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:

{democracy:92}

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?

18 Responses to Poll Position: Medium well

  1. I picked Iron Man, because Robert Downey Jr. was the perfect fit for Tony Stark. I can’t see how anybody else could play him. Downey was just THAT good.

  2. I think the closes would have to be X-Men. The thing is none of the movies come close to the books, because they change so much. If they were to make them like the books I think they would be better. One big example is making Sabertooth and Wolverine brothers, I had never heard of that before. I think they need to use comic book readers as consultants on the movies to keep them more true to the books.

  3. It was a CLOSE contest between the Dark Knight and Iron Man. The Dark Knight won because it not only captured Batman well, but perfectly captured Lucius Fox, Alfred Pennyworth, The Joker, and Two Face, too.

  4. Dolph Lundgren’s “Punisher,” without a doubt.

    …what? It’s not on the list? Well, it *should* be!

  5. i picked IronMan also becos of RDJr he was perfect! but i loved the X-Men films ^^

    But OMG! the 2003 Hulk movie was THE most cheapest, forgetablest, terribleist, crapest, horriblest and most S**test MARVEL movie they have ever made! i didnt get it what-so-ever and it never showd the real Hulk!

    sorry for the bad language ¬¬ but the movie madE me so mad!

  6. Hulk no critic, but movie by puny human, Ang Lee, make Hulk SMASH!

  7. The ’03 Hulk put me asleep so I wasn’t able to get mad at it.

  8. @Timespike, I think the Dark Knight was a great movie, but it changed the origins of most of the characters. For an old comic book lover like me that’s like going to a family reunion and finding out that you aunt is your uncle and that they are not kin in the first place.

  9. I also voted for Iron Man. Downey nailed that role.

    I’d also give a shout-out to the newer Ed Norton Hulk though – that one was very true to the spirit of the character IMO, and William Hurt did a helluva job as Thunderbolt.

  10. I didn’t hate any of the movies on this list but Superman returns and hulk were the worst(on this list, there are worse though). I absolutely hated Heath Ledger’s performance as the joker though. BAD BAD BAD choice of casting. And john as for dolph’s punisher, BAh!. He thought he was too good to wear the skull on his outfit. I think the newest punisher captured the essence of the character better but I like the one with Thomas Jane more.

  11. I’ve always enjoyed the Spider-Man 2 more, myself. It’s just so heartbreaking and happy! I also saw the more recent Hulk film in theaters twice under unusual circumstances, I don’t usually do that because of boredom, but I was just as entertained the second time around. Which made that a good movie in my book, outside of the excellent characterizations and the realistic balance of tone. (Some subtle comedy within the seriousness, drama within the action, not pretending to be a kid-friendly smash-em up.)

    Then again, I know next to nothing about either of these characters besides general knowledge, so who am I to say? Voted for Iron Man, though. Tony’s prime movie adaption material as-is, apparently.

  12. RitoruBushi

    “The Dark Knight” from 2008????? The only thing that captured any truth to The Joker in that movie was the color scheme of his clothes and his insane urge to commit random acts of homicide! The color of his skin wasn’t a result of having a poorly trained makeup assistant, and any bodily scaring wasn’t a result of a “Freddy Kruger Makeup Kit”. Also, I don’t think I ever recall the joker setting a few million ablaze for the kicks of it.

  13. I feel that each generation of movie Batman caught a unique era in the comics. The Adam West captured the ‘camp’ era, Keaton the Golden Age, and Christian Bale represents the grittier ‘modern’ type. Talking of “THE essence” is tricky, but I feel each captured AN essence.

    X-Men was overall a great series with familiar characters, but hardly rings true as an adaptation.

    I was fond of the TV Hulk, so the movie sounded stupid. And I refuse to see Superman Returns.

    Spiderman probably did a good job of translation, but felt like it was beating you with the fact. It was like “lets see what else we can add from the comics.”

    Superman (1978, was it that long ago?) I want to see again. My memories are of wonder at his combination of power and humanity. What else is Superman?

    I agree with what has been said about Iron Man. It captured Stark through a difficult, and believable, arc from care-free to crusader. By the end I wasn’t sure if he had an epiphany or a breakdown, which fits anyone facing all he did.

    I may think about this too much, or maybe each has their merits. Either way, it’s a good excuse to re-watch some fun movies.

  14. @Cavalier: Superman Returns was a terrible movie, you were the lucky one.

  15. I can’t swear to this (and am too lazy too research it) but somebody told me the Lundgren Punisher movie didn’t start out as a Punisher movie. The name was added on late in the project, and they just reshot some of the dialogue. For whatever it’s worth.

  16. Strange Goliath

    What, no Incredible Hulk? I thought it was a good movie, though I wouldn’t have voted for it for this poll. To me Iron Man, best captured the “essence.” The reasons have already been perfectly explained previously.

  17. Downey / Iron Man — Having a fan in Favreau to direct helped immensely.

    Cool to see comic movies coming of age, unlike the gawd awful ones of years past.