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Comic Book Heroes and Zeroes

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Mark Kermode | 11:11 UK time, Friday, 3 September 2010

I believe I have identified the missing ingredient that makes the difference between a good comic book movie (Kick-Ass) and a bad one (Jonah Hex).

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  • Comment number 1.

    I think you're right but I think it extends beyond comic book films. I know the videogame writer Tim Schafer said something along the lines of 'if you're going to write something, you may as well make it funny', and I think this is the kind of thing he was talking about. Also you, yourself, said in regards to V for Vendetta that a film like that will be way more effective at making a political statement than some long and preachy documentary. I think the key reason is that wit is both a sign that the filmmakers are both intelligent and self-aware, and those are two pretty important traits for a good artist to have.

  • Comment number 2.

    Interesting you say this while Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is in cinemas. Now there is a witty film.

    I would also like to mention Wanted. A fairly rubbishy film but the few moments where it succeeds are the wittier scenes.

  • Comment number 3.

    I actually really enjoyed Watchmen, the source material is maybe one of the greatest graphic novels ever, and the film version of it, I feel was quite a good adaption. Obviously forgetting the changes to the end plot, but I thought that it was nice to see an Alan Moore title being brought to the screen and done very well. V for Vendetta I liked but thought that it missed the point of the graphic novel. There was most certainly some wit within the Watchmen, for example when Rorschach goes to prison, this has some great parts.

    The Adam West Batman, does definitely have some great wit, and I still enjoy it to this day. I agree Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are both fantastic, and do have very dark humor in, which I love.

    Kick Ass was great, and extremely enjoyable.

    However I am afraid to say that my favorite comic movie for wit within the context of the storyline was Spiderman 2. I am sure many people will disagree with me, but the character of Peter Parker is at times on parallel with the main protagonist in Kick Ass. A bit of a loser, but with their powers, improve their own social situations in a comical at times way.

  • Comment number 4.

    For my money the greatest comic-book movie fully proves the good doctor's point, as 2001's GHOST WORLD is superbly written, salty and witty with great performances all round. I'd already seen it twice before learning that it had been based on a comic book.

  • Comment number 5.

    Have you seen Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World yet? The best comic book movie ever in my opinion - literally like a moving comic. And very witty!

  • Comment number 6.

    I partly agree, I mean I think there is wit in the Dark Knight, albeit very dark. The disappearing pencil trick is just funny. It's interesting though while I think wit helps, I think there has to be a balance. Scott Pilgrim for me was over filled with witty sight gags and jokes that it all became too much and I got really tired of it. With Kick-Ass, which I think is a similar film to Pilgrim many ways, they find a more of balance between wit and darkness. So wit is a main component but it does need to have some mediation.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm afraid I have to point out the flaw in your argument. David Cronenberg's A History Of Violence is stunning comic book adaptation but I'd hardly describe the film as being witty

  • Comment number 8.

    Totally agree with DarthPunk about A History of Violence (although I find Cronenberg's work always has a sly sense of humour below the surface- or maybe I'm just a sociopath?). Also consider films like Road to Perdition, which was inspired by the Japanese Lone wolf and Cub manga. There's a long tradition of adult comics in Japan, so films like OldBoy which are Manga based have little levity to them. I think Mark's argument may be true for the superhero type material, but for the wider comic book world it doesn't fully hold up.

  • Comment number 9.

    I would have to agree with Mr. Will Chatwick on his view Scott Pilgrim. Being an avid fan of the comic books for a good few years I was throughly looking forward to seeing it since knowing Edgar Wright would be at the helm.

    Granted there is wit throughout the film, I could not help but think it was wit for the sheer sake of wit. This was mainly due to, I felt, the sudden hollowness of the characters after the first 40 or so minutes. If you look at the books, the witty remarks and funnies that all the characters make add depth and makes them seem relateable and not just like video game characters, which the film did well in showing.

    However, for an adaptation of volume one of the comic books, Wright certainly did himself proud.

    A great comic book adaptation would have to be American Splendor. Knowing the Pekar (RIP) was narrating and giving his views in person throughout the film did not feel like an adaptation but more of a reflection piece with Pekar's wonderful gloominess shining throughout.

  • Comment number 10.

    So you're basically saying that clever films are better than stupid ones.Ok...I've got to agree, but honestly, I don't feel like I've learned much.

    Or did you mean that they have to be specifically witty with regard to their comic book origins, that they have to be self-aware? I'm not sure that Nolan, or Raimi,or Singer made films like that at all. All of them made films that were committed to the reality of the characters,that did not wink at the audience...surely they were the most successful?

  • Comment number 11.

    Wit being the key to a great comic book film is something I had never considered. Wit makes most films more enjoyable not just comic book films. I think likeable characters is the difference between a good and bad comic book film.

  • Comment number 12.

    Superman 1 and 2 are pretty good, and full of humour and wit so I guess Mark's theory kinda works.

    Though I still feel The Dark Knight is superior to Batman Begins

  • Comment number 13.

    Wit is definitely an important factor, but for me, it's not nearly as important as realism.

    Okay, okay, I know Batman Begins and The Dark Knight aren't exactly Ken Loach movies, but they still have enough realism in the way they are written, directed, and performed that makes me invested in the drama. Bad comic book movies like Watchmen and Unwanted are so in love with the style of the comics they're based on that they throw everything onto the screen in order to appease the fanboys, but comic books are stylized by nature that to work as films, that style needs to be pulled back a bit.

    Very few comic book movies have the guts to do this. Most of them come across like the fantasies of adolescent nitwits. And I have to say, at least one half of Kick-Ass was like that, whereas the other half actually was witty and did pull back on the conventions a tad.

  • Comment number 14.

    I agree with Mark about Batman Begins. The Dark Knight is great but some aspects of it are so stupid, like finding the fingerprint on the bullet and the sonar machine at the end, and all that stuff would be okay if it didn't take itself so so so seriously. Batman Begins doesn't take itself nearly as seriously, Gotham City looks like Gotham City and not like Chicago, and it's got the Scarecrow in it.

  • Comment number 15.

    Do we perhaps need to make a distincion between 'comic books' and 'graphic novels'? Is there a difference? I'm no expert, but I'd consider Batman to be the former, while A History of Violence seems to be the latter. I guess there's a whole grey area with Watchmen, but I think it's really only 'Comic Books' that Mark's talking about with regard to wit.

    As for the wit vs witless argument, it's a good point, but it's worth pointing out that when you AIM for brio and fun, you get turgid and stupid. See Schumacher's Batman and Robin for an example; as Woody Allen (I think) said, not EVEN the worst film ever made, because that would have been an achievement. They tried way to hard to be kitsch and self referential, and it came off as plain ridiculous. I think a witty film happens in spite of itself, often when the key aim is dreadfully serious. Take Ghost World, as someone above has already mentioned. It's dark and unsettling, but ultimately delightful, and the performance are so deadpan, I don't think it could ever be accused of trying too hard to be funny. It just is.

  • Comment number 16.

    Dr. K.

    At first I have to admit I didn't agree with you. I racked my brains through my memory of the best comic book films and I was thinking about the original Batman films directed by Tim Burton and how dark they were. But then I realised what made then so great wasn't just the darkness of those films but also the wit that went along with them. What worked in those films was a perfect balance between wit, darkness and real emotion.

