5 Awesome Comic Book Adaptations

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC 5 Awesome Comic Book Adaptations

By Si Lewis.

The jury seems to be out on the up and coming Watchmen adaptation from visionary director Zack Snyder. While fans of the novel are adamant no mere mortal is capable of successfully translating the revered work of Alan Moore to the silver screen, followers of Mr Snyder (myself included) are confident the 300 helmer can bring his visual prowess to the alternate 1985 Alan Moore so expertly crafted and produce a film capable of emulating Christopher Nolan’s undoubted success off the back of Batman’s last outing. So will Snyder pull this seemingly impossible task off? Or will his attempt to adapt the most adored graphic novel ever fall into an abyss of over expectation and bear bating fan boys? In the lead up to Friday’s eagerly anticipated release, I am going to reflect on past attempts to adapt much loved comical heroes and determine whether they “Biffed”, “Boffed” and “Thwacked” their way to saving Gotham City or let Metropolis die in a Krypton based explosion of God awful cash ins on the comic book genre.

Having shared five of the worst, it is now the turn of the heroes to step up. The films and their film makers that have embraced the source material, translating breathtaking imagery, complex story arcs and unforgettable characters from page to screen with aplomb. These films not only illustrate the importance of staying true to the original tome itself but having the ability to make it accessible to the general film going public. Where many before have failed to turn truly great works of art (yes they are art) into great movies, these five achieved what Snyder should hope to emulate on his release of Watchmen.



 

5. Road To Perdition

More American reimagining than basic comic to film realisation,Road To Perditionnot only succeeds in being an exceptional adaptation but a breathtaking film to boot. Based on the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins, Road To Perdition is very similar in story and tone to that of the brutal Manga Lone Wolf and Cub replacing feudal Japan with Prohibition-era America. From the outset this film is beautiful to say the least. Thomas Newman’s gorgeous melodic score compliments the Oscar winning cinematography from Conrad Hall perfectly. Together with expert performances all round the canvas of Mendes’s vision is spot on. Tom Hanks, Daniel Craig and Paul Newman are all on top form but it’s the frightening portrayal of Harlen Maguire (who didn’t appear in the original graphic novel) played by Jude Law who pretty much steals it.

This film had me gripped from start to finish, both on a narrative and technical level. I don’t feel it got the credit it deserved however, despite winning a few Oscars for its technical prowess it was never really embraced at the flicks. Go and buy it on DVD, you owe that much to Mendes.

 

4. Sin City

The first of two Frank Miller novels which makes an appearance on many people’s list, not just mine. Taking 3 and a quarter of Miller’s Sin City episodes, Robert Rodriguez pretty much lifted the shots straight from the black and white pages of the books. Many frames are identical to the illustrations which must surely make it a great adaptation of an already superbly brutal series. What makes Sin City even more effective is the bold palette Rodriguez uses to paint the bar room backdrops, hundreds of hookers, yellow bastards and a cannibal Frodo with. Using the whitest of whites and darkest of blacks really emulates the feel of the comic, there is no doubt Rodriguez was true to the tome. What Sin City also did was bring together a fine collection actors to take on the huge number of roles for the scum of Basin City. All the women look as gorgeous as the film does and the geezers are all nails, especially Mickey Rourke who seems the only person who could’ve pulled off the look and feel of Marv.

Although awesome throughout, this isn’t the best of Miller’s works to make it to the screen…

 

3. 300

…This is. If Sin City was Jennifer Aniston then this is Angelina Jolie. My word it just looks so damn good…and no, I’m not referring to the half naked dieseled Spartans complete with CG six packs. Following a merry band of brick outhouses as they help protect the city of Sparta from an imminent Persian invasion, 300 is by no means historically accurate but certainly is a Frank Miller gore fest complete with countless one liners and iconic leading men. For some reason it has attracted criticism for not being a true depiction of the Battle of Thermopylae but that detracts from what makes 300 so good. For starters, it never tries to be a historical epic, it’s pure testosterone fuelled action at its very, very best. Like Dawn Of The Dead before, Zack Snyder manages to make an original story even better with jaw dropping visuals, an incredible musical score and the run of a superb cast all on top form. Gerard Butler puts in a performance worthy of earning him superstar status as the hard as nails Leonidas. Convincing from his epic facial whiskers to the sheer arrogance of his presence, Butler pulls off the role as the Spartan leader with natural ease leaving the audience (well me at least) in awe of his leadership of the 300.

Who cares if there were really more than 300 Spartans, who cares if the Persians didn’t really look like mangled Frankensteins. If it was accurate we would have been treated to a very graphic pre-battle Spartan tradition involving the drinking of bodily fluids. I don’t know about you but I’d much prefer seeing a fight with a big chained behemoth. 

