8 Comic Book Characters Hollywood Will Never Understand –
There isn’t a bigger film genre today than the superhero one. Although they first rose to prominence with Richard Donner’s Superman movies, and later Tim Burton’s Batman, they’ve experienced something of a stratospheric rise since 1998, when Wesley Snipes’ Blade kicked off the modern comic book movie boom.
Subsequent studios would take the baton passed on by the vampire hunter, but they would also tragically fail in a great many places, ice-skating uphill with misfire after cliched misfire, epitomised by the miserly Catwoman, released in 2004. Although Iron Man heralded something of a golden age for comic book movies in 2008, there are still some characters, teams, and even entire comics who’ve fallen short on the big screen – and it all stems from a fundamental lack of understanding about what made them so compelling in the first place.
Bizarrely, this goes double for characters who once enjoyed a revered status on the big screen. Now, in some instances, superhero staples have found themselves in limbo, having been the subject of repeated critical disasters, and it all grants the impression that tinseltown just doesn’t understand certain aspects of the medium it’s currently so obsessed with.
8. Jonah Hex
Of all the comic book movies to have bombed in recent years, Jonah Hex makes the least sense.
The character, introduced in X by Y & Y, is effectively just the archetypal Western protagonist filled by Clint Eastwood in most of his films. Making a modern Western based on the comic, then, shouldn’t have been so difficult – especially given the resurgence the genre has experienced in recent years.
2010’s Jonah Hex, starring Josh Brolin and Megan Fox, was a complete disaster. It fumbled the character’s source material, needlessly overcomplicated matters by giving him supernatural powers and boasted a cookie-cutter revenge story without any of the craft, scale or subtlety that’s typified most Neo Westerns.
The worst part about it is that Warner Bros. haven’t made so much as a peep regarding the prospect of another Hex film, proving that they don’t particularly understand the character’s appeal, even as their animated wing demonstrated the perfect template for how a Hex movie should be done, with Thomas Jane and Linda Hamilton at the helm.
7. Harley Quinn & Joker
Now obviously the Joker has been the subject of multiple stellar portrayals in movie history (and only one genuinely abject one), but with Harley Quinn now factored into the onscreen equation too, it seems as though Warner Bros. are all confused, as was evidenced by the portrayal of the pair’s relationship in Suicide Squad, as well as the move to make a Joker/Harley spin-off made by the makers of The Hangover.
Margot Robbie is a fantastic Harley, and the actor is set to make waves with the Birds of Prey some time in the future, but it feels as though WB haven’t modernised where the comics previously have. It isn’t difficult to see that Quinn’s relationship with the Clown Prince is abusive, as it was depicted that way since Batman: The Animated Series and later in the comics too, but Suicide Squad somehow ended up depicting it in an almost romantic light, which is a huge red light as far as DC should be concerned.
If WB can’t be trusted to depict their relationship with its sinister undertones, then they shouldn’t bother at all. The studio have already illustrated that they’re capable of depicting Joker by himself, and it’s almost inevitable that Robbie’s portrayal of Harleen will benefit from the absence of Leto’s Joker, but it still remains a relationship they’re looking to capitalise on in the future.
Richard Donner’s Superman films are magical to watch, and hold up tremendously to this day. However, since their introduction the character of the Man of Steel has undergone a great many changes, shifting in personality, fluctuating in terms of power, and even having a selection of villains added to his already impressive rogues gallery.
One of the biggest criticisms of the character’s films leading up to 2013’s Man of Steel was that they never seemed capable of depicting Kal-El’s strength, with Superman Returns in particular having been labelled a boorish exercise. Unfortunately, in an attempt to bring Supes’ cinematic portrayals up to speed with his modern day comic book ones, director Zack Snyder overcompensated with a gaudy CGI-fest heavy on religious allegory and even heavier on discombobulating action set-pieces.
The same approach returned for Batman v Superman, and to a degree Justice League too. Now, actor Henry Cavill appears to have departed the DCEU altogether, and with no apparent plans for the Superman franchise, it’s becoming apparent that WB don’t have a clue what they’re doing with the Last Son of Krypton.
Batman, unlike Superman, has only recently fallen afoul of WB’s seeming lack of direction, but it’s equally diabolical all the same.
The Dark Knight is many things to many people, and with so many varying interpretations of the character, that’s always bound to be the case. However, adapting a character to the big screen is a different process altogether; you have to take into account how diverse an audience is, and when it comes to Batman, that means all these different preferences and interpretations coalesce into one. Or they should, rather, because for the last five or so years, Batman on the big screen has catered to only one demographic – those who love Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns.
To be clear, The Dark Knight Returns is a fantastic story, but it’s not necessarily definitive. It represents a very specific kind of Caped Crusader, whereas, say, Batman: The Animated Series, takes inspiration from a varying range of sources; that’s how you get a definitive version of Batman – one that can boast as broad an appeal as possible – but that approach is yet to manifest as WB target another Batman reboot, sans Ben Affleck.