    This is why I think the first two spider-man films worked as well, precisely because they had this balance. While it was lighter in tone than the batman films they featured elements of darkness, particularly in the first film when Peter Parker exacts his revenge et.c and also featured real emotion and comic wit that gave those films a clear edge.

    Ang Lee's Hulk didn't work again because it was meandering and slow burning and cerebral. While I actually preferred this version to the Edward Norton film and it was an interesting take on the character, the film probably wasn't as successful because it lacked the wit as you describe.

    Therefore in thinking about it a comic book movie has to have that element of wittiness not only because it is a comic book movie but because the majority of these films are blockbusters and big budget projects for the studios therefore they have to have that wit for entertainment purposes and provide great summer entertainment for the masses and a friday night out at the cinema.

    Thank You.

  • Comment number 17.

    I fell asleep watching the last Batman film. Call me an old fart but I find most contemporary comic book films so overblown and tedious that my body simply shuts down to spare me the pain. I guess I just prefer the 'dumb' comic adaptation over the 'serious' comic adatation. If this means I'm dumb then so be it.

    My favourites comic book adaptations would include Wes Craven's Swamp Thing, George Romero's Creepshow (based on EC horror comics as opposed to an actual comic) and, especially, Mario Bava's Danger: Diabolik. These films are all comic, witty and, more importantly, FUN!

  • Comment number 18.

    I'm glad Dr K enjoyed Kick-Ass and I was especially interested to hear that the wit of the film is what made it rise above Jonah Hex and other comic-book movies.
    I can't comment on Kick-Ass because I've yet to see the film, but why I've been put off from seeing it is because of one reason;

    It features a 12 year old girl saying the c-word.

    Now, before you start thinking that I'm some Mary Whitehouse-esque moral crusader I shall explain;

    As a movie fan I like to read up on films before they're released to find out whether or not they might be 'my cup of tea' or not. The one thing I noticed in the press coverage of Kick-Ass was that EVERY article I read about the film gleefully mentioned this particular moment as if it was a reason to see the film.

    Now, call me cynical but I can't help but think that this piece of information was used by the marketing department of the film as a kind of gimmick to give the film some kind of notoriety before it's release which, to me, is an example of witlessness. Also, alot of articles mentioned that this and much more of the films content will stir some controversy in the mainstream media, as if the film's makers were trying to deliberately give the film 'an edge' to appeal to audiences.

    I've been around long enough to know that having children swearing is an old gag and clearly the makers of Kick-Ass sat around and thought 'What hasn't been done yet?'. It seems that movies are running out of taboo's and having a young girl say the c-word was Kick-Ass' attempt to do this before anyne else thought of it.

    So, whereas a lot of moviegoers will have sought out Kick-Ass because of this pre-emptive controversy courting, it had the complete opposite effect on me.

    I will get around to seeing it eventually as the film garnered a lot of favourable reviews and friends who have seen it tell me it's very good. I'll probably wait until I see it on DVD for a fiver though.

  • Comment number 19.

    I think Watchmen might of lack a little due to them trying to be too faithful to the comic book while other's like to add the odd nod to the fans with in jokes. (Wolverine and his blue and yellow spandex comment in X-men for example) But who can beat The Mystery Men for fondly taking the mick out of superheroes. Maybe comparing the Ang Lee's Hulk to the rebooted The Incredible Hulk would be the perfect example to test out wit vs angst in comic book films?

  • Comment number 20.

    I cannot say this enough times: READ THE WATCHMEN GRAPHIC NOVEL. Snyder is a bit too in love with is own "cool" aesthetic, but in the comic, Alan Moore's cutting political and social commentary and deconstruction of the superhero form are simply, to mind, brilliant. WATCHMEN asks to be taken seriously. I think that material even DESERVES to be taken seriously. It's ambitious, complex, literate, an intelligent. The movie version does sometimes come across as ponderous, in part because what in the comic managed to have gravity and weight has a tenancy to come across as silly men in masks. Snyder follows the comic almost shot-for-shot, but I questions weather he knows what it means. His grittiness is just aesthetic. It's just something he dresses the film up in. But I don't think that he ever grasps WHY the STORY and CHARACTERS are gritty as well. I'll take WATCHMEN over KICK-ASS largely because even when it misfires, it's so ambitious and complex and actually attempt to do something other than just entertain. KICK-ASS is lots of fun, but even though it flirts with some interesting ideas, it never really follows through with them, instead BECOMING one of the very action films it attempts to satirize. It's largely juvenile and its near endless cynicism suggests a film that never takes its ideas or concepts seriously, wanted them only to play with and to create action sequences and shock value. WATCHMEN may become ponderous, but it's a film with A LOT on its mind (or the graphic novel to which Snyder attempts to slavishly adhere to is, anyway), and at least it aspires to something. READ THE GRAPHIC NOVEL. Alan Moore fully deserves every ounce of praise for it. Snyder is very much like Christ Columbus in the first two HARRY POTTER films: he's preserving nearly every line and shot, but I question if he really understands everything and ultimately, it give him absolutely no vision of his own. It deeply pains me to hear you come down so hard on WATCHMEN, when if nothing else, I give Snyder so much credit for having the guts to brings so of Moore's darker material to the screen in a mainstream movie. In the end, I still think whatever people may say, the expect comic book movies to be FUN, and the reason for WATCHMEN'S lukewarm reception is that it's no fun. But it's not supposed to be fun. Moore is getting at how frightening a world with superheroes, in his vision anyway, really would be in real life. Part of this comes from the genuinely gritty violence in the graphic novel being translated to Snyder's "cool action sequence" sensibility (and make no mistake, I'm by no means a fan of his awful 300) Perhaps, as an American I have a bit of a different sensibility of "wit" than do the English :P, but while WATCHMEN is sometimes pretentious (mostly Snyder's fault, in my mind), at least it's got the pretense to be ABOUT something real: real issues and real people. KICK-ASS doesn't really get at any fundamental truth about anything. That's fine, it is what it is, and as you say, sometimes "Good honest trash" is better than "for your consideration," (though I wouldn't know lately since I haven't been able to get my podcast for over month), but it pains me to see a film with the ambitions of WATCHMEN (and make no mistake, without the WATCHMEN graphic novel, there would be no THE DARK KNIGHT) scoffed off as "pretentious," though I do agree that the film version does strongly lack much wit. Incidentally, another Alan Moore comic, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, is one of the wittiest pieces of writing you'll find in any medium, and it pained me to see all of the stripped away in the terrible film version. Please, Dr. K., read the graphic novel! And read the V FOR VENDETTA graphic novel to see how the film version of that was sometimes off the mark! PLEASE my good man!

  • Comment number 21.

    Excellent blog entry Dr K a very interesting and pertinent point.

    I would have to mention Perspolis as one of my favourite graphic novel adaptations. Obviously it has an incredibly serious subject matter but is handled with incredible wit and intelligence thus enabling the writer to express the gravity of the subject matter without it being too "in your face".
    I know it isn't live action, but that doesn't make the viewer care any less for the characters. A wonderful example of how to translate a graphic novel to screen.
    The Hellboy movies also deserve a mention, incredibly funny and yet full of peril, just perfect. Dr K is right about the need for wit. I would also add that it is particularly required by the more superhero led stories simply because their subject matter is so beyond reality.

