By James Nelson
We live in a golden age of geek fare, from digital comics and trade paper backs available at a moments notice, board games to match every taste, and of course, the excellent television and film adaptations of our favorite stories. We’ve seen a plethora of adaptations in the past, but they suffered from various faults, like terrible fight sequences and campy tones. Today’s adaptations are monumentally better than before, but there’s still so much they get wrong when adapting their source material, which leaves a lot of nerds out in the cold. Here’s the top five things wrong with modern adaptations.
- Too Much Realism
The grand majority of my problems stem from this maxim by Grant Morrison, “Kids understand that real crabs don’t sing like the ones in The Little Mermaid. But you give an adult fiction, and the adult starts asking really f@#king dumb questions like “How does Superman fly? How do those eyebeams work? Who pumps the Batmobile’s tires?” It’s a f@#king made-up story, you idiot! Nobody pumps the tires!” Too often films, and especially series, are focusing on the realism of the subject so as to appeal to the wider audience who “won’t get” the more fantastic elements of the source material. This is not to say that the writers should abandon the source’s own internal logic, like that Superman gains his power from the yellow sun, but that the adaptation should be willing to accept the more ridiculous aspects of their premise. For instance, Guardians of the Galaxy went full insanity by not even trying to actively explain the talking raccoon or walking tree. The X-Men series has demonstrated an excellent balance of grounding their universe while at the same time not overexplaining their characters. The latest Fantastic Four went to the opposite end of the spectrum by trying to create a grounded sci-fi movie out of one of the most outlandish comics ever written, and the final product reflected how poor of a decision it was.
Now this goes into one of my biggest problems with the MCU. In general, they tone down the comic book aspects of their series. Almost no one, outside of the Avengers, is actually referred to by their superhero names. Kilgrave in Jessica Jones is never referred to as Purple Man (nor is he actually Purple), and Kilgrave is actually turned into his nom-de-guerre. Also, Will Simpson is never referred to by his name, Nuke, nor does he sport the character’s most prominent feature, the American flag tattoo across his face.
Daredevil follows the same format by avoiding, as best they can, calling Wilson Fisk “Kingpin” and Matt Murdock “Daredevil.” We have been regularly exposed to comic book movies for the greater part of the last twenty years, please, just drop the pretense.
2. Stop the Gradual Transformation Trope
This follows the format of: 1) Character starts as normal person/animal, 2) Character is awoken by events/experiment/accident, 3) Character gradually discovers powers and they are slowly developed, 4)As the character is developed they slowly begin to look and appear like the comic character, 5) After climax of story, character looks/acts/feels like the comic character. If this sounds familiar it’s because it’s used in almost every single adaptation from the last ten to twenty years. To some extent it’s the hero’s origin story, and when it’s done right it can really pay out dividends in storytelling, but when it’s not then you’re left with a lackluster character for the majority of the season/movie.
The two best examples of this I can think of are Deathlok in Agents of SHIELD and Gorilla Grodd in The Flash. Mike Peterson was a mostly decent character with a good actor who looked like an idiot through his entire first season on Agents of SHIELD. Season two they improved significantly on the look, but he still looks nothing like the amazing terminator-esque cyborg from the comics. As a result of them holding back on the first real superhero we ever saw in Agents of SHIELD they significantly reduced the impact of his story. The same thing is true with the four episodes with Grodd in The Flash. They’ve taken one of the most powerful villains from DC comics and turned him into a recurring monster of the week. Gorilla Grodd is good enough of a villain to deserve his own arch, and I’d rather he go unused than used in this capacity.
