Five comics appear on screen, and some are unrecognizable

Aug. 14, 2013 -- The week of Aug. 4, Box Office Mojo showed five movies based on comics in the top 15. But you can be forgiven if you don’t recognize them as such.


First, let’s acknowledge how stunning it is that on one summer weekend in 2013 America, the top three movies were all based on comic books, with two more rounding out the top 15. That’s probably a record of some kind, and it’s not going to end any time soon, with 300: Birth of an Empire, 47 Ronin, Kick-Ass 2, Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For and Thor: The Dark World still in this year’s pipeline.


But if the five movies on the list right now are any indication, some of those films will resemble their source material only superficially.


Take The Wolverine, for example, which came in second Aug. 4. The character is, of course, a well-known Marvel Comics superhero; a mutant with claws, animal senses and a healing factor; who is a member of both the Avengers and the X-Men. And that’s pretty much who we see up on the screen, if you squint just right.


This particular movie isn’t an original screenplay, either. It’s loosely based on Wolvie’s first solo book, a 1982 miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller titled, duh, Wolverine. That story followed Logan, who has spent decades learning samurai discipline to master his feral side and speaks fluent Japanese, goes to Tokyo because his girlfriend Mariko Yashido is being forced into an arranged marriage by her father Shingen. Failing to prevent it, he takes solace in the arms of a Japanese thrill-seeker named Yukio, but in the end he is forced to kill Shingen – which means that Mariko must take over as the head of ClanYashida, one of the biggest crime syndicates in Japan. She forgives Logan for killing her father, but her new responsibilities now stand in the way of their relationship. (The Silver Samurai, Mariko’s illegitimate half-brother; and Viper, usually depicted as the head of the terrorist organization Hydra; and Mariko’s grandfather do not appear in the story.)


Isn’t that exactly what we saw on the screen? Ha, ha! No, The Wolverine took a bunch of elements from the Claremont/Miller story, added a pinch of characters from other Wolverine stories, and threw them into a blender set on puree.


Which resulted in a movie that wasn’t bad, but as a story lacked the emotional punch of the original comic book. Yes, you read that right: The comic book had an emotionally engaging story, as Logan wrestled with a problem of his heart that couldn’t be clawed. Which is why, you know, they wanted to adapt it.


So why didn’t they? Beats me. But that sort of bastardization isn’t uncommon in comics-to-film adaptations.

Even the The Smurfs 2, which came in third Aug. 4, wasn’t immune. No matter what the plot of the movie is – and it’s probably adapted from one of the graphic novels  – it’s a kids’ movie. The original comics, which have been published in Europe for more than 50 years, the Smurfs may be for kids, but they are far more sophisticated than the dumbed-down American version. But don’t worry: The Smurfs 3 is already in production.


Meanwhile, 2 Guns -- the No. 1 movie on Aug. 4 – hardly suffered at all in transition from the 2007 Boom! Studios miniseries. The complicated caper plot, involving two undercover law-enforcement officers who accidentally rob the CIA and are betrayed by almost everyone around them, is lifted almost intact from the graphic novel. Which was a wise decision, because writer Steven Grant’s original action comedy is a rip-snorting page-turner.


OK, there are some differences. Like in the graphic novel, both lead characters are white. But I’ll take Denzel Washington any day! As for the other character, I’m sure Marky Mark Wahlberg has his fans.


On the other end of the scale is Red 2, which came in eighth on Aug. 4. That movie, starring a dazzling collection of over-50 stars as Retired, Extremely Dangerous spies (get it?) led by Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is another action comedy, as was its predecessor, Red.


Which is nothing at all like the original 2003 story by writer Warren Ellis and artist Cully Hamner. Yes, Red the comic book starred Frank Moses, but he’s alone. And Red isn’t an acronym, it’s a status: “Green” means inactive, “Red” means active. And when retired agent Moses goes red, lots of people die. And none of it is remotely funny.


Finally, we get to R.I.P.D., which came in thirteenth on Aug. 4. That movie, starring Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges, is sinking quickly because critics and audiences don’t seem to think it’s very good. That doesn’t surprise comics fans, because neither was the 1999 Dark Horse story on which it’s based.


R.I.P.D. essentially takes the premise of Men in Black and puts it in the afterlife. We have a veteran, soon-to-retire cop in a hidden agency showing the ropes to a his newbie partner, as they police things the public doesn’t know about – in this case demons from Hell, as opposed to M.I.B.’s aliens.


Frankly, the demons thing doesn’t work very well, because it sets up a complicated afterlife whose rules we don’t know. And the “cops,” too, have poorly explained abilities (in the movie they even appear as other people, which isn’t an element in the comics). But worse is that neither has a personality: They are the clichéd Gruff Veteran and Impetuous Kid. Neither has an internal life or much of a back-story – they are simply one-dimensional, stock characters.


Which seems to have translated to the movie pretty well. Unfortunately!


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I was surprised to learn 2 Guns was based on a graphic novel, let alone one I actually have. I guess I've have to see the movie.

I had never read 2 Guns, so I bought it when the movie came out, and liked it a lot. But then, I usually like Steven Grant stories. And it appears the movie adheres to it closely.

As I recall League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was cannibalized the same way. It's funny because a comic book is in a way a movie without the movement, yet when I look at something like Catwoman I don't see the comic.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen the movie was as much like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen the comic book as much as Catwoman the movie resembled Catwoman the comic-book character. Which is to say, not much beyond the name and maybe a kernel of the concept. The makers of LoEG the movie managed to remove and/or sanitize everything about Alan Moore's story that made it interesting.

The addition of Tom Sawyer (as a government agent, as I recall) was inconsistent with the other characters, who were appropriate ages (in the book) in relation to each other. If Tom Sawyer was around for this story he would have been in his 50s or 60s. Also they made Mina an actual vampire!

Captain Comics said:

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen the movie was as much like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen the comic book as much as Catwoman the movie resembled Catwoman the comic-book character. Which is to say, not much beyond the name and maybe a kernel of the concept. The makers of LoEG the movie managed to remove and/or sanitize everything about Alan Moore's story that made it interesting.

Also, the movie version of Mark Millar's Wanted was completely unrecognizable.

I never saw Wanted, because I could tell from the trailers that it was, essentially, a different story, and not one I was interested in seeing.

And, yeah, adding Tom Sawyer (supposedly to give dumb ol' Americans an American to recognize/identify with) to LoEG was not only insulting, not only inconsistent with the tone of the original GN but, as you say, they got his age wrong. And Mina as a vampire? Is that the only way the writers believe a "mere" female can be useful? Bleah.

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