    If your talking more action led comic adaptations then yes, the Nolan Batman movies are up there with the best along with the first two X Men movies. They could so easily have become completely po-faced and earnest but the added wit (mentioned by Dr K) just keeps them from the slippery slope! I agree that these types of movies do need to have a knowing intelligence providing a witty edge which can be seen in a movie like "Kick Ass".
    Earlier adaptations took the wit too far, some more recent ones like maybe Jonah Hex are going down the earnest route. Striking a balance between both would perhaps be the best answer.
    Oh and although I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim a lot I did get a little bit niggled by the constant witty dialogue so I'm afraid I agree with @Will Chadwick on that score. It can be overdone to the detriment of the characters and ones sympathy for them.

  • Comment number 22.

    I think any combination of good storytelling, emotional connection, humour and wit (intellectuel satisfaction) would succeed in whatever medium. The difference between comic books and movies aren't as great as they once were. I think, for the most part, comic books opened up a world where the fantastic could become normal. Already met with scoffing in comic books it wouldn't have translated well on film where most of its fantastic elements would seem like gimmicks rather than an integral part of the storytelling.

    I must also add though that the graphic novel version of Watchmen does not lack in wit and is probably the best graphic novel I've ever read. I agree that the Zack Snyder's adaptation more resembles a pretentious MTV-clip than a stand-alone film, but I do think he made a very decent attempt.

  • Comment number 23.

    I don't think it's necessarily wit but a sense of fun. Comic book films are the definition of big Hollywood summer entertainment.
    The main problem in the adaptation of Watchmen is that is wasn't fun (unless your a fan of the source material). The Dark Knight has some dark humour. Kick Ass worked where Watchmen failed in it's commentary of comic book movies in that it understood this. (That and every comic book becomes 'inspired' by its realism to the point of cliché.)

  • Comment number 24.

    i think you've hit the nail on the head here as to why batman begins was better than the dark knight.

    not sure rule applies fully, but do tend to agree that some form of wit is an essential ingredient.

  • Comment number 25.

    More important than wit is the tone of an adaptation. Bad adaptation's always stray too far way from a faithful depiction of the source material's atmosphere. For example Ghost Rider and Dare Devil only work with basic plot references and characters and as a result are just plain tedious. Dark Knight and Spider-man, however, really hit the nail on the head in this regard. The wit of the films shines through accurate portrayals of a graphic novel's tone: after all, comics are perfectly capable of displaying humor and self awareness.

    I think it was Alan Moore- famous dis-owner of the movie spawn his works have inspired- who once stressed the importance of the tableau in comics. As soon as a movie adaptation takes place many directors make the mistake of thinking that a movie is an 'upgrade' of what a comic can achieve. Thus we have the Snyder showcase that obsesses over complex, in-detail, slow-motion movement which is supposed to be an improvement to the adapted works. The most successful adaptations work with powerful images with less insistence on movement, which is where the true advantage lies in these adaptations. A huge burning pile of mob cash in a dark warehouse, an upside-down spidey-kiss, a kid standing in front of a mirror trying to look bad-ass in his mail ordered costume: these are the images that make these films.

  • Comment number 26.

    I completely agree with some of the above mentioned films such as A History of Violence and Oldboy are really good pieces of work (surprised no one has mentioned Persepolis so far as well). I did enjoy Batman Begins and thought that Nolan did something really interesting with the traditional comic book setting. HOWEVER I have to say I am sick of constant comic book adaptations, it's something I have no interest in. There is something so mind numbingly boring about film versions of entertainment for 15 yr olds and people who have to read books with pictures instead of prose and verse.

    I hate to sound so snobby here but it has to stop! It's like with all the computer game adaptations, but at least with those you don't get high brow critics saying how wonderful they are, or how they have depth!

    Take Kick-ass for example, it's not controversial or offensive, nor is it clever or witty, just plain boring, stupid and of course just build ups to action set pieces... YAWN!

    I will add, the only exception to the popcorn comic book films to all this are the Hellboy films, for that DR K I will have to stop moaning and PARTLY agree with you, as they are 2 damn funny and witty films. :)

  • Comment number 27.

    I can't believe no-one has mentioned Iron Man, a stunning example of a comic book movie. Witty, clever writing that had everyone laughing as if it was a full blown comedy in parts, without ever sacrificing the impact of the story of one man's quest for redemption in the face of the horrors he has created.

    One was better than Two simply because it had more of Tony, Pepper and Obadiah doing the verbal sparring thing, snapping hilarious one-liners back and forth, with genuine tension and moments of suspense. Two had some wonderful moments with Tony and Pepper or Tony and Ivan, but the first movie just worked better. Even as a massive, massive Marvel fan, and super-heroes and comics in general, the weakest parts of both Iron Man movies were when anyone put on the armours suits.

    I would happily pay to see Iron Man 3 in the cinema if they renamed it "Tony Stark" and had two hours of the character stuff and fantastically well written dialogue.

    I think the best super-hero movies are the ones that focus on the alter-ego, not the costumed crusader. Tony Stark is more interesting than Iron Man. Batman has nothing on Bruce Waynes charisma. I really enjoyed the Daredevil movie, but was far more interested in Matt Murdock than Daredevil (that's why I love the Directors cut with the whole added Daredevil-light story). And Bruce Banner is a tragic hero that gets shadowed by a CG monstrosity.

    Hollywood needs to learn that, while there may be a small portion of the viewing public that just wants flashy fight scenes, the majority of us appreciate a good story with well defined characters and intelligent, witty dialogue.

  • Comment number 28.

    RE: Persepolis and Hellboy see entry #21 :D

  • Comment number 29.

    No, you are not right.

    The key is making a film that is actually good.

  • Comment number 30.

    Kick Ass literally Kicked Ass - the humour and subtle references to other super hero films was brilliant

  • Comment number 31.

    Batman Begins does NOT have the edge over The Dark Knight, Doc.

    Batman Begins' villains are forgettable and its fight-choreography is choppy. Oh, and there's no Bat-Pod (an awesome piece of kit!)...

  • Comment number 32.

    This is a topical argument and I'm tempted to agree, but I wonder if you'll change your tune once we've all been subjected to the inevitable slew of films Kick Ass will undoubtedly inspire (the insipid Scott Pilgrim's... seems to be the first).

    I actually really enjoyed both A Dark Knight and Watchmen for their dark visual asthetic, their humourless scripts seemed quite apt for their tone and content. Witless? For sure but no less enjoyable for it. I would however love to see a mean n' gritty comic book adaptation with a little more substance...

  • Comment number 33.

    I'd just like to add support to the calls for a Kermode review of Scott Pilgrim.

    For my money it was very funny, visually stunning, well acted and viscerally thrilling. Very disappointed such a high quality and innovative film has been treated unfairly by parts of the press and underperformed in the US. What, I wonder, does the good Doctor think?

  • Comment number 34.

    Hmmm you raise an interesting argument Dr K.

