Comic book movie adaptations have enjoyed an on-again, off-again popularity for years. The success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise coupled with the blockbuster popularity of The Avengers has Hollywood eager to add more superheroes to the silver screen. Making the jump from comic book to live action is risky business, however.
The Divided Audience
Translating comics–or books, for that matter–into movies often means changing elements of the original story. Action, plot and characterizations that work beautifully in print or images don’t always work on the big screen.
Iconic moments from the original work sometimes confuse moviegoers and need cutting to maintain cinematic continuity. However, Hollywood makes such decisions at the risk of alienating the comic or book fan base.
It’s a major balancing act, because as fanboys and fangirls, we’re the primary audience for any superhero movie. But to make a blockbuster, Hollywood has to attract the non-comic book community as well. And this means making the story as accessible to the general audience as possible.
I had my first viewing of The Fellowship of the Ring ruined by one such fanboy. Yes, I know we’re talking about comic book movies here, not books, but this incident could have as easily happened during a showing of The Avengers.
As any good Tolkien fan knows, huge swaths of plot from the Fellowship of the Ring were removed for the movie. The character of Tom Bombadil is completely cut. Bombadil is a wood-god and trickster figure who helps Frodo and his companions escape a Wight barrow they stumble into. (He also encourages them to run around naked in the sun to shake off the barrow’s chill. While he watches. Tom’s one creepy dude).
Bombadil, arguably, is a pointless character even in the book. Adding him to the Fellowship would have destroyed the pacing of the film. Yet I sat next to a preteen fan who spent most of the movie loudly complaining about Bombadil’s omission and the shortening of the Council of Elrond (which the book presents as during a mind-numbingly long committee meeting) and any other moment where the movie deviated even slightly from the book.
This kid had no understanding that the movie required a very different pace than the original work.
While we get the occasional foray into independent comics, Hollywood prefers to harvest superheroes from the Marvel and DC universes. The two comic companies have very different approaches to big-screen comic adaptations, and at the risk of sparking a DC-fan riot, the edge so far goes to Marvel.
See, DC has a problem. The DC universe contains as many intriguing and unique characters as the Marvel universe, but as far as the movies are concerned, only two DC characters have any real presence. I’m speaking, of course, of Superman and Batman. DC and Hollywood seem to feel that these two are the only DC supers who guarantee movie success.
Don’t get me wrong–I love Christopher Nolan’s take on bats–but for the love of Hera, how difficult would it be to make a decent Wonder Woman movie? Or the Flash? Or Green Lantern?
Yeah, I know. We got a Green Lantern movie. Did you see it? I mean, actually see it? My wife has been a Hal Jordan fangirl for decades. She wanted this movie to rock so badly, and what she got was, well, boring and a financial flop. The likelihood of more Green Lantern movies? Not great.
This seems to be a pitfall DC stumbles into with the frequency of rodents investigating electronic mouse traps. They try to branch out with a “secondary” character like the Green Lantern. When the movie flops, instead of looking at plot, acting and direction, the message the decision makers hear is “people only like Bats and Supes.” The result? Within days of The Dark Knight Rises we hear rumors of a reboot of the Batman series.
The whole situation becomes even weirder when you look at DC’s success on the small screen. Smallville, Arrow and animated shows like Teen Titans and Justice League prove DC heroes can make the transition from comic book to the screen. Why they can’t make it work on the big screen is at best a mystery.
Marvel, the X-Men and the Avengers
In contrast, Marvel’s television features are, generally, a complete mess, but they have a flair for getting things right on the big screen. They’ve had their share of disasters but overall they seem to know what they’re doing.
Granted, when they do stumble, they fall badly. The mere mention of Ben Affleck’s stint as Daredevil induces nausea in my house. I’m still trying to forget Ang Lee’s Hulk, and the less said about X-Men 3 the better.
Marvel learns from its mistakes, however. Their approach to The Avengers was inspired. By giving each main character their own movie series, they took the time to build audience affection for the characters, and by tying all the movies together with SHIELD, Nick Fury and the indomitable Agent Coulson, Marvel got people excited about seeing the individual heroes come together.
Marvel understood that, in comic books, you can slap a group of heroes together quickly, because their back-stories are well known to the fans. In movies you don’t have that luxury, so Marvel cannily provided The Avengers backstories in each hero’s movie series.
In light of The Avengers’ success, it’s not surprising that DC announced an upcoming Justice League movie. In order to pull this off (and I desperately hope they can), DC needs to take a page from Marvel’s book and introduce the lesser-known characters first.
We all know Superman and Batman. In preparation for Justice League the audience needs to be introduced or re-introduced to Wonder Woman, the Flash and yes, even the Martian Manhunter and Aquaman.
DC can’t have Supes and Bats carry the movie alone: Justice League is a group of heroes, not two well-established ones. It’s time for DC to start taking chances, or Marvel will continue to dominate on the silver screen.
Byline: Carl is an aspiring writer who enjoys blogging about anything and everything that crosses his mind. He’s constantly striving to strengthen his writing skills and is continuously grateful that the Internet allows him to share his thoughts with the world.