Apr 24, 2009

Comic movies... worth paying the $8.50?

I've mentioned before that I find movies based on comic books to be a bit questionable. Their quality as films isn't exactly the problem, though plenty of them are just plain bad ("Spider-man 3," "X-men 3," and the last two films of the "Batman" franchise before the Christopher Nolan reboot, to name a few). There are plenty of great movies based on comics, but a good movie based on a comic book isn't always a good comic book movie.

Comic book movies are rarely ever accurate to their source material, and they are incorrectly carrying the comic book subculture into the culture of mainstream America. Popularity isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the popularity is for a distorted image. Michael Keaton's Batman isn't bad, but he definitely isn't the Batman I always read about. The villains he fights are also hardly what they should be. And, while "Wanted" was a pretty cool movie, the popularity had more to do with Angelina Jolie than with the story that was very different from its source.

I understand that some things in comics don't translate well to film, as much as the two mediums are alike in their use of image and dialogue. That's why the Sandman should never have been in "Spider-man 3" with such limited attention and the Penguin... well, he should never be translated into any film. No matter how much we like some of them in print (not that I really like the Penguin ever), once you take the comic book pages out from under them, some characters are positively silly.

Of course, there are just some things that shouldn't be ignored or altered. Just like an incorrect translation of a language, an incorrect translation of a comic into film results in a loss of meaning. The "Spider-man" films are frivolous, paling in comparison to their source material. Taking a character like Gwen Stacy, who in the comics is such an important part of defining Peter Parker's character, and making her a minor background character while Peter dances around the room for Mary Jane's affection is practically a crime. And if Sam Raimi really wanted to make a dark, tortured Spidey instead of the ridiculous and immature one we got in that last movie, he would have done much better by using the real Gwen Stacy storyline.

Thankfully, the past three or four years have shown a significant shift in the way comic books are turned into films. The reboot of the "Batman" series may not include the truest films to the source material in events, but "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" manage to keep the essence of the character and the series. I commend Marvel for self-producing some of the more recent films. "Iron Man" and "The Incredible Hulk" were a great start, nearly making up for the mistake of killing off Cyclops in "X-Men: The Last Stand" to give Halle Berry's Storm a bigger role that the character never really had.

"Watchmen," however, takes home the prize for the most faithful adaptation. Much of the film is adapted word-for-word, so much that it even feels like reading a comic book. Certain plot points are missing, but they couldn't be fit into the long movie. The filmmakers did their best to give fans what they wanted, though, and even included nearly all of the missing material in either a feature-length animated film or in the special features of the upcoming DVD release. The one thing I could be nit picky about is the drastic change in the ending, but I don't want to. This is the one time I'll probably ever say something like this, but the film got the ending right.

Honestly, I will probably never stop going to see these movies. Just like all the teenage girls that don't care how crappy the acting, the camera work, and pretty much everything else about the "Twilight" movie is, I'm always going to love seeing my favorite characters on the big screen. I just have one stipulation (I know I've said it before, but there's is no saying it enough): No more dance scenes for Spider-man.

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