    I believe wit is an important factor in every medium. It helps flesh out otherwise mundane characters and adds dynamism to a story. However I do not think it is any more important to a successful comicbook film than, well, any other kind of film. In my opinion, an adaptation of any kind lives and dies on the link between the director and the original source material. As you always say, film is a directors medium and a successful adaptation requires a director who knows how to spin a compelling yarn through film, but who also understands why and how that story worked in it's original comicbook form. Sure Watchmen was moody and self-important, but so was the Graphic Novel. The difference was that Alan Moore had the talent required to form compelling 3 dimensional characters, whereas Zack Snyder had skimpy costumes and a slo-mo fetish. The movie failed because he was so busy cramming in pointless explosions that he forgot that the original worked so well because of the incredibly well realised characters. Chris Nolan didn't make a direct adaptation of any single batman story, but instead understood and made excellent use of the many themes and ideals that made the comic a success in the first place. The same can be said of both Kick Ass and Scott Pilgrim. Both stray from the original source at around the halfway mark, but both succeed because they retain the spirit and charm of the comics all the way through.

    We could also consider Ang Lee's dreadful use of split screen in Hulk compared to Sam Raimis excellent, comic inspired, cinematography in spiderman.

    When taking all of this into consideration, it is my opinion that what really makes a good comicbook adaptation is a director who understands film and comics as different mediums. When A director really understands what works across both mediums,and what doesn't, then they'll also be a director who can really make an adaptation work.

    And a good sense of wit certainly helps.

  • Comment number 35.

    Dr. K certainly has a point in terms of Begins having a slight edge over Dark Knight - certainly in terms of it's focus and exploration of Batman/Bruce Wayne

    TDK did feel slightly uneven in terms of it's struggle to hold Harvey Dent up as well as the Joker and the slight underdevelopment of Batman's continuing story.

    The film however does have plenty of wit and I feel that Dr. K's mediation isn't just restricted to Comic Book movies.

    From Casablanca to Lawrence of Arabia to Blue Velvet - all the great movies have a wit that derives from a masterful storyteller being in control of his craft and being able to hit those high notes.

    All the great films need to be produced with wit it is NOT just Comic Book movies.

  • Comment number 36.

    I disagree. Saying all comic adaptations need wit is like saying all Jane Austen adaptations need Mr. Darcy.

    The blog is already littered with comic book adaptations that are great films, but without wit.

    I would instead posit the following: a good comic book adaptation needs to be good. Which is to say, a workable transition (there's a reason garfield doesn't work as a movie, despite Bill Murray) featuring a layered character that can be related to, thanks to a well written script handled by a capable creative team. In other words, just like any other good movie.

  • Comment number 37.

    I have to agree with you as I don't think I would have enjoyed the Iron Man films without the witty banter between Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, JEFF BRIDGES and Mickey Rourke. Same with Nicolas Cage in Kick Ass and, the wittiest performance in any comic book film, Jack Nicholson playing himself in Tim Burton's Batman

  • Comment number 38.

    I'm not quite on topic, but I Jo Mayers implied that Schumacher's Batman and Robin is turgid and stupid, and I just wanted to jump in to defend it.

    Batman and Robin is one of my favourite films from my childhood. I will absolutely side with anyone criticizing the obsessively toyetic nature of the film, but I stand by it nonetheless. It's a brilliant reminder of the Adam West Batman from the 1960s, and is a balls-out, action-packed comic-cum-neo-soaked-EPIC set in a world so sparkly and glowing it practically tastes of popping candy, the script is SO camp and overcooked it's brilliant, and pretty much every actor hits the nail on the head. Arnold Schwarzenegger has some of the most over-thought-out puntastic one-liners ever performed, Michael Gough is tragic and sardonic as Alfred, not to mention a perfect guidance-figure for any mindless 7-year-old like myself, the Bat-trio keep it just the right side of bland (and Clooney is a handsome chap) and Uma Thurman has probably never been better than slinking around in a ridiculous Dietrich pastiche, and kissing men to death (I still remember being flabbergasted at the reveal of Robin's lips being covered in film to survive her kiss).

    The plot would be overblown if the rest of the film didn't aesthetically live up to it. Opening action scene? ICE-SKATING WITH A MASSIVE DIAMOND FOR A PUCK. Cue whips, Dutch angels and an army of gooning faceless villains all put to bed with Clooney's awesome "goodnight" punch to the face. Follow this with SURFING FROM A ROCKET, and the first 20 minutes are barely over. B&R tells you from minute 1 what it's all about, and it's fun, fun, fun.

    Schumacher opens every scene with incredible establishing shots of his eye-popping Gotham. Huge, swooping camera moves the likes of which not even Lord of the Rings could quite rival - its world just isn't as downright awesome.

    It has its fair share of effective scares too, not least of which is the creation of Bane. Seeing the post-Rocky Horror flower-cult affair in which Dr Woodrue stuffs a weedy, pale, bound and gagged full of miscellaneous 'evil juice' to create a beefy bodybuilder badboy really crawled under my skin as a kid, and it pretty much works to this day.

    As for the costumes, I'm all for them. I don't think I'd be the same person without all those nips 'n' bums. Really aided my psychosexual development. Predestined that I'd be an avid rewinder of the sauna scenes in Eastern Promises. This is revealing a lot about my character...Anyway.

    I also remember crying when SPOILER Freeze was redeemed enough to give Batman the fluids needed to save Alfred from his 'old man movie disease'. One sweet moment.

    And the film was out in cinemas at the same time as Face/Off. For those old enough to see both, that surely is one of the most unashamedly balls-against-the-wall action double-bills you could ask for. Especially in the '90s.

    And for all the naysayers, without it we wouldn't have Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, so if you want the sunshine...

    That's probably the most shambolic attempt at defending any film ever.

  • Comment number 39.

    Scott Pilgrim is tosh. It's a film trying to be a comic book trying to be a video game. Its structure makes it boring and depthless. Also its nods toward videogame culture is mildly interesting due to novelty, but that's it.

    Saying a comic book film needs wit to be good is true, but I think it's true for any other film too, dull films are just dull.

  • Comment number 40.

    I agree with you on wit, BUT.....

    I must be the only person in the world who hated Batman Begins with a passion. So much so I nearly didn't see the Dark Knight (Which I love). Batman begins who so devoid of wit its untue!!
    When I talk about Batman begins I always say the same thing. It was far far too serious. But (In my opinion) Batman begins is a pompous, drawn out borefest.
    People say it tried to get away from the silliness of Batman and Robin, but... when you break down the story of Batman - Its about a man who dresses as a giant bat and beats bad guys up. Now if you cant see the silliness in that you miss something.

    Batman Begins lacked that playfulness. The joker is the wit of the dark knight - but stilL not as "witty" as Jack Nicholson's Joker which is why... I prefered that movie.

  • Comment number 41.

    You make a good argument, Dr K. As much as I love The Dark Knight, it was far too po-faced. Chaos vs order is all well and good, but Batman was never about some high reaching literary ethos. When Liam Neeson dryly points out that Christian Bale has taken his advice on theatricality a bit literally, Batman Begins pokes fun at itself and that silliness, in contrast with the grimy chic of the film gives it some heart. Wit over grit any day of the week.

  • Comment number 42.

    conversely @Stephen Glass, I would argue Batman and Robin is irredeemable tosh. BECAUSE IT IS.

