Marvel-ous! Issue #11: Why Comic Movies Shouldn't Be Compared to Comic Books
Comic books have found a new surge of popularity in recent years, due in large part to the emergance of big budget superhero films. These films have interested new fans, brought new life to comic book characters and stories, and gave a sence of legitmacy to the medium of comics. In large part, these films have been well made and received (disregarding "Daredevil" and most non-Batman DC films...)
However, many people who were reading comics before the films, and have strong objections to these films and their interpretions of the source material. Even films that are very well received by critics and viewers have been criticized by fans. This has caused many people to debate whether or not comic book films are positive or negative for the comics industry.
Personally, I have the view that films should not be compared to the comic books in such a strict sense. This blog will go through my rationale for this position, and hopefully spark some discussion. After reading, please feel free to disagree, agree, and discuss in the comments!
Yep, I'm using the n-word. Nostalgia plays a huge factor in how pop culture of any kind is received by the general public. While there are some people who are first introduced to a character through film, the vast majority of people who go to comic book movies are already fans of the source material. This means that they have a long history with the character(s), and are very connected with the character(s). For example, Spider-Man had been around for 50 years by the time that the 2012 film starring Andrew Garfield came out. This means that there was 50 years worth of fans that had a strong connection to Spider-Man, and as a result, every little change to the character was heavily scrutinized and criticised. The nostalgia towards the character was too high for the film to faithfully please them.
As an example on the other side of the spectrum, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is based on a comic book team that was never hugely popular, and has gone through many different changes over the years. Most people going into GotG didn't have a nostalgic feeling towards the characters, and were able to judge the film on its own merit, rather than how well it stacked up to their view of the characters. This resulted in the film being seen as one of the best films of the year.
If you are a fan of a comic book character, you know their origin stories basically inside out and backwards. As I've said, I would never call myself a comic book expert, but I can list off the origins of probably close to 30 or 40 different characters. However, films seem to have trouble letting themselves assume that the audience knows the origin of the characters. Going back to Spider-Man, how many times have we seen the radioactive spider bite in film and television? I would argue that it is common knowledge that Peter Parker was bite and became Spider-Man, even for those who don't read comics. This has lead films to retell origin stories every time a character is rebooted, and sometimes even when they haven't been. For example, the Hulk has been rebooted 3 times in film, if you don't include the recasting for the Avengers. Each time, they retold the origin. The origin stories takes at least half the film to tell, and sometimes the entire film. This time is wasted telling the exact same story as the previous films, and gives nothing new to the character or the viewing experience.
Comic books are a visual medium, meaning that characters are portrayed for us to see as the creators intended. However, they are stylized, and often not realistic at all. This allows the reader/viewer to create their own view of what a character might look like in the real world. This also means that when superhero films are cast, films need to match a real world actor to a pre-existing, and well established character. Often times, these casting choices are heavily scrutinized by fans and critics, based on not only how well they play the character, but how much they look like the character. For example, Patrick Stewart IS Professor X. As a suprisingly negative example, look at Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. It is incredibly difficult to see any other actor playing the character. However, when it was announced that he would be playing the character, there was HUGE back lash, as the Aussie actor stands at 6'2"... Wolverine is 5'3". The small detail of his height made people reject Jackman's performance before the films ever even came out. This is a problem that still comes up today, most recently with the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange.
Continuity is the overlapping storyline that a franchise follows, accepting the events in each film/comic to be true in the following films/comics. This is not a problem for comics, as they can easily retcon anything that doesn't work as expected. Films studios are forced to stick to the same continuity until they reboot and completely recast the franchise. This means that if a film does really well, a franchise can ride that high for the following sequels. However, this also means that if a film does really poorly, the film studio has to accept it and dig themselves out of that hole, or spend the money to comepletely recast and reboot the franchise. Probably the best example of this comes from the X-Men franchise that has come from Fox. There have been 7 films in the franchise, beginning with X-Men (2002) and most recently X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), with another sequel slotted for 2016. These films all follow the same continuity, though jumping back and forth in time. This has made the franchise feel very dated, and inaccessable for new viewers. This continuity has resulted in some horrible films (I'm looking at Last Stand and Wolverine: Origins), and the series is now stuck with these weighing them down, because they don't want to lose Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Ian McKellen. The X-Men franchise needs to reboot the franchise completely, freeing themselves from the burden of their failures.
With all these factors in mind, I feel that it is incorrect and ignorant to compare the comics to the films. The films should be taken as their own isolated representations, free from the comic books. This view is backed by Marvel, who has assigned the Marvel Cinematic Universe their own numbered universe (Earth-199999 for those who are interested). Films are a totally different medium from comics books, and fans need to keep this in mind.
What do you think? Should comic books be compared to their film adaptations? Let me know what you think below!
Sorry it has been awhile since my last issue. Holidays and school have had me very busy lately. Stay tuned for some big updates in the new year!
Until then, excelsior!