ByMark Timlin, writer at
Mark Timlin

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a comic book fan. Well, not so much a fan, more like a nerd. I enjoy seeing my favourite characters on the big screen after waiting so long after the first announcement or the first trailer. The Dark Knight still stands as my all-time best, followed by Iron Man, The Avengers and X-Men 2. But something has always bugged me while watching not just comic book movies, but most book-to-movie adaptations – not sticking to the source material. Is it important? Can it ruin expectations of fans? Or is it just best to go in and ignore any knowledge of the franchise?

2013 saw the start of the second phase of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, kicking it off with Iron Man 3 and Thor: Dark World. Tensions were high as there was a lot at stake, especially after the brilliant Avengers the year before. How can something that epic be topped? How can they continue the story? By having one of the most important Iron Man stories, Extremis, finally being presented on film. Not to mention the introduction of the Mandarin, Iron Man’s biggest opponent.

So the movie came and went, gaining a relatively modest 79% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, not to mention becoming the fifth highest grossing movie ever (that is, at the time of release - as of June 2016 it stands at tenth). I went to see it twice, so I could form a proper opinion. Everyone I spoke to afterwards who had seen it said they really enjoyed it. I thought it was a lost opportunity. While the action was great, and Robert Downey Jr was as charismatic and energetic once again as Tony Stark, the story fell flat halfway through – precisely at the moment when we found out who the Mandarin was.

It was going relatively well up to that part, at which point it felt like the writers were sticking their fingers up at the fans. The Mandarin is like the Daleks to the Doctor, Lex Luthor to Superman, The Joker to Batman. He isn’t some stupid wannabe British actor, a front for someone else’s plans. He has his own intentions, his own master plan. Watching the terrorist videos with him in made me feel like the writers were really doing him justice, showing him as a real villain not to be trifled with. And then out comes the truth about him…disgraceful. It’s an absolute shame that Ben Kingsley’s talents were wasted here.

The other problem was the poor representation of Extremis. In the books, Tony has Extremis injected into himself after being crushed and beaten by Mallen, the first person to be tested with Extremis. The virus changes Tony completely, allowing him to integrate himself into electronic networks, including phones and satellites. He is also capable of summoning his suit to him mentally, allowing much quicker access to it. Part of these ideas were shown in the movie, but not in the same context as the comics. If all of this had been used onscreen, then Iron Man 3 could have been one of the best comic book movies ever.

As an Iron Man fan I’d say I have more knowledge on the character than the average cinema goer who went to see the Iron Man trilogy and The Avengers films. But I’m a fan of the Lord of the Ring film trilogy, as well as the Star Trek reboot and its sequel. Yet I haven’t read any of the LOTR books, nor do I know anything about the Star Trek franchise (anything I do know is taken from jokes and gags used in The Simpsons, Futurama and Family Guy). I watched those movies through fresh eyes, and I loved what I saw. But what about the people who have read the LOTR books, or the hardcore Trekkies? Many fans appear to have hated Abrams reboot, with this fan calling it one of the stupidest movies ever.

This is where the argument begins. Can a fan of a particular series enjoy seeing it on the silver screen? It can be argued both ways – in one way, yes, as while most adaptations add their own material and story elements, they don’t stray too far from the original source. Look at how successful the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies have become, despite having their own interpretations and moments not seen in the books. The Bourne series in particular follows its own path, sharing nothing but the name with its book counterparts. Plenty of people haven’t read the books but enjoy the films, while fans of the books love seeing the characters brought to life. I have minor quibbles with the Harry Potter series, especially Goblet of Fire, but they generally stick to Rowling's original books.

Zack Snyder's Watchmen is one of the most polarising films ever made yet it is almost undeniable how true to sticks to Alan Moore's original masterpiece. A number of shots are taken straight from the panels of the book and the script barely shifts from Moore's own text. Of course, there is a lot to Watchmen and some subtext is lost amongst Snyder's flashy camera work yet he still manages to cram a lot into the film and make it comprehensible, particularly in the Director's Cut. Its main letdown is arguably the ending, with the big reveal not having the same sucker punch that the book did. Regardless, Watchmen stays fairly true to its roots despite maybe being more style over substance.

On the other hand some die hard fans detest movies based on their favourite books or comics as they don’t portray the characters or stories correctly. Similar to my complaints with Iron Man 3, many Superman fans were outraged by Man of Steel. In order to stop Zod killing four people (after thousands have already died) Superman breaks his neck near the end of the film. Superman purists have kicked off about this scene, saying that this action is simply not in Superman’s nature. Looking over Superman’s past, he has had to kill in order to protect himself or people he cares about – most notably Doomsday. But I can understand where the fans are coming from.

Another complaint is the destruction of Metropolis, and the extravagant fight between Zod and Superman. It’s incredible to watch, but it feels misplaced. Why isn’t Superman trying to move the fight away from the city? Have it in the countryside, or even outer space? It could be disputed that this is Superman in his early days, so he’s still learning how to protect a wider population. I initially believed that Batman vs Superman would rectify any irregularities made with the character, but the less said about that film the better.

I suppose there really isn’t a definite answer to this question. One persons entertainment is another’s nightmare. I’ve expressed my problems with Iron Man 3, yet plenty of people and fans liked the twist of the Mandarin and saw the movie as its own tale. Same can be said for Man of Steel, The Dark Knight Rises, and countless others before them. At the end of the day it's each to their own. Marvel have a lot on their plate after the events of Civil War while DC have to do some damage control after Batman vs Superman. But both companies have a lot to look forward to and I can’t wait for the endless debates that are sure to come out of them.


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