  • Comment number 43.

    I think you are right in a way but wrong. Make makes a good comic book film is the same thing that makes a good comic book. That is telling a good story. Yes you can embrace the lavishly ludacrious side of comic books and numerous writers love this side of comics. However knowing the character and doing something interesting with it. If what you said is true the Schumaker films would be the best Batman films as they had wit and comic look. However they are pantomimie nonsense because they dont tell a sotry. SUperman 2 is a great film it deals with the best bits, ytyou have a great story with great performances with people taking it seriously.

  • Comment number 44.

    The Kermode argument calling for wit is flawed. A History of Violence has no wit at all but is one of the finest comic book adaptations.

    There are quite a few comic adaptations which even if they have wit are unwatchable. Did anyone see Frank Miller's 'The Spirit', one of the worst films I have ever seen.

    I'd say there is no magic formula for what makes a good comic adaptation other than a good script and good director. Even good directors eg Ang Lee can make a film that is terrible eg Hulk.

    Interesting to see the Nolan backlash taking place. Inception seemed to the film which either turned many of it's audience against him or reaffirmed the audience's belief he is a 'auteur'. My opinion is that Nolan's abilities as a director are great as seen in the Batman films is great but tries too many things he cannot achieve resulting in a bit of a over ambitious sprawling mess at times. Something I don't think is as bad a thing. Too many ideas are better than none.

  • Comment number 45.

    i think that comics and graphic novels are now so varied that to come up with a general rule is largely fruitless. Many films based on traditional fiction are not viewed as 'novel films' or engaged with as such unless the literary work is massively famous, and only what is on the screen is the basis of our judgement. It is very annoying when someone views a film based on a novel and only engages it in terms of what was different from the original text. To, to heavily focus on the original material in the case of these films is a similar problem. Therefore in the near future it should be accepted that comics are one form, films another and that they should be enagaged with on their own merits and as individual pieces, and therefore the films are just that and not tied to any convention as a 'comic book movie.'

  • Comment number 46.

    For me, the main thing about making a good comic book film is understanding why it was written originally, and why does it essentially need a screen adaptation?

    For example, Edgar Wright had a perfect reason to make 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World' as it changed film grammar and allowed him to build an entirely new cinematic world by blurring the reality of the film with video game and arcade sequences.

    'Watchmen' is one of the finest graphic novels ever made but it stands alone well also as a piece of fiction. The problem with the film was Zack Synder. When I first watched it, I swear I could hear him giggling and rubbing his hands together at the ridiculous gore and violence in the movie. Sure the novel is morbid and graphic, but it's alluded to in a sensible and almost political way. Synder simply wanted to make a gore-fest because he could, and in the end, the film was trash.

    In regards to wit, I must agree that 'Kick-Ass' is a fine film; it's hilarious, beautifully made and is a really faithful version of the novel, much like 'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World'.
    For me, 'Scott Pilgrim' is one of this year's best and Wright did everything he could to portray Bryan O'Malley's video-game ridden world.

    'Tamara Drew' is released soon which is based on a newspaper comic strip, but it hardly looks like Stephen Frears has gone 'Wolverine' on it and made it into a trashy action movie, it was made because of the appeal and intellect of the source material.

    I agree also with 'Persepolis', it's witty, charming and disturbing.

    Comic book movies will always divide audiences, but the main thing Hollywood need to remember is why are we making this?

    Oh, and also, I don't know if anyone agrees with me but DC Comics films are so much better than Marvel Comics screen adaptations.

  • Comment number 47.

    @ 31 Matth Stil

    Have to agree with you with The Dark Knight over Batman Begins. TDK is arguably the best superhero movie ever made (only, perhaps, rivaled with Tim Burton's Batman) but Batman Begins I wouldn't even class as a half decent movie.

    *spoilers ahead*

    As you pointed out, the villains are completely forgettable. This is mainly because it's yet another bloody origins story, so therefore the first act and first half of the second act is lumbered with setting up and training our protagonist. God I'm so sick of origin stories for superhero movies. It's half the film trudging through needless training montages and by the end, low and behold, he's turned out to be Batman. No surprise there (although it's not nearly as bad as Iron Man, in which the Trailer paraphrased the entire first 50 minutes of the film). And then, by the time you get to the meat of the film and the plot kicks in, it's just about time to wrap things up again. Therefore, villains are rushed in and a crummy climax is set up. So you get Liam Neeson turning out to be Ra's Al Ghul, a plot twist you can only see coming about 400 miles away.

    Anyway, that's my rant over with Batman Begins (I'm stopping myself before I even get on to that awful monorail sequence and Gary Oldman using the Batmobile to destroy the railway as well as the last shreds of credibility the film may have previously had).

    It's not wit that makes a good comic book film. It's - as with every film ever made - all down to the plot. TDK had a brilliant one and Batman Begins had an awful one.

  • Comment number 48.

    Once again Dr K,you are spot on with your analysis.I think its interesting to look at the first two Superman films of the late 70's and early 80's and compare them to the Batmans that Chris Nolan is making now. Are Nolans better comic book films that Donner's Superman and Richard Lesters sequel? I'd say no. Why? Superman has more wit while still being a very ambitious film. Reeve plays the Kent role for laughs and there are some real moments of charm between Margot Kidders Lois Lane and Reeves Superman/Kent. For me,Superman is the ultimate comic book adaptation because it balances the wit and comedy with a more earnest tone.

  • Comment number 49.

    #47 - I do like Gary Oldman's Lt. Gordon (as you know, he's not Commissioner 'til TDK) though; it's proof-positive that he's as adept in straight-arrow roles as he is in the peculiar ones (his Dracula is amazing).

  • Comment number 50.

    @S Ford

    You are BANG ON about Nolan - I expect him to pull off every film but despite the mighty talent he is showing that he lacks certain disciplines that the great directors have and for me he kind of falls short every time.

    I want to love his movies but before his final solo he quite literally trips on stage and misses the high note.

  • Comment number 51.

    Wit is important but so too is confidence, in both the source material and the directors treatment.
    Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and Spiderman all worked (im my opinion) becuase they had confidence in the original material but also a director who was confident enough to alter them in just the right way to draw in the wider public.
    Contrast that with Judge Dredd which didn't have any confidence in the source material, dumped it all and reduced it to paint by numbers action sludge that was painful to watch.

  • Comment number 52.

    I think this a spot on observation actually! You've finally captured something I've always wanted to say to people! I should explain, I am a "nerd" and thus ADORE comic books and comic book related movies and have often struggled to find the correct word to explain to non-"nerd" friends why certain comic book movies don't work, and it's because (some) Hollywood execs assume that the audience that's drawn to superheroic adventures are generally just interested in the action/fantasy and that because comic books are a visual medium that it's just about visually exciting ideas, which is not true. Superhero comics are a form of sci-fi, a genre which, as all vaguely knowledgeable people know, is born almost entirely out of social commentary, and lends itself with great ease to satirical themes. Comic Book adaptations should be treated like Sci-Fi movies i.e. the good ones are the ones that actually say something about society or human experience (1984, Blade Runner, District 9, the original Star Wars trilogy) whereas the bad ones are the ones that are purely in it for the explosions and half-arsed fantastical themes (Transformers, The later two Matrix movies).

