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4 Comic Book Movie Adaptations Better Than The Source

Updated on May 25, 2015

Film adaptations of popular comic books are usually criticized if they don’t adhere closely to the source material, but it’s a given that something will be lost in translation when a multi-part comic book series or a franchise with decades of continuity is distilled in order to fit 120 minutes of film. Before Marvel revolutionized the comic book movie genre, fans tend to accept that film adaptations will never be as good as their source material. However, there are some films that went beyond simply giving justice to the source material, they actually became better versions of the franchise. Here are some that you might want to check out:

Iron Man

The Source Material

By now, pretty much everyone who cares already knows the origin of Iron Man, as the film didn’t stray too far from it. An American billionaire playboy, engineer, and industrialist, Tony Stark first became Iron Man when he was kidnapped by terrorists and forced to build a weapon of mass destruction. Injured in the attempt by shrapnel, Tony Stark was saved by a fellow prisoner and given a magnetic chest plate that keeps the shrapnel from reaching his heart. The then worked together in order to create the prototype for what would eventually become his Iron Man armor.

Over time, various writers have provided their takes on the characters and added bits and pieces. By the time the Iron Man film rolled around, what they had to work on was a generally unlikable Tony Stark with very little redeeming qualities outside of fighting for the side of good: he’s manipulative, an alcoholic with self destructive tendencies, and willing to sacrifice his comrades for what he deems the greater good.

Why the Film Adaptation is Better

  • Robert Downey Jr. Hands down. The actor brought a huge amount of charisma and wit to what would have been an almost straightforward adaptation of the comic book character. In fact, Downey Jr.’s take on Tony Stark is so character-defining that it’s easy to argue that many writers after the film have been basing their Tony Starks on the film version.
  • Another reason why the film version is so much more likable despite possessing similar flaws is that they put his ego front and center. The comic book depictions prior to the film tried to put too much melodramatic weight on Stark’s flaws that the narrative ended up being bogged down. The films just showed that Stark is an inherently good man who’s kind of a jerk.

The Crow

The Source Material

Originally written by James O’Barr and published in 1989, The Crow focuses on the young man Eric and his fiancée, Shelly, who were attacked by a gang when their car broke down in an abandoned road. With Eric shot in the head and left paralyzed, he was left helpless as he watches the gang beat up and assault Shelly. They are then left for dead.

Eric was then resurrected by a crow and given supernatural powers, which he uses to seek out the murderers one by one and methodically killing them. All the while, the crow remains by his side, guiding him on his quest for vengeance while chastising him for not letting go of his memories of Shelly.

Why the Film Adaptation is Better

  • The Crow comic book was at best an acquired taste, as the heavy handed and slow pace can turn off mainstream comic book fans. It was also extremely violent for its time, depicting gore and even sexual assault.
  • The film retained much of the dark tone of the comic and even presented an almost faithful adaptation of the story, but the translation to an audiovisual medium helped make it more accessible. The medium also allowed the action to be conveyed much better.
  • Finally, the film itself has become a cult legend due to an accident during filming, with lead actor Brandon Lee (son of the late Bruce Lee) dying from being shot in the abdomen by a live gun that was supposed to be loaded by blank rounds.

Kick-Ass

The Source Material

Written by Mark Millar, the Kick-Ass comic book follows the story of teenager Dave Lizewski, who goes on a quest to become the world’s first ever real life superhero. With no superpowers, no martial arts training, and or even the tiniest semblance of fighting ability, Dave’s first attempt ended in him getting beaten half to death, but the metal plates he got from the injury allowed him to take even more punishment and his next exploit was publicized on the internet, inspiring others and attracting the eye of costumed vigilantes Hit-Girl and Big Daddy.

Why the Film Adaptation is Better

  • The comic book is already a good read and works as a satire on costumed superheroics, but there are times when it felt like it was taking itself a little bit too seriously. Additionally, Millar is known for going overboard with shock value and Kick-Ass definitely has it.
  • The film was a fairly faithful adaptation, but changed a few key things in order to make things a little bit lighter. MASSIVE SPOILERS ALERT: while the comic book revealed Big Daddy to be nothing but a comic book collector with a lot of time on his hands and no real beef with the Mafia, the film version is an actual cop who actually has justifications for going after the mob, which meant destroying Hit-Girl’s life actually meant something.
  • Chloe Grace Moretz and Nicolas Cage also deserve props for providing somewhat inaccurate yet more sympathetic versions of Hit-Girl and Big Daddy. And then there’s the film’s action scenes, with Big Daddy’s assault on a warehouse being worth the price of admission alone. It’s the kind of scene that really deserves the film’s title and something that you can’t really pull off through comic book panels.

Wanted

The Source Material

Wanted was written by Mark Millar and released in 2003 and 2004, focusing on a down-on-his-luck man named Wesley Gibson, who discovers that he is the son of a supervillain, and that the villains themselves have long since killed all the superheroes and put the whole world under discreet but direct control.

Why the Film Adaptation is Better

  • For one thing, the movie is at best a loose adaptation. Wesley is still heir to a career as an assassin, but instead of a secret cabal of costumed supervillains, we get a secret cabal of suit-and-tie-wearing assassins with superhuman strength, speed, agility, and the uncanny ability to bend a bullet’s trajectory.
  • A crude, yet workable description of the film is that they took everything that’s good from Fight Club and mixed it with everything that’s good from The Matrix. And yes, that includes bullet time and slow motion kung fu back when it was still cool.
  • There’s also the fact that – SPOILER ALERT - the Wanted comic book ended on a negative note, with Wesley fully accepting his newfound life as a supervillain who can do everything that he wants without repercussions, but the film adaptation still went for a more positive ending with Wesley Gibson (played by the always excellent James McAvoy) accepting his new fate and abilities, but used it to take down the now-corrupted version of the fraternity of assassins, and then hunting down the man behind it all (played by the also always excellent Morgan Freeman.)

I'm aware that there are more comic book films before Marvel's phase 2 that are arguably better than the source materials, if you have any additions or disagreements, feel free to sound off on the comments.

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