It’s easy to figure out why fans of comic books don’t like it when movie adaptations don’t follow the storylines they invested so much time and emotion in. After all, fans are the reason Hollywood knows the characters exist. Without those dedicated readers, it’s safe to say the concept of a superhero movie would still be ludicrous to the suits running the major film studios.
Sometimes it seems as if, in their haste to lay claim to their beloved characters and stories, fans often forget that it’s all part of a business. Nobody is working for free here, and often vast sums of money are put into the live action production versions of comics in an attempt to woo and lure audiences who might not have ever read a single issue.
Perhaps it’s inevitable that some fans respond with religious fervor to their favorite characters. Those of us who grew up reading comics certainly know it often fills a void. Still, we don’t own them, as much as many of us seem to think to the contrary.
ComicBook.com ran an article in December 2013 about irrational complaints from comic fans. Among the five complaints listed was “Is it So Hard to Just Do a Story From the Comics?” The answer was yes, although the article’s author cited continuity and complicated story threads as the main reason. And while that is an excellent point, there’s another one that comic fans seem unwilling to admit: Outside of the comics world, some stories are simply too ludicrous to be believable on the big screen.
For instance, while we all hold up the Dark Phoenix storyline from “X-Men” comics as a work of sheer brilliance, not every aspect would have made for a good movie. The alien aspect that was heavily influenced by the first “Star Wars” movie would seem out of place, as would the subplot involving the space pirate who turned out to be Cyclops’ father. There’s also the fact of Phoenix being an alien symbiote and destroying entire planets for its own amusement. That sort of storytelling might fit in an “Avengers” film, but it felt out of place even in the comic issues of “X-Men.”
Sadly, the Brett Ratner approach to “X-Men “was pathetic and nearly sank the franchise despite making more money than its two predecessors. There needs to be a balance.
One reason comic fans might be so touchy about the subject is because until recently, few filmmakers felt the need to incorporate comic book storylines into their films. Despite how well-made it was, the original Tim Burton directed “Batman” and its darker sequel used almost none of the many tales from comic books featuring the dark knight detective. In fact, beyond Batman’s origin story, only the characters were the same. The same was true of Richard Donner’s first “Superman” film. The prevailing wisdom prior to the modern era of comic book movie adaptation was that all a movie needed was the characters, while the story could be whatever the scriptwriters conjured up.
Sometimes that worked, but other times it resulted in movies such as “Supergirl” and “Superman III.” Comic fans were just happy to see their favorite heroes portrayed on the screen, their origin stories mostly intact. It wasn’t until Bryan Singer’s first “X-Men” film that fans started actively pointing out inconsistencies between comic book and film. Singer’s film features characters that, according to the comics, should not have even been meeting yet and were all different ages than their comic book counterparts. But so what?
Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman” had Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson meet and fall in love well before they were supposed to, yet the film still worked. Not everything from the page needs to be duplicated exactly for the screen. How many different versions of Shakespeare have there been?
What’s important when adapting a comic book to film is an awareness of what, at its core, makes that character work. The same goes for the basic ideas and plots surrounding him or her. For instance, we all know Batman is a borderline sociopath with unresolved issues stemming from a tragedy during childhood. He’s also one hell of a fighter and will stop at nothing in his crusade against crime. As long as the filmmaker gets all that, so what if the movie doesn’t follow a favored storyline? Until the writer created that storyline, there was another one people loved, right? So, why can’t the same be said for a filmed version?
It can. Joss Whedon’s “Avengers” movie was all over the fanboy map in its depiction of how the team was recruited and who were the original members and even who was excluded. Yet Whedon understands the essence of each character and the team they formed. The same has been true of other films. That’s why nobody complained when the first “Captain America” movie depicted its title character siting out a large chunk of the war as a mascot and Bucky being at least ten years older in the film than he was in the comics. It didn’t matter because the essence of the character was there.
It’s okay if minor changes are made to a popular storyline from the comics. As much as we love those plots, we love the heroes even more, and they are the ones who matter when it comes to getting it right.