    Of course, the tide is already turning in favour of the comic book movie, producing brilliant, intelligent, and often incredibly witty films such as Batman Begins/The Dark Knight, Kick-Ass and of course, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (which was excellent in my opinion and I'm excited to go and see it for a 3rd time), so maybe the afore-mentioned execs will come round to the nerdy way of thinking and realise that comic books can actually tell us something, and the movie adaptations should reflect that.

  • Comment number 53.

    I really think we need to address the difference between comic book and graphic novel films, this is only for the context of my point as I don't want to create fan boy arguements.

    I personally find that the best films work because they are self contained stories eg: Persopolis, A History of Violence, Kick-Ass. Watchmen is the exception that proves the rule. The problem is that because the story is vast and multi layered it is difficult to adapt to make it audience friendly. Watchmen was 12 issues long. You can put a comic or graphic novel down but no one wants to watch a film that is 5 hours long. Alan Moore is notorious for the amount of detail he puts in is comics, anyone who has read the appendix in From Hell will be aware of this.

    Films based on a continuing series are often problematic because often the screenwriter have too much history to try and fit into one film to please the fans whilst at the same time establishing the characters for a new audience.

    One of the reasons why the Batman films work is because the franchise is well established and the audience is already aware of the characters. Batman is one of the most famous comic characters. They were able to reference landmark points in the comic history eg: Batman Year One and The Long Halloween but did not feel the need to adapt one specific story only.

    Some comics if they must be adapted should be made into a TV series rather than a film, this will allow them to pace the story and not cram everything into two hours or sequels. The adaptation of The Walking Dead (which any zombie film fan should read) is starting soon and hopefully should demonstrate this. Preacher and 100 Bullets will work better on the small screen as they are narrative driven and don't have to stop for an action sequence at the cost of the plot and so can afford to finish on a cliffhanger and not wrap everything up in the last 10 minutes.

  • Comment number 54.

    Hear, hear Doctor K.

    Though, as many have mentioned the difference between a Graphic Novel and a Comic Book should be taken into consideration before making such a general claim.

  • Comment number 55.

    Personally I think the issue here is not the fact that the source material originates in a comic, rather that these are films about Comic Book Heroes (and this really is a discussion of work that could only have come from a comic - great as they are you would never know Oldboy or A History Of Violence were based on comics if you weren't told)

    We are willing to except a lot more from a comic that we are from a film and as such a film maker has to work harder for a suspension of disbelief. As the first X-Men film pointed out we wouldn't except an on screen Wolverine in yellow Lycra, and the same principle applies when ever a comic hero is portrayed on screen (even in the rare examples of an original IP presenting itself like an adaptation, such as Dark Man) it is important that a film maker acknowledges in some way the inherent oddness of what they are attempting to portray.

  • Comment number 56.

    Were you deliberately trying to provoke the comic book geeks with that, you cheeky little scamp? Hmmm…

    Anyway, I disagree completely. Far and away the most important element when adapting a comic is the same as adapting a novel; you have to be true to the spirit of the thing. Cinema and the printed page are different idiums, some changes are necessary for the story telling, some as a matter of artistic choice. It doesn’t matter that Judge Dredd never takes his helmet off in the comic, if you’ve cast Sly Stallone, that’s what he’s going to look like.

    Sam Raimi made substantial changes to the Spiderman story but got it very right (in the first two before the studio interference, anyway) because he clearly loved and understood the character. The “I’m back, I’m back” to “My back, my back” followed by the car alarm was a perfect Spiderman moment that could not have been executed as well in a comic.

    But Ang Lee’s ponderous and academic approach to The Incredible Hulk was rubbish because it was clearly an intellectual exercise for him and he displayed no passion or interest in his subject. For JUST NOT GETTING IT, see also, Daredevil, Watchmen, Judge Dredd, Return of the Swamp Thing, Superman Returns and of course the magnificently dreadful Catwoman. For getting it right, the Bryan Singer X-Men films, Iron Man, the Richard Donner cut of Superman II, and of course Michael Bay’s Transformers (Only joking!).

    I have high hopes for the Andrew MacDonald produced Judge Dredd and Ryan Reynolds and friend of the show Mark Strong in Green Lantern. I’m pretty sure Captain America will be awful but Thor could go either way.

  • Comment number 57.

    Well I thought Batman Begins was much better than The Dark Knight. I felt The Dark Knight was too long and needed to be trimmed down in certain parts.

    Spoilers below

    I didn't like it when we are trying to watch Harvey and the Joker in the hospital, and we kept getting cut to a scene that felt completely flat and the music score changes to add to it.
    I didn't care if Bruce crashed the car or the cop was gonna shoot the guy who knew Batman's identity. I cared about what was going on between Harvey and the Joker.
    They could have shown the beginning and the end of the scene, but when it kept interrupting the hospital scene, it just ruined it.
    It should have been removed from the draft and I don’t mind some plot points not being explained as the film still works.
    How did the Joker get all those explosives in the hospital in secret?
    Who cares and I’m sure there are lots more in the film.
    The parallel action scenes were well over done in The Dark Knight, it worked with the bank scene and the main Batpod action sequence, but the technique started to get over used

    It was the same thing at the end with the boat, we didn't need to see what was going on in the boat and it would have added to that moment where they didn’t blow each other up and the Joker is proceed wrong by Batman's optimism of people.
    Because we knew the convicts had already thrown their remote away and the bald man wasn't gonna press the button.

    I still think Nolan should have cut out the parts where we see what’s going on in the boat and not interrupting the scene with the Joker and Harvey in the hospital.
    I also felt it was a bit "Cops and robbers" there was no real story to the film, which works with some films like Pulp Fiction, Sin City and David Lynch films but not this one.

    I liked the parts where they took bits from the Long Halloween series Like where they pretend Gordon is dead, but it's Harvey in that comic series.
    I was also surprised when reading on the internet that people say Harvey is dead end of argument, when it's not clear in the film and left a bit ambiguous tbh like the original Blade Runner film, with Harrison Ford possibly being a replicant.
    I have been told that in the script for The Dark Knight that it is typed "DEAD" but in the Batman Begins script it says the Tumbler is blown up, but it doesn’t in the film Batman Begins.
    Also that the filmmakers have said that he's DEAD, but if you play poker and you have a good hand, would you tell the person next to you.

    I felt Batman Begins was a far better film than The Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne was more interesting, his batman voice was better. I felt an emotional attachment to the characters in the film and it never interrupted a scene unless it was really required.
    The main weakness of Batman Begins was Katie Holmes, who can't act at all.

  • Comment number 58.


    I am so excited about the Frank Darabont adaptation of 'The Walking Dead'. He's the guy I'd trust the most to adapt such great source material. Which is a comic/graphic novel I'd highly recommend to anyone in an interest in horror with a human aspect.

    I'd be interested to see Kermode's seal of approval for Darabont's Walking Dead, which even though is not cinema will probably be more cinematic than a lot of other comic productions, eg Tamara Drewe - which like a lot of Frears work has tv movie written all over it.

  • Comment number 59.

    The only thing worse than a book snob is a comic-book snob.