Batman shouldn’t be this difficult to do right, and yet we’ve gone six – almost seven – years without a compelling onscreen portrayal.
4. Ghost Rider
The fact that Ghost Rider is yet to receive a proper adaptation on the big screen is genuinely baffling – especially since the character boasts one of the coolest designs in the medium, as well as one of Marvel’s most compelling origins.
Since 2007, audiences have seen two Ghost Rider films on the big screen – both of which starred Nicolas Cage. While Cage himself is reportedly a massive fan of the superhero, he was always a strange pick for Johnny Blaze, and even Dan Ketch for that matter, who was the inspiration for Blaze’s character in both Rider movies.
Right from the very get-go there were issues. Blaze was the first mainstream Rider in the comics, but the character’s definitive years came during Ketch’s tenure with the Spirit of Vengeance. This poor footing then sent both Rider movies into a meandering mess of comic book movie cliches and cookie cutter plots, with 2012’s Spirit of Vengeance – directed by those guys from Crank, and released under the Marvel Knights banner – proving to be the final nail in the character’s coffin on the big screen.
The Rider really shouldn’t be that difficult to get right, particularly now that Disney have the rights to the use the character in the MCU. And yet his absence intimates that no one really knows how to make Ghost Rider work, despite how brilliant the outlandish premise is.
John Constantine, a Vertigo mainstay and a defining character from DC’s imprint, is slowly developing the renown he’s deserved for years. Unfortunately for John (as well as his fans), getting to this stage hasn’t been particularly easy.
In the original Hellblazer comics, Constantine is Liverpool born and bred, a master trickster and an occult con artist. He’s disreputable, but charmingly so, and as a bisexual is one of DC’s most high-profile LGBT* characters. If you’d only heard of the character through his 2005 movie, however – or even his short-lived 2014 TV show – all of this will have likely flown underneath the radar.
Francis Lawrence’s Constantine movie may have boasted the talents of the ever-wonderful Keanu Reeves, but it just wasn’t authentic. The film not only got rid of the character’s trademark Merseyside roots – it straightwashed him too. The TV series faired better in one regard, with Matt Ryan taking the character back to the British Isles, but showrunner David Goyer wasn’t interested in portraying the anti-hero authentically, also opting to forgo John’s sexuality once again.
Ryan’s depiction of the character has benefited from a move to TheCW, but a Constantine film remains a pipe dream for now and even then – given Hollywood’s disastrous record when it comes to depicting LGBT* superheroes – it feels unlikely that he’ll be portrayed properly.
For all the strides the MCU has made since 2008, it constantly feels as though Hawkeye has been left behind.
Despite being played by Academy Award-nominee Jeremy Renner, Marvel have never deemed it necessary to portray Hawkeye as he was in the comics – the Avengers’ everyman determined to make a difference. There’s a surprising depth to Clint Barton that the films have barely scratched the surface of, and while there’s no doubt Renner himself could do the role justice with the right material, said material is still forthcoming.
Efforts were made to expand the character in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and though there was some very Clint-esque dialogue during his pep-talk to Wanda, revealing that Barton had a secret family all along hidden in the country was a complete misstep.
It remains to be seen if Avengers 4 will tap into what’s made Barton an Avengers mainstay in the comics, but there’s still a decent chance that Hawkeye could work on the small screen. Ditch the government agent angle for Disney’s streaming service, introduce Kate Bishop and take inspiration from the works of Matt Fraction, David Aja, Kelly Thompson and Leonardo Romero, and you’ll have a series high on heart, humour and pathos.
The X-Men films may have been entertaining – especially so, in the case of X2, First Class and Days of Future Past – but few seem to understand the life blood of the source material: that of mutants being an allegory for marginalised peoples, outsiders, and resistance movements.
It’s important to remember that there have of course been great portrayals in the X-Men film series – Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were pitch perfect as Professor X and Magneto respectively, not to mention the legendary status of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine – but few productions have truly nailed what the comics were about. Logan certainly did, but it heralded the end of an era for Fox’s X-Men and also tacitly illustrated the franchise’s greatest problem – its obsession with that character (and its misrepresentation of Logan’s teammates).
The X-Men are more than Wolverine, and Wolverine is more than the X-Men. While it’s likely Marvel Studios will alert to this fact next year by making Wolverine an Avenger in no time at all, it remains to be seen whether or not they’ll convey the most resonant qualities of Xavier’s mutants, or even their cosmic adventures too. Dark Phoenix, now releasing in the summer of next year, has almost entirely erased the cosmic nature of the story, and it’ll bookend what many will ultimately consider to be two decades of wasted potential.
There is just so much to the X-Men that mainstream audiences are yet to see. Hopefully, with Disney’s acquisition of Fox, big changes will come.