Comic-book movies have been around my whole life.
When I was about three years old, I watched the old Max Fleischer Superman cartoons. But I soon got bored of watching a drawing do all these amazing things; I wanted to see the real Superman face those challenges. And that was all I needed to say; my dad came back from work the next day with a copy of "Superman: The Movie." My eyes were fixated on the screen; I really believed that this man could fly, I really believed Superman existed. From there, I was introduced to a whole new group of heroes (Batman, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, etc.) and I was completely enthralled by the idea of average people who could do all these amazing things, and I was willing to try anything and everything superhero related.
Fast forward to many years later, and we have an enormous amount of comic-book adaptations, with even more being announced. (Like, a lot more!) So I think it's about time we looked at which films got the characters right, and which got the characters totally wrong.
Superhero Movies That Got It Right
"Superman: The Movie"
What it got right: Not only is "Superman: The Movie," the quintessential comic-book film, but it's the quintessential origin story. In Richard Donner's 1978 masterpiece, Christopher Reeve effortlessly embodies the role of the big blue Boy Scout and the quirky news reporter Clark Kent. Donner perfectly captures the destruction of Krypton and Kal El's humble beginnings in Smallville. The movie also showcases an amazing supporting cast including Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, and, of course, Marlon Brando. Any comic book or movie fan can watch this film and end it with an enthusiastic fist pump. Superman is more than a character: he symbolizes peace, hope and justice. He resembles the goodness that all men should strive for.
"The Dark Knight"
What it got right: Everything! Let's start off with Christian Bale. He is the best Batman that's ever been on screen. Not just because he's a master of his craft, but he understands the character more than anybody has before. Bruce Wayne isn't Batman, it's the other way around. Bruce Wayne is a front -- he's a surface personality, nobody sees who he truly is and Bale understands that, which truly allowed him to do the character justice. The film also perfectly portrays the fall from grace of Harvey Dent. Aaron Eckhart's performance as the peacemaker-turned-total maniac Two-Face was breathtaking. No matter how evil Dent becomes, I always feel sorrow him.
Let's just get one thing straight though: everybody does amazing work, but the best of the best is Heath Ledger. His Joker is the ruthless murdering creep that we all love to hate, and his maniacal laughter makes him that much more believable. Ledger captures the madness of not only a pathological liar, but a psychopathic murderer who keeps our jaws on the floor while absolute chaos ensues. "Dark Knight" portrays all of the "Batman" characters on screen better than anybody before. In Nolan we trust, right?
"Spider-Man" & "Spider-Man 2"
What they got right: Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire make Peter Parker's transformation into the super-powered Spider-Man so enjoyable and joyful that it never fails to put a smile on a comic-book fan's face. Not only is the comedic side of the comics captured, but the emotional aspect is explored to a much deeper degree than most comic-book films will go. Sure, some of the things in the film are common for superhero movies (somebody figures out your true identity! It puts the ones you love in danger! That kind of stuff) but it feels so refreshing in these films. Aunt May is always in trouble (and still struggling with the passing of Uncle Ben), Peter watches the girl he loves go from horrible guy to wrong guy, and his personal relationships are tarnished by his second life. Obviously, Raimi makes a few changes (the web shooters and costumes) but the sheer awesomeness of these films makes up for the little things. The first two films in the trilogy demonstrate what Spidey is all about: "With great power comes great responsibility."
What it got right: The dialogue, the bloody action, and the downright absurd comic-book tale that is "Kick-Ass" is just as shocking on screen as it was on the page. The cursing, the bloody violence, and bad parenting make for one of the funniest, jaw-dropping, and extremely awesome comic-books and movies ever conceived. There was only one major change from the comic book (that I won't be spoiling if you haven't read the book) but this change actually makes sense. It takes the emotional stakes to a whole new level.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Dave is pitch perfect; the character is so goofy and physically incapable of being a superhero, yet he follows his heart and pays the price. Johnson understands that and hits the nail on the head. Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit-Girl is also quite brilliant; a foul-mouthed 11 year old who slices off the legs of her opponents? Yeah, it sounds pretty immature, but Moretz handles it with the greatest of care and, to me, it doesn't seem silly at all. Nicolas Cage is also a treat as Big Daddy. Watching Cage force his young daughter to put on a bullet proof vest and take a shot is so much funnier than it sounds. And that's all thanks to Cage's goofy and overly dramatic delivery. Although the film is hilariously gruesome and absurd, it boasts originality and stays true to the comics.
Honorable Mentions: "X-Men" & "X2: X-Men United," "Superman II," and "Iron Man."
Superhero Movies That Got It Wrong
"Man of Steel"
What it got wrong: Nolan revolutionized the comic-book movie genre, but that's not always a good thing. When it's good, like his stellar "Batman" trilogy, it keeps the key elements of the comics. But it goes bad when screenwriting collaborator David Goyer tinkers with an iconic character to make him dark and brooding. Goyer claims that this Superman reboot isn't supposed to be "darker." But if it isn't darker, then what exactly is it? The character is so different and the film feels forced and humorless. What was so good about Superman on the page was that, for the most part, you felt happy for him. (ahem, "Death of Superman.") The fact that the character was so likable made it hard to watch him take a hit. But in "MoS" you wish Zod would have shown up earlier and punched Kal El in his depressing, Super-transient beard.
SPOILER ALERT: I'm not going to be a broken record and say that it was wrong of Supes to kill Zod because he technically did it once before. (See 1980's "Superman II"), but I do not think it's OK for Superman and Zod to become the mega-demolition crew and destroy more than half of Metropolis. Superman would have never done that.
"Batman and Robin"
What they got wrong: This feels more like an (unintentional) homage to the '60s TV show rather than an updated film about the character. Cheesy dialogue and bad acting plagued 125 minutes of many comic book fans' lives as they watched this film gut their favorite character. Not only did this film disrespect a beloved comic-book hero, but it also just really (as Kristian Harloff of the "Schmoes Know Podcast" would say) STOINKED! " Let's kick some ice?" Are you kidding me?
Dishonorable Mentions: "Daredevil," "Spider-Man 3," "Iron Man 2," "X Men Origins: Wolverine."
Upcoming: I should probably do the right thing and let you know that "The Wolverine" comes out on Friday, July 26! While trailers can be deceiving, I am positive that this movie will fall under the "Got It Right," category. We all know that "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," was less than satisfactory, and I think Hugh Jackman understands that. The special effects in this baby look killer, and it looks like we get to see our favorite X-Man struggle through many different issues, which is really when comic-book movies are at their best. So if you get a chance, go check it out. As always try to keep an open mind, and I'll see you next time.