    I'd probably enjoy reading a few comic bo- oh, sorry, graphic novels if it wasn't for all of the dullards banging on about them and forever gawping down their noses at those of us that dare to just enjoy the big-screen adaptation. they're worse than christians!

    and when you ask people if they've seen a film and they immediately reply with "oh the book was much better" i instantly want to go out and buy the book so i can beat them to a bloody pulp with it for being condesending.

    and what the hell was difficult about the plot line of Inception (bestist best film ever) to understand?!

    I feel much better now.

  • Comment number 60.

    Howard the Duck was a comic book based film and I reckon that was one of the more obvious examples of a film which features a lot of wit and ingenuity. It was ahead of its time and probably one of the resons why its considered a massive flop in my opinion, still the most interesting thing George Lucas has been involved with though.

  • Comment number 61.

    Ditto with @Horatiothethird and @S Ford

    The Walking Dead is gonna be great with Darabont at the helm. I totally trust him after The Mist. He clearly knows how to scare the pants off you and yet show the human side to horror.
    The trailer is amazing with great use of music especially at the end with the Walker Brothers The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine! No longer will I think of Truly Madly Deeply when I hear this song.

    Watch and get excited!

  • Comment number 62.

    Watchmen is a mess of a movie, but one of the few things that films like watchmen get right, is the surface details. Copying and pasting iconic images and moments from the comic, and getting the characters to look exactly like they do in the book. This is all well and good, but then they forget everything else, like character development. Which is weird, because I distinctly remember Watchmen being a character piece, oh well. Kick Ass on the other hand, actually has quite a different tone to the comics, and visually is more colourful and upbeat. The Kick-Ass comic takes it's self far more seriously, but the film makers took the idea, and approached it from a different angle, and the film was better for it.
    What's the difference between these two films? Well one was made by a fan, the other was made by a real film maker. I'll let you decide which one.

  • Comment number 63.

    Are you right? No. The difference between a good or bad comic book movie is the very same as the difference between a good or bad movie. Some movies are good, some movies are bad.

  • Comment number 64.

    Spider-Man 2 is the pefect example of how to make a comic book movie work. It has stunning action sequences, well delevoped characters & the director knows just how to lighten the mood so that the storyline doesn't make the film feel full of itself.

    Of all the great sequences and images in comic book movies the one scene that always comes to my mind is the 'Raindrops keep falling on my head' scene from Spider-Man 2. Just at the right time in the movie the director is able to take us into the very soul of Peter Parker with a short scene full of 'wit'
    We fall in love with Peter Parker again and really start to care for the guy, which is what every movie needs to work. The audience must root for the main character.

  • Comment number 65.

    Wit -- and that doesn't mean "funny," it means smart -- benefits every kind of film, not just those drawn from comic books. It needn't be verbal, it can be in the art direction; it can be a juxtaposition of shots; it can be a sound effect; it can be in a musical counterpoint. It just has to show that there's a mind at work behind the scenes that respects the minds of the audience. The fact that so many comic books are witless (perhaps that's why they appeal to witless studio heads) or dumbed-down for cinema is another subject.

  • Comment number 66.

    Sorry, I've not had a chance to read every comment; apologies if I repeat someone.

    I think that good comic adaptations are just like any other film. In order for them to be good they need to be ...good. They need a good script, they need a good director, they need producers on the side of the material, good DP and so one. So yes of course they need wit, but they need all of the other things that make good films. And another thing is respect (which is not the same as reverence) for the source material.

    I saw that someone else mentioned A History of Violence. Yes, I agree that's another great adaptation. And so is Road to Perdition (which I thought was one of the most surprisingly interesting films I saw that year). I didn't like Ghost World but then I thought it was just because it felt quite dull to me (a personal thing) but I recognise it's a well-made movie.

    What surprises me about bad adaptations is that Graphic Novels* is the they are ready made storyboards with script. You'd think that alone would be enough to get your movie running - at least in the direction of that comic's fans.

    PS. Am the only person that's tired of the nerdgasm that is the upcoming Avengers rubbish?

    * which is just a pretentious way of saying comic book - even though it has become an acceptable term...

  • Comment number 67.

    Nolan misses the high note? Nonsense. Inception had a great last act with the perfect ending

    Regarding Schumacher's Batman and Robin, I strongly recommend the Rifftrax

  • Comment number 68.

    Spiderman 2 got it right. Spiderman 3 however...

  • Comment number 69.

    I think a comic book movie needs a pulpy, slightly fantastical feel to it. Batman Begins succeeded where The Dark Knight failed because it had these elements. Critics hailed The Dark Knight as a crime masterpiece more in line with Heat than a comic book movie. I agree that it does but I disagree about this being a good thing. Batman Begins had the narrows, Arkham Asylum, the fear toxin. All these aspects gave it a comic book feel, while still managing to work within the more grounded Batman universe Christopher Nolan had created. The Dark Knight lacked any of this and was lacking as a result.

  • Comment number 70.

    Not sure Kick-Ass deserves a place here in the plus column. I would say that a successful comic-to-film would include an expansion and layering of an original while keeping true to the source. Kick-Ass is devoid of such content, it reduced a 2 dimensional story to 1 dimension. Unbelievable, unsympathetic characters in a poorly plotted mess with a usp of a foul-mouthed child and ultra-violence. For me something like The Dark Night or even 300, although not perfect, are much more worthy attempts.

  • Comment number 71.

    I don't understand the posters who argue that we need to consider the differences between comic books and graphic novels.

    Just so we can all be clear on this, Gav (#66) is correct in saying there is no difference. 'Graphic novel' is merely a voguish term coined by people who don't feel comfortable admitting they read comic books.

  • Comment number 72.

    I cant believe that SIN CITY was only mentioned once and 300 twice. Both are great ports from comic books to film.Characters brought to life by great effect. Beautifully framed shots pulled straight from the pages of the comic. Also SUPERMAN RETURNS was a nice movie which was not given the high profile hard sell which saw a lot of other lesser movies rammed down our throat.

    As a kid I loved Dick Tracey, Conan, Red Sonja, Robocop, the Shadow, Superman1, 2 & 3, Batman (the Original feature length episode), Batman 1& 2 (Tim Burton).
    All great movies in their own right. Most of which have stood against the test of time.

    There are loads of comic book adaptations happily forgotten. The reason is that they lack not just wit but, good actors, good directors, any thought provoking plot, and most obviously a decent script.
    Unfortunately Comic books are one of those areas that Hollywood will always ruin because there are a lot cheap ideas and a devoted money making fan base. In Marketing its called Milking your Cash Cow.Comic books that didnt work include but are not limited to....Ghost Rider, Aliens Vs Predator, Spiderman 2, Siperman 3, Blade 3, Catwoman, Daredevil, Elektra, Fantastic Four, FF2, Hulk, The Incredible Hulk, Judge Dredd, Spawn, Tank Girl, The Crow2, Watchmen, Ironman 1.

  • Comment number 73.

    Well Sin City was largely a Miller storyboard that was filmed almost verbatim.

    I don't think there was much to translate in terms of wit. But 300 was supposed to have soul to it but as with Watchmen the director seemed to think that if you just follow the graphic novel everything comes across.

    It doesn't.

    You need to have an intelligent author behind the work and that is ultimately where the wit comes from.

