Book-to-Movie Adaptations

This article contains spoilers of certain movies still in cinemas.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a comic book fan. Well, not so much a fan, more like a nerd. I enjoy seeing my favourite characters on the big screen after waiting so long after the first announcement or the first trailer. The Dark Knight still stands as my all-time best, followed by Iron Man, The Avengers and X-Men 2. But something has always bugged me while watching not just comic book movies, but most book-to-movie adaptations – not sticking to the source material. Is it important? Can it ruin expectations of fans? Or is it just best to go in and ignore any knowledge of the franchise?

This year saw the start of the second phase of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, kicking it off with Iron Man 3 and Thor: Dark World later this year. Tensions were high as there was a lot at stake, especially after the brilliant Avengers last year. How can something that epic be topped? How can they continue the story? By having one of the most important Iron Man stories, Extremis, finally being presented on film. Not to mention the introduction of the Mandarin, Iron Man’s biggest opponent.

So the movie came and went, gaining a relatively modest 78% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, not to mention becoming the fifth highest grossing movie ever. I went to see it twice, so I could form a proper opinion. Everyone I spoke to afterwards who had seen it said they really enjoyed it. I, myself, thought it was a lost opportunity. While the action was great, and Robert Downey Jr was as charismatic and energetic once again as Tony Stark, the story fell flat halfway through – precisely at the moment when we found out who the Mandarin was. It was going so well up to that part, at which point it felt like the writers were sticking their fingers up at the fans. The Mandarin is like the Daleks to the Doctor, Lex Luthor to Superman, The Joker to Batman. He isn’t some stupid wannabe British actor, a front for someone else’s plans. He has his own intentions, his own master plan. Watching the terrorist videos with him in made me feel like the writers were really doing him justice, showing him as a real villain not to be trifled with. And then out comes the truth about him…disgraceful. It’s an absolute shame that Ben Kingsley’s talents were wasted here.

The other problem was the poor representation of Extremis. In the books, Tony has Extremis injected into himself after being crushed and beaten by Mallen, the first person to be tested with Extremis. The virus changes Tony completely, allowing him to integrate himself into electronic networks, including phones and satellites. He is also capable of summoning his suit to him mentally, allowing much quicker access to it. Part of these ideas were shown in the movie, but not in the same context as the comics. If all of this had been used onscreen, then Iron Man 3 could have been one of the best comic book movies ever.

As an Iron Man fan, I’d say I have more knowledge on the character than most of all the cinema goers who have seen the three movies and The Avengers. But I’m a fan of the Lord of the Ring film trilogy (and The Hobbit), as well as the Star Trek reboot and its sequel. Yet I haven’t read any of the LOTR books, nor do I know anything about the Star Trek franchise (anything I do know is taken from jokes and gags used in The Simpsons, Futurama and Family Guy). I watch those movies through fresh eyes, and I love what I see. But what about the people who have read the LOTR books, or the hardcore Trekkies? Many fans appear to have hated Abrams reboot, with this fan calling it one of the stupidest movies ever.

This is where the argument begins. Can a fan of a particular series enjoy seeing it on the silver screen? It can be argued both ways – in one way, yes, as while most adaptations add their own material and story elements, they don’t stray too far from the original source. Look at how successful the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies have become, despite having their own interpretations and moments not seen in the books. Plenty of people haven’t read the books but enjoy the films, while fans of the books love seeing the characters brought to life. I have minor quibbles with the movie series, especially Goblet of Fire, but they generally stick to Rowlings original books.

On the other hand, some diehard fans detest movies based on their favourite books or comics as they don’t portray the characters or stories correctly. Similar to my complaints with Iron Man 3, many Superman fans are outraged by Man of Steel. Superman breaks the ‘no kill’ rule and breaks Zod’s neck near the end of the film. Superman purists have kicked off about this scene, saying that this action is simply not in Superman’s nature. Looking over Superman’s past, he has had to kill in order to protect himself or people he cares about – most notably Doomsday. But I can understand where the fans are coming from.

Another complaint is the destruction of Metropolis, and the extravagant fight between Zod and Superman. It’s incredible to watch, but it feels misplaced. Why isn’t Superman trying to move the fight away from the city? Have it in the countryside, or even outer space? It could be disputed that this is Superman in his early days, so he’s still learning how to protect a wider population. The sequel has already been confirmed, so any irregularities made with the character could be rectified then.

I suppose there really isn’t a definite answer to this question. One persons entertainment is another’s nightmare. I’ve expressed my problems with Iron Man 3, yet plenty of people and fans liked the twist of the Mandarin and saw the movie as its own tale. Same can be said for Man of Steel, The Dark Knight Rises, and countless others before them. I’m looking forward to the next few years of cinema, especially with Justice League and Avengers 2 going head-to-head with each other. And I can’t wait for the endless debates that are sure to come out of it.

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