon, reaching what would end up being its peak in 1997. I don't know if this movie necessarily had anything to do with the steady decline of the comic, as there was also a wildly well done Spawn animated series on HBO the same year, and that lasted 3 seasons, but the fact remains that 1997 seemed to be the high point for Spawn, and he began a decline into eventual relative obscurity after this point. Much like Daredevil, the director's cut of the film isn't necessarily a bad movie (also like Daredevil, the theatrical cut is just horrible, but the director's cut is an improvement), but it is a bad Spawn movie. So much of the character just isn't there, and so much of the tone and feel of the movie just isn't done right. Todd McFarlane, the creator of Spawn, has been promising pretty much since this movie that he was planning on doing a movie more true to the original comic, but that has yet to happen and with Spawn's popularity pretty much a thing of the past, it really is doubtful we will ever see Spawn actually brought to screen properly, outside of the HBO animated series, which was pretty spot on.
Catwoman was a bad movie, there is no debate about that. It was horrible. But beyond just the quality of the film, it wasn't Catwoman. Catwoman is called Catwoman because she's a cat burglar. Nothing more complicated than that. When you try to make her an animal rights activist, you do the character a disservice. They flirted with this idea in Batman: The Animated Series, and it didn't really work when they did it there either, but they also stayed mostly true to the character and had her actually steal things. I said this before in my article about female superhero movies and why they don't work generally (which you can find here), but a Catwoman movie really needs to be a heist movie. It doesn't work any other way, really. That's the character. She's a thief, and she needs to be a thief. To make her anything else demonstrates a misunderstanding of the character. Is she all bad? No. She really isn't. But there is one defining element of Catwoman that can't be changed. Catwoman is in it for herself. If she's a villain, it's because it benefits her. If she teams up with Batman to take down the Joker or whoever, it's because that is what benefits her in that moment. There is nothing altruistic about Catwoman. That just isn't in her character, and anyone who wants to make a Catwoman movie needs to understand that trait above all else. Catwoman is only ever on the side of Catwoman.
Where to begin with this one? Steel was created by Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove during the Reign of the Supermen storyline that saw the return of Superman after his death at the hands of the monster Doomsday. If I'm going to be honest, this movie is one of my guilty pleasures. It is not by any means a good movie. It's a very cookie cutter movie, with stereotypical characters, a cardboard plot and far too many "Shaq sucks at free throws" jokes. It was badly written, badly directed and just bad. But I like it anyway, and I won't apologize for it.
Interestingly, this movie was written and directed by Kenneth Johnson, the showrunner for the Incredible Hulk television series of the '70s-'80s. It boggles my mind how the same man, who gave the Hulk so many fleshed out and deep characters and stories could have written such an assembly line movie and such bland and boring characters. He clearly phoned this one in. If you're going for appearance only, Shaquille O'Neil was inspired casting, as he looks exactly like how Jon Bogdanove drew the character in the comics. But when you're making a movie, appearance isn't everything. In fact, it's actually way down on the list.
There was one key element missing from this movie, and that was the actual character of Steel. Steel has a highly advanced suit of armor, akin to that of Iron Man, and while he originally built it in a basement (in the movie he builds it in a junkyard) it isn't supposed to look like he built it in a basement. Also, John Henry Irons wasn't in the military, he was a civilian contractor for the military. John Henry in the comics had the means and resources to build the suit he wore, and all of that was taken from him in the film by making him a soldier, and the film suffered for it. Steel suffered from the same faults as a lot of comic book movies of the time, and special effects weren't anywhere near where they were in 2008 when Iron Man was made, but it also didn't help that the movie was given the budgetary equivalent of a pack of gum. This film was made, basically, just to get a Superman-related film out there, while Superman was languishing in development hell, but then they removed all of the Superman elements out of it. Steel is a good character, and if they ever actually make a movie where Steel actually is a character in it, I'm sure it will be a good movie. This is not that movie.
4. Birds of Prey
Birds of Prey suffered from many of the same failings as Steel. With the exception of Oracle (played by Dina Meyer) and Alfred (played by Ian Abercrombie), none of the other characters resemble their comic book counterparts, and while trying to ride on Batman's coattails, Birds of Prey seemed to take great lengths to avoid almost anything and everything Batman-related. He's name-dropped, a lot, but that isn't enough. Batman, Catwoman and the Joker are shown at the beginning of every single episode, as opening narration to show the backstory, but apart from the core characters, there are never any Batman characters in it, except for Harley Quinn, who is somehow still working as a therapist even though she's already had history with the Joker, and who also is entirely too cunning and calculating to actually be the Harley from the comics, and Clayface, who is used as a villain for the first half of the series finale, and used very poorly at that. Any time they bring in a "partner from Batman's past" it's a completely made up character with no basis in the actual Batman mythology, like the character Darkstrike (he strikes after dark).
Probably the most pitiful thing about this series was that the Huntress (based on the pre-Crisis Helena Wayne version, not the more commonly known Helena Bertinelli character) wears no mask and yet asserts that she has a secret identity to maintain. I really think if given a chance, Birds might have gotten better. It might have, but it was cancelled after 13 episodes, proving that you can't wait for your audience to warm up to a series, especially a comic book series. You have to hit the ground running, or you may never get the chance to ramp it up, no matter what your intentions are.
Like Catwoman, this was a case of the studio completely misunderstanding the character and missing the target audience completely. Dear Hollywood, just because your protagonist is a female doesn't mean your target audience has to be 12 year old girls. Your target audience for Elektra should be the same target audience for Daredevil, and clearly that wasn't the case. Daredevil, while not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, was on the right track with Elektra. Sure, she wasn't the exact character we knew from the comics, but she was definitely on her way to becoming that, and since they were obviously trying to make this a direct spin-off to Daredevil, to the point of even filming a Ben Affleck cameo as a vision of Matt Murdock which was ultimately cut from the film but is in the deleted scenes on both DVD releases, it would have made much more sense to actually explore the character that film created. That isn't what happened. They, effectively, created an all new interpretation of the character and just cast the same actress. While it was nice to see Elektra in the red costume she wears in the comics, that means nothing if the character isn't right. Elektra should be a badass. A mercenary assassin with nothing to lose and even less to feel. The only person who can break down her walls is Matt, and since he's nowhere to be seen in this film, she should have been a cold-blooded killer and not chumming it up with some 14 year old girl and crushing on the girl's daddy. In real life, Elektra would have mercilessly slaughtered everyone involved in the production of this movie, because they have certainly sullied her honor.
Those are my 5 superhero movies that just didn't meld for me. What book or comic adaptations do you feel missed the mark? Tell us in the comments.