2. Batman Begins

Suffering a severe personality disorder after Batman And RobinThe Dark Knight himself really needed saving from feature film abyss. Being kept on life support by some really good animated outings, he needed a live action makeover to show the world Batman was still top dog in the world of superhero. Spiderman was taking far too much undeserved credit and Chris Nolan thought it was time to stop Peter Parker and his absolute schmaltzfest outings being number 1. My god did he succeed, not only did Batman kick Spiderman‘s blind horse riding ass but he maimed everything being churned out by Marvel Studios…and still does.

Nolan gave the franchise a much needed refresh and brought Batman into the real world. Far away from Burton’s Neo-Gothic wonderment, galaxies ahead of Joel Schumacher’s candy coated kiddy pleasers, Batman Begins was real and was here to save people sick of seeing Batman being ridiculed over 1960s camp TV shows and nipple suits. Christopher Nolan is possibly one of the most talented directors of this generation and his exploration of Batman with the help of the Year One graphic novel, was certainly a revitalising addition to the Batman machine. There are some quarters who believe the mystery of Batman shouldn’t really be revealed to the extent we see in Begins, but I think it’s dealt with incredibly well and fully justifies why Wayne feels the need to don a bat mask and cape and crusade against good for nothing gangster wannabes. The inclusion of more low-key villains from the comic book is excellently executed, Ra’s Al Ghul, Falcone and the Scarecrow are intertwined with precision yet are never overused nor trivialised. Each played with individual and unique precision by Liam Neeson (is that a spoiler?), Tom Wilkinson and Cillian Murphy respectively. Despite a few quibbles about his brooding vocals, there’s no doubt Bale is the best in the bat suit and it’s good to see Gary Oldman be a good guy for once. The thing I loved most about Begins is seeing the world of Batman unravel into the story we are so familiar with; identifying his weaknesses, seeing the invention of the bat signal, the subtle explanation of why there’s so many nutjob villains, the growth of Gordon etc etc. All this ties together a wonderfully crafted popcorn action movie, and despite the occasion of pure Stilton in the script (ie the use of the word “fear” an infinite amount of times and some cheesy and repeated one liners) Nolan delivered an excellent cornerstone for a new Batman saga to not only rival but better Burton’s efforts. 

1. The Dark Knight

Much like Begins, The Dark Knight maintains the brooding tones and adult themes but goes even further into the complexities of the Bruce Wayne and his occasionally maligned alter ego. Taking Gotham out of the studio and into an actual city was a much required change from Begins as it fully sees Batman as a believable character in the real world. The vast majority of superhero films are self conscious of being fictitious and born of fantasy but with The Dark Knight, Nolan meticulously crafts a world where we believe Batman could exist thus making it all the more effective when he faces his villainous equal and resident psychopath; The Joker. Not much has to be said of Heath Ledger’s truly frightening portrayal of the Clown Prince, as everyone knows the level of brilliance he brings to the screen. From his reveal in the Michael Mann-esque prologue, we know we have to prepare for one of the greatest on screen performances. His series of posthumous awards only justify the level Ledger managed to reach on his way to pulling off this iconic role. The rest of the cast emulate what Ledger brings to the film by filling their respective roles with spot on performances. Bale manages to switch from Batman to Wayne effortlessly and really does create a separate character for both. Rather than just playing Wayne with a mask on, Bale really puts his heart and soul to create two characters who are essentially completely different. He is convincing as a millionaire playboy as much as he is convincing as a husky voiced vigilante. Michael Caine is the perfect Alfred, bringing both humour and emotional support to Wayne, he is more father figure than mere butler. Maggie Gyllenhall, stepping into the vacated shoes of Katie Holmes, does what Gyllenhall does best and is a far more convincing DA. Many scenes however, were stolen by Aaron Eckhart playing the White Knight of the piece, Harvey Dent. Utterly convincing as the only one brave enough to tackle Gotham’s plight, Eckhart is consistently superb as Dent. Being a character more in touch with the audience, it makes it far more emotionally effective when Dent becomes a victim of his own bravery, losing his mind (and half of his face) in the process.

Everything from the gripping musical score, first class stunt work, visually stunning cinematography and phenomenal script are straight from the top drawer leaving anyone watching in awe of this mind blowing piece of entertainment. To put it simply, there are not enough superlatives to actually describe how good The Dark Knight is. The film clocks in at around 2 and a half hours, but the fact this time frame feels like mere minutes is only a testament to how Nolan can pace a film to perfection with both equal quantities of action, characterisation and glorious set pieces. Everything, and I sincerely mean everything is pulled off with perfection. It’s a crime that Nolan was overlooked during Oscar season but seen as The Dark Knight broke all sorts of records at the box office, he can cry into the mounds of cash his deeply complex portrayal of the caped crusader made for him.
Not only the best comic book adaptation, but one of the most accomplished pieces of film ever made.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.

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