The week of Aug. 4, Box Office Mojo showed five movies based on comics in the top 15. But you can be forgiven if you don’t recognize them as such.
First, let’s acknowledge how stunning it is that on one summer weekend in 2013 America, the top three movies were all based on comic books, with two more rounding out the top 15. That’s probably a record of some kind, and it’s not going to end anytime soon, with “300: Birth of an Empire,” “47 Ronin,” “Kick-Ass 2,” “Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For” and “Thor: The Dark World” still in this year’s pipeline.
But if the five movies on the list right now are any indication, some of those films will resemble their source material only superficially.
Take “The Wolverine,” for example, which came in second Aug. 4. The character is, of course, a well-known Marvel Comics superhero; a mutant with claws, animal senses and a healing factor; who is a member of both the Avengers and the X-Men. And that’s pretty much who we see up on the screen, if you squint just right.
This particular movie isn’t an original screenplay, either. It’s loosely based on Wolvie’s first solo book, a 1982 miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller titled, duh, “Wolverine.” That story followed Logan, who has spent decades learning samurai discipline to master his feral side and speaks fluent Japanese, goes to Tokyo because his girlfriend Mariko Yashido is being forced into an arranged marriage by her father Shingen.
Failing to prevent it, he takes solace in the arms of a Japanese thrill-seeker named Yukio, but in the end he is forced to kill Shingen — which means that Mariko must take over as the head of Clan Yashida, one of the biggest crime syndicates in Japan.
She forgives Logan for killing her father, but her new responsibilities now stand in the way of their relationship. (The Silver Samurai, Mariko’s illegitimate half-brother; Viper, usually depicted as the head of the terrorist organization Hydra; and Mariko’s grandfather do not appear in the story.)
Isn’t that exactly what we saw on the screen? Ha, ha! No, “The Wolverine” took a bunch of elements from the Claremont/Miller story, added a pinch of characters from other Wolverine stories, and threw them into a blender set on “puree.”
Which resulted in a movie that wasn’t bad, but as a story lacked the emotional punch of the original comic book. Yes, you read that right: The comic book had an emotionally engaging story, as Logan wrestled with a problem of his heart that couldn’t be clawed. Which is why, you know, they wanted to adapt it.
So why didn’t they? Beats me. But that sort of bastardization isn’t uncommon in comics-to-film adaptations.
Even the “The Smurfs 2,” which came in third Aug. 4, wasn’t immune.
No matter what the plot of the movie is — and it’s probably adapted from one of the graphic novels — it’s a kids’ movie. In the original comics, which have been published in Europe for more than 50 years, the Smurfs may be for kids, but they are far more sophisticated than the dumbed-down American version. But don’t worry: “The Smurfs 3” is already in production.
Meanwhile, “2 Guns” — the No. 1 movie on Aug. 4 — hardly suffered at all in transition from the 2007 Boom! Studios miniseries. The complicated caper plot, involving two undercover law-enforcement officers who accidentally rob the CIA and are betrayed by almost everyone around them, is lifted almost intact from the graphic novel. Which was a wise decision, because writer Steven Grant’s original action comedy is a rip-snorting page-turner.
OK, there are some differences. Like in the graphic novel, both lead characters are white. But I’ll take Denzel Washington any day! As for the other character, I’m sure Marky Mark Wahlberg has his fans.
On the other end of the scale is “Red 2,” which came in eighth on Aug. 4. That movie, starring a dazzling collection of over-50 stars as Retired, Extremely Dangerous spies (get it?) led by Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), is another action comedy, as was its predecessor, “Red.”
Which is nothing at all like the original 2003 story by writer Warren Ellis and artist Cully Hamner. Yes, “Red” the comic book starred Frank Moses, but he’s alone. And “Red” isn’t an acronym, it’s a status: “Green” means inactive, “Red” means active. And when retired agent Moses goes red, lots of people die. And none of it is remotely funny.
Finally, we get to “R.I.P.D.,” which came in 13th on Aug. 4. That movie, starring Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges, is sinking quickly because critics and audiences don’t seem to think it’s very good. That doesn’t surprise comics fans, because neither was the 1999 Dark Horse story on which it’s based.
“R.I.P.D.” essentially takes the premise of “Men in Black” and puts it in the afterlife. We have a veteran, soon-to-retire cop in a hidden agency showing the ropes to his newbie partner, as they police things the public doesn’t know about — in this case, demons from Hell, as opposed to M.I.B.’s aliens.
Frankly, the demons thing doesn’t work very well, because it sets up a complicated afterlife whose rules we don’t know.
And the “cops,” too, have poorly explained abilities (in the movie they even appear as other people, which isn’t an element in the comics). But worse is that neither has a personality: They are the cliched Gruff Veteran and Impetuous Kid. Neither has an internal life or much of a backstory — they are simply one-dimensional, stock characters.
Which seems to have translated to the movie pretty well. Unfortunately!
Contact Captain Comics at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more comics news, reviews and commentary, go to his website, comicsroundtable.com.