When it comes to film adaptations, faithfulness to source material is a tricky subject. On one hand, a movie has to resemble its source material or the core audience will be driven away. On the other, many things that work on paper don’t go over well on the big screen. It’s even trickier with comic book adaptations because many of the characters have been appearing in new stories for twenty, fifty, or seventy-five years straight. They’ve gone through innumerable transformations. There is no single book, for example, that defines Captain America. With that in mind, what I consider to be a faithful adaption is one that embodies the spirit of its comics in a way that makes sense on film. These may or may not be the best movies in the genre, but they are notable for getting it really right or really, really wrong.
The Most Faithful
5. Green Lantern
The comic: Hal Jordan, fighter pilot and personality vacuum, inherits the power and responsibility of being a member of the Green Lantern Corps. He gallivants around space fighting crime and getting into trouble. It’s not about the character as much as it’s about the adventure; the supporting characters are infinitely more interesting.
The movie: Ryan Reynolds, actor and personality vacuum, plays dress-up and goes on an adventure in outer space. The supporting characters are infinitely more interesting. This movie is pretty faithful, but it’s very terrible. Consider it proof that loyalty doesn’t make a movie good or bad.
4. Iron Man
The comic: Tony Stark, alcoholic, womanizer, and purveyor of fine weapons, realizes the destruction he has caused when he takes a shot of shrapnel to the heart. He builds a suit to keep himself alive, then decides to become a superhero and right his wrongs. There’s a lot of fun technology and Tony always seems to be going through some personal crisis.
The movie: All of that, but he’s no longer an alcoholic. He just drinks a little. The alcoholism is kind of a sticking point for me, though, because it’s incredibly important to the character. Tony Stark is to alcoholism as Batman is to having dead parents.
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The comic: In general, Captain America comics are chock full of political undertones and spy themes. In the Winter Soldier storyline, Captain America, Falcon, and Sharon Carter investigate the mysterious Winter Soldier who, as it turns out, is Cap’s former sidekick Bucky with some Soviet brainwashing and a cybernetic arm. Captain America brings back Bucky’s memories with a cosmic cube, and his former partner sneaks away into the night to find himself.
The movie: Captain America, Falcon, and Black Widow investigate Hydra’s infiltration into S.H.I.E.L.D while being hunted by the Winter Soldier. As it turns out, Winter Soldier is Cap’s former sidekick Bucky with some Hydra brainwashing and a cybernetic arm. Bucky comes to his senses, saves Cap from drowning, and sneaks away to find himself. The deviations don’t stop this movie from perfectly capturing the heroism of the lead character and the feel of his comics.
2. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
The comic: Over the course of six volumes, Canadian guitarist Scott Pilgrim must defeat Ramona’s seven evil exes in a series of ridiculous battles. The pace is generally frenetic, the characters are fascinating, and everything in the comic is extremely expressive. If you were to boil it down to emoticon form, it would be this: O_O
The movie: There’s an abundance of source material condensed into just under two hours. As such, the movie leaves out a lot, but what it includes is absolutely perfect from the visualized sound effects to the soundtrack to Michael Cera’s enormous puppydog eyes. What director Edgar Wright did with this movie is impressive; it’s unfortunate that its box office was not.
The comic: 300 barely clothed Spartans try to defend Thermopylae from Xerxes and his Persian army using the powers of testosterone.
The movie: 300 barely clothed Spartans try to defend Thermopylae from Xerxes and his Persian army using the powers of testosterone… in slow motion. From the color pallette to the dialogue, the film is as direct as an adaptation can be. This isn’t a surprise since Frank Miller, who wrote the comic, acted as Executive Producer for the film.
Honorable Mentions: Sin City, Batman Begins, Watchmen, Avengers
The Least Faithful
The comic: Will Eisner’s creation skillfully blends crime and humor, with a strong focus on characters’ stories. The Spirit himself is an everyman.
The movie: Frank Miller turns The Spirit into Wolverine (complete with a healing factor) and the film into a carousel of nameless, personality-free eye candy. There is no reason for this movie to exist other than as spank material for its writer/director. I hate this movie.
The comic: Selina Kyle is an on-again, off-again villain with penchants for romancing batpeople and stealing valuable artifacts. Her origin has been changed at least few times, so there has to be some leeway there, but…
The movie: Patience Philips drowns to death while investigating toxic skin cream. She is brought back to life by a magical cat who grants her cat powers. There’s a whole thing with the Egyptian goddess Bastet and it’s absolutely terrible. Nobody involved in the creation of this film should ever work in Hollywood again.
The comic: John Constantine is British, kind of a jerk, and exceedingly clever. He tricks the forces of good, he tricks the forces of evil, and if there were such a thing he would trick the forces of meh. Picture Sting, but with the personality of Ricky Gervais.
The movie: In a reprisal of his Matrix role, Keanu Reeves once again plays a Jesus figure. Because it’s impossible for Reeves to play clever, he plays a mixture of surprised and bewildered. Because it’s impossible for him to do a British accent (see: Dracula), he’s American. This movie is actually a guilty pleasure of mine, but it’s certainly not a John Constantine movie.
2. Batman and Robin
The comic: Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Bruce Wayne, having witnessed the murder of his parents at a young age, decides the best way to seek justice is to dress up as a bat and protect Gotham as its dark knight. He encounters a host of absurd characters, but Victor Fries is not one of them. He is widely regarded as one of the most understandable villains in comics and his love for his doomed wife is touching.
The movie: Joel Schumacher’s beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy presents more ice puns than you knew were possible. Everyone is out of character and the dark tone that Batman comics have had for nearly their entire run is steamrolled by an ill-advised attempt at camp and some batnipples. And Batgirl! Poor Barbara
Gordon Wilson goes from being the spunky, brilliant daughter of the police commissioner to Alfred’s stupid niece. If this movie were a person, I would kick its ice.
The comic: Alan Moore’s series is essentially a Victorian literature circlejerk, and that’s okay. Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo mingles with H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jeckyl, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty and more. As with most of Moore’s work, the characterization, pacing, and plot are fantastic.
The movie: One of the dumbest action movies in the history of dumb action movies. This is the movie that made Sean Connery stop acting. Okay, that may not be entirely true, but everything that should be a strength here is a weakness. Characterization? Nonexistent. Plot? MIA. Dialogue? Horrendous. This movie is so bad that it’s entertaining and I always end up finishing it when it’s on TV, but since that’s pretty much the opposite of the comic I’m going with this one for the worst.
Dishonorable Mentions: Elektra, Ghost Rider, X-Men: the Last Stand, The Hulk
Sound off with your own most/least faithful in the comments.