Poll Position: Medium well

Our Poll Position question this week has to do with the difficulties of translating material from one medium -- in this case, comic books -- to the movie screen:

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Discussion after the jump.

  • "Batman", 1989: This is the Michael Keaton / Jack Nicholson version that really kick-started the revival of the "serious" super-hero movie industry. As always when talking about long-lived "iconic" characters, you have to decide what version of the comic book figure is the "right" one. Is the essence of Batman the detective, or the obsessed loner, or the brutal hunter, or the madcap Zorro with a young boy by his side, or the grim avenger of Frank Miller, or one of the other dozen incarnations? I think Batman as captured by this film was ultimately sold out by Tim Burton's own personality quirks. It became more a film about the director than about the character, although I do think Michael Keaton was the best of that franchise's Batmen.
  • "The Dark Knight", 2008: Perhaps the best realization of the Frank Miller school of Bat-interpretation, I would say this film definitely captured one of the key essences of the character. Missing to a degree was the Detective element, but hey, you can't have everything in just a two hour movie.
  • "Hulk", 2003: Hulk is not complicated. Hulk smashes things, and Bruce Banner feels guilty about it later. It's classic Jekyll and Hyde stuff, and yet Ang Lee managed to turn it into a bizarre Asian-influenced father-son psychological study. Let's be clear here -- anything that involves Hulk thinking is not Hulk. In terms of capturing the essence of a character, I'd say this one missed badly.
  • "Iron Man", 2008: This one really nailed the spirit of the long history of Iron Man comics. Industrialist, playboy, drunken misadventure, corporate intrigue, Playboy-inspired accouterments, awesome looking toys, and massive explosions. I said before you can't do it all in one two hour movie, but this one comes damn close.
  • "Spiderman", 2002: Although a really great, enjoyable movie, I don't think this one captures the essence of the comic-book Spiderman, which I would argue is fundamentally that of a high school student. Any introductory feature that has Spiderman actually kissing a girl is not, in my opinion, true to the essence of the character.
  • "Superman", 1978: This is a very different movie from the others on the list, in part because it was in a very real sense the first of the "modern" super-hero film and partly because of the essence of the main character himself. Superman is almost a pure good, a very simple character who nonetheless represents enormous complexity in what he brings to the world around him. I think they did a great job capturing that fundamental conflict that makes Superman interesting, that juxtaposition of the overwhelming physical superiority with a deeply held desire to be normal. They made a believable, human, super-powered alien lovable, likable, and believable.
  • "Superman Returns", 2006: Horrible movie. Superman as God is just not compelling, and not true to the essence of the character.
  • "X-Men", 2000: While a great movie, I didn't really feel like it caught the "essence" of the X-Men, which for me is more about a desperate group of abnormal, hunted teens clinging together for survival even when they don't much care for each other. They went more, I think, for the Chris Claremont model of the X-Men, where they're adults instead of adolescents, and while that's a perfectly legitimate choice, it just didn't quite feel like the real X-Men to me. Plus, I thought this was more of a "war" movie than anything else. Again, fine, but not really what the X-Men comics were about, primarily. I realize a good argument can be made that the later versions of the comic were, indeed, more about the human-mutant war than anything else, but I grew up in a different era. What can I say?

So having said that, I think if the question is which movie most captured the essence of the comic book character, and keeping in mind the caveats that when you're dealing with characters whose existence spans in some cases seven decades you have to decide which version of them you consider the most important, for my money I think the original Richard Donner / Christoper Reeve "Superman" comes in a strong second. Had they cast someone different as Lois Lane, and had they not come up with the absurd "Fly around the world backwards to reverse time" nonsense, I might put it first.

But the top spot has to go to "Iron Man", at least for me. They just completely nailed that character, in so many different aspects. It was fun, serious, adventurous, action-packed, character-filled, and absolutely true to the many incarnations of Tony Stark over the years.

Man, I need to go buy that and watch it again.

So which one would you pick?

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