Have you ever read a story, be it in comic or book form, that had been turned into a movie and thought “wait… Where’s Tom Bombadil?”
For better or for worse, movie adaptations are rarely able to follow a book as intimately as the reader would have hoped. But when it comes to a comic book story?
Not only does the visualization of the costumes need to work on screen (after all, yellow spandex doesn’t work quite as well on a grown man with claws on the silver screen as it does on the comic page), but the screenwriter may need to make changes to the story to ensure everybody in the audience (or at the very least those paying attention) know what is going on – and not just the seven comic fanboys in the back corner. Comic book characters have such a rich and wonderful history that trying to fill a two hour movie with as many characters and story points as possible will ultimately lead to the films that tend to be criticized for a lack of cohesiveness – look at 2007’s Spider-Man 3 for an example of this; a movie that had the potential to set up an amazing story in Spider-Man 4 by building up Venom’s appearance, instead had Venom shoved into the third act of the movie, destroying any hope of one of Spider-Man’s greatest villains having a worthwhile appearance.
The greatest comic book adaptations of the past decade have been the ones that take the idea of the characters and the stories from the comics and re-imagine them for a new medium. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy is arguably the greatest Batman story to ever hit the silver screen; a more realistic take on the Caped Crusader’s world, yes, but built upon so many different stories that great comic book writers have produced. Rather than trying to shoe-horn every aspect of these stories, Nolan’s movies take the elements from the comics that fit his ideas, choosing the best bits from the pages and adapting those into a cohesive story. Even Watchmen, when released in it’s Ultimate Cut at three and a half hours long and is one of the greatest comic adaptations, still had to leave an entire subplot in the pages of the comics. Some movies – Watchmen, 300, and Sin City, contain shot-for-shot adaptation of the source material, but this approach cannot, and will not, work for every comic adaptation.
Some of the best comic book movies are the ones that take the foundation that comes from the comics and uses that to create something new. There are movies that while based on the comics, and are as faithful to the spirit of the characters as they can be, essentially tell a fantastic story that just happens to feature superheroes – Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one of the best spy thrillers released in 2014, and it would have been just as good had the lead character not been a superhero, but simply a CIA agent.
Some of the adaptations I’ve enjoyed the most take the characters we love but give us new stories that enable us to appreciate the comics and the movies, or television shows, as separate entities. At the end of the day, if the quality is there, who am I to complain?