Realism and Comic-Based Films

Something I’ve been finding quite interesting about comic book-themed movies lately is how they’re trying so hard to make them believable, to make them feel real.  Anyone that reads comics can tell you about how over the top details can get, yet they still sell and will always sell as long as it’s an interesting story.  When writers bring these characters to the screen, however, sometimes the more believable things are what make them more marketable.

Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are a perfect example of this since he begins from scratch and rewrites the entire concept.  A seven-hundred-year-old ancient cult leader becomes a middle-aged criminal mastermind played by Liam Neeson, and a mobster that falls into a pit of acid that bleaches his skin and drives him insane becomes a criminal genius wearing makeup and scars on his face.  The upcoming film tackles Bane, who originally was an escaped prisoner that used a drug called “venom” to become super strong.  I’m curious to see how this is made believable, but also curious why it has to be.  I wonder if people are losing their imaginations and simply cannot handle seeing something too “silly” on screen.

A good illustration of my point is the film G.I.Joe.  Anyone who saw the cartoon knows how ridiculous the concepts are to begin with.  The movie surprised me by keeping the tone fun and silly, to the point where the training facility had an indoor ocean that wasn’t on the ground floor and everything had kind of a 90’s-styled, thumbs-up attitude to it.  I loved it and truly enjoyed the ride, but the movie didn’t do well commercially.  People tend not to enjoy straying too far from the truth or from reality.  Even Watchmen, which was an extremely successful comic, drastically changed the overarching plot for the movie because the original story was “too ridiculous.”  Batman has always been a huge character on or off a screen, but it seems recently as if movies have decided that he only works in a world we can see ourselves living in.  Even Iron Man tried hard to make things visually and logically understandable, which ended in a smash hit.

My own thoughts on the concept of reality-based rewriting are that movies are expensive to make and people are picky.  Movie makers want to make more money and spend less of it, so instead of paying for an animation of a giant tentacle monster terrorizing New York City, they made a big explosion and said that a bomb did it.  Instead of showing us Mr. Freeze in his bulky, silver suit and freezing gun, we see a man in a suit with a burlap mask shooting a gas of fear toxin at people.  It’s much more believable and makes you fantasize about it actually happening someday, but it isn’t true to its origins.

Whether it’s a budget issue or a marketing issue, it’s become apparent to me that hero movies need to be grounded in reality in order for people to buy into it.  It’s an even older issue when considering the lifespan of villains in movies.  In comics and TV shows, everyone lives and there is always hope of another encounter, but in movies, there is a chance higher than 90% that the villain will be dead by the end of the movie.  In reality, that may be more likely, but who ever decided that movies had to be so realistic?  Numbers don’t lie. People enjoy things they can relate to, so making an argument against this notion is futile, but as a huge comic reader, I feel that it is worth noting.  In some cases, I can jump on the bandwagon of reinventing characters (The Dark Knight is a good example of this), but in others, I am utterly disappointed in the outcome (as in Watchmen).

– Vic Frederick

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