3. Marvel needs to get their villain act together
Since Iron Man (2008), the MCU has been plagued with terrible, underdeveloped villains. There have only been five of note (mind you, there have been twelve movies and five seasons of TV): Kilgrave from Jessica Jones, Loki, Wilson Fisk from Daredevil, Grant Ward from Agents of SHIELD, and The Mandarin. The Mandarin comes as a caveat: we are talking about the real one. The one that was teased in Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and “All Hail the King.”(A One Shot Produced by Marvel taking place after the events of Iron Man 3) This Mandarin is a pervasive, existential threat who was dropped somewhere before Iron Man 3 came out, you know, when they decided to turn him into a punch line. He’s the only villain other than Thanos whose presence has been teased in more than one movie.
Seriously, though, the MCU has a terrible track record of taking compelling villains and turning them into one off bad guys to be killed and discarded. The best example of this is with Ronan the Accuser from Guardians of the Galaxy. When I ask my non-comic book nerd friends what his name is they can’t remember. He was literally written as a generic bad guy when the ACTUAL Ronan the Accuser was a complicated, multilayered villain who was only a villain because he was a Kree patriot, not because he was a bad person. We will never get to see that character, though, because he was wasted.
4. Marvel also needs to do something with Agents of SHIELD
Agents of SHIELD, somehow, has become the best comic book based show on TV (The Netflix series are still better). I don’t know how they did it, but I can say they’ve easily created some of the most compelling, shocking, and ever evolving cast of characters and story in any comic book TV show (seriously, who would have thought they could take the stick-in-the-mud good guy and turn him into a sadistic, twisted HYDRA agent). That being said, the show keeps running into one problem: Agents of SHIELD doesn’t feel connected AT ALL to the MCU. Other than the episodes around when Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out, the show has operated in a complete vacuum.
Sure, Coulson kept working on a secret project in season two that turned out to be the helicarrier that rescued the Avengers in Age of Ultron, but it was a throwaway line at the end of an episode when they found Loki’s scepter in AoS, but then Coulson’s team isn’t even mentioned in the movie. More than that, the fact that Coulson could be alive would have such a huge affect on the Avenger’s themselves that to leave that plot line unresolved feels wrong.
Also considering more characters with powers keep showing up, you would think Coulson and crew would be making appearances, especially when they hear someone can mind control people in a wide area in New York City (serious, SHIELD would have been all up in Kilgrave’s business). And considering that AoS has built up this new organization, the ATCU, to handle the Inhuman threat, you would think that it would come to play in Civil War, but I would bet money that it won’t. Basically, it’s not fair for Marvel to build an entire universe on the premise that it’s connected and not actually connect all their properties. At least the DCEU isn’t even going to bother connecting the Arrowverse to the DCEU, which leads to another problem with modern adaptations …
5. They’re too connected
I realize how funny this might sound after saying all that stuff about AoS, but AoS was created from the premise of the movies with the idea of connecting the movies to the greater MCU, for them only to not do that. The problem with connectedness, is that it leads to creating a never ending series of “next movie” tie-in, where each movie has to shoe-horn some extended universe garbage so that fans can have a clue as to what the next movie might be about (like with Falcon’s appearance in Ant-Man or everything bad about Iron Man 2). When the connectedness feels natural, like in the first Avengers, or in The Incredible Hulk (when Emil Blonsky is given a corrupted version of Captain America’s super soldier serum), it makes a nerd feel at home, but when it’s forced in for the sake of cross promotion it comes off as lazy. Like with Thanos’s appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy, it just feels strange to have someone so powerful speak to someone so petty as Ronan.
My fear, as we move into the MCU Phase 3, and into Batman vs. Superman, is that this cross promotional connectedness will eat away at good storytelling. The latest trailers for both Civil War and BvS have not alleviated any of my fears. I hope I’m wrong, but looking at the latest Batman vs. Superman trailer makes me think that they wanted to make a The Dark Knight Returns sort of story, but were forced to expand it into a Justice League meet-up story, basically fast forwarding all the character development and logical storytelling so that they can get their own Justice League movie. As a side note, Doomsday is a terrible character, seriously. Stop using him and use Darkseid, or Metallo.
Like this post? Check out some of our other posts below!