  • Comment number 74.

    After some consideration, I think Dr K is spot on. In addition to riveting action and visual flair the best comic book movies also say something witty that elevates them above simple cartoons. Case in point: I enjoy the supremely dumb 300 because the stylish CG monsters and balletic violence also touch on the idea of artistic license in the oral tradition of Greek storytelling.

    Having said that, I have to agree with "BillPaxtonsSecondBiggestFan" on the subject of why The Dark Knight is superior to Batman Begins. While both feature a good deal of style, action and wit ("Does it come in black", "Did I tell you how I got these scars?" etc), BB lets itself down with limp badguys, a cheesy scientific MacGuffin, a boring monorail chase sequence and the jarringly awful 'comic' scenes of Gary Oldman attempting to drive the batmobile.

  • Comment number 75.

    I believe the whole thesis about wit IS wrong. As people have pointed out before, comic books stretch beyond super heroes and big entertainment. There is no secret rule to it, just as I believe there is no secret rule in how to adapt novels.
    The one important thing to keep in mind when you create a comic book adaptation is to make a film that first and foremost is a film.
    I.e. Oldboy, A history of violence, road to perdition (which i had some problems with, but those where none source related).
    Even in the case of superhero movies, you don't have to be witty. Just look at Alex Proyas The Crow or the cartoon Batman: Mask of Phantasm.

    It all depends on the story. For example, if someone decided to adapt Maus by Vladek Spiegelman as a film. The whole concept of wit being the rule of thumb in that case would come of as rather appalling, at least to me.

    The idea of wit only applies to a certain type of comic book movies, and those would need it anyway.

    Oh, and on the Dark Knight vs Batman Begins subject(good fun to read peoples thoughts on this), i find Dark Knight to be superior. Batman Begins may be more even across the board and have fewer problems, but in The Dark Knight I just find the good to far outway the bad.

  • Comment number 76.

    I agree Dr. K, the scene in Spiderman 3 where Peter Parker dresses like an emo and dances down the street makes it the best of the trilogy. A sure fire way to make the reboots even better would be to include this pivotal scene in the first film. That way movie goers won't find the franchise so earnest and "responsible". It would probably also help if they retain the impractical yet fashionable green goblin plastic outfit for when Bill Murray takes over from Willem Defoe.

  • Comment number 77.

    I've hardly read any comics in my life so asking me to say whether a film comic adaptation worked is a bit like asking me to compare Quantum Theory and Newton's Laws. Ergo, I wouldn't know.

    All I do know is I've seen V FOR VENDETTA and it had to be one of the worst films I've ever seen. For a start, it depicts Britain as a fascist state. Right. Like THAT was ever going to be believable, for god's sake. It was a joke taking itself seriously. Tim Piggot Smith as some archetypal fascistic thug? PLEASE! My sides are aching! This is MODERN BRITAIN, not pre-War Germany! And don't give me that clap-trap that it can happen anywhere; once a democracy like ours is well established, it has so many safeguards and layers of protection in place as to make fascism impossible to sustain, in very much the same way that fascist states make democracy impossible (life under Mussolini, for example). If you don't believe me, then look at all the absurd legal red tape the BNP have got entangled in, just so they can stay afloat; they've even had to change their constitution so that it isn't RACIST! Too damn funny! Not only that, but it lost all its seats and reversed most of its gains at the last General Election. THE BNP ARE NOW VIRTUALLY BANKRUPT, thanks to our democracy and its safeguards! Secondly, I must be the only one on the planet who found the last explosive scenes disturbing and not at all enlightening or hopeful.


    Why should I cheer when the Houses of Parliament - perhaps one of the greatest pieces of architecture ever conceived - is gleefully blown up? Obviously you have to be a traitorous, masochistic Lefty wretch to get any thrill from that; the same kind who would like Britain tried for supposed war crimes in WWII (just to clarify, we were the ones who liberated the death camps; we didn't run them).

    Any way, I've also seen SIN CITY, and though while I've never read the graphic novel, I enjoyed it very much. So thems my two pennies worth.

  • Comment number 78.

    I must say I disagree with Dr K's hasty assertion. Wit was incessant in Spider-Man 3, Schumacher's Batman films and look at just how horrid they are.

    Begins and The Dark Knight are the cream of the crop, but they aren't feel-good. Wit is present yet sporadic, the occasional light relief from the darkness which consumes each film brilliantly.

    The Burton Batman films are an exception. Ignorant of fanboy lore, they experimented with the personalities of Penguin and Catwoman respectively to great effect, while Nicholson as the Joker, psychotically benign, eats up the screen. The first two Spider-Man films function well on the humour, owing to the lightness of the film's tone.

    I'm yet to see Kick-Ass, but if you look at Nolan's Batman films and Bryan Singer's X-Men, they're the best because they are dark. The Iron Man films suffer from regular bouts of supposedly witty dialogue, yet it doesn't serve to entertain quite as much as Jon Favreau and RDJ may have anticipated.

  • Comment number 79.

    Clearly I_am_I is unfamiliar with the concept of fiction

  • Comment number 80.

    I would like to add to the mix Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo.

    My favourite movie ever.

    A great comic book adaptation without wit that changes the structure, ending and characters from the source material completely and yet, it still manages to tell the incredible story of the race for power, alienation of youth, the price of war...

  • Comment number 81.

    Wit - absolutely. In terms of telling the story; visual, soundscape, script and performance. Comic book styles are many and varied. The problem is that many 'comic book films' are made by people who have never read a comic. Kick Ass was clearly made by people who enjoy comics. If you want to learn more about comics you could try anything by Scott McCloud.

  • Comment number 82.

    I think Mark is slightly off here - it's not that comic book adaptations have to be witty, but that films with a ludicrous premise have to be witty.
    One one end of the scale, (as Darth Punk points out) A History of Violence isn't all that witty. But, it's based in a real life situation, so maybe it doesn't need to be.
    If you look at the Indiana Jones films, the central idea (university professor goes in search of ancient artifacts, has to solve ancient puzzles and compete with Nazis) is just plain ridiculous. But I think the fact that the films don't take themselves too seriously (think of the sword/gun scene, and the fireplace scene in IJ3) helps. It's as if the filmm-makers are saying
    Many superhero films also do this - Wolverine's comment on the spandex and the X-Men's nicknames in the first film for example.
    By pointing out the ludicrousness of the film, and embracing it, the film-makers are able to let the audience know they're in on the joke and break down any barrier the audience may feel.

  • Comment number 83.

    dear mark,
    i live on the isle of man, in the the main street is a second hand shop selling really cheap dvds called phase 2, a copy of watchmen has sat on its shelves for weeks and weeks, despite it being really cheap , if i saw a copy of adam west 60s batman i would buy it instantly which i think proves the point

  • Comment number 84.

    I disagree with the good doctor, for me a comic book adaptation has to do one of two things:
    1. It must truthfully insert the viewer into world it is trying to tell the story from.


    2. Insert the story into to todays world.

    Examples of the former are in Watchmen and The Dark Night, two movies that create a fully immersing fictional world or environment that helps construct the psyche of the characters and feeds the narrative with depth and history.

    Examples and failures of the latter are the two Iron Man films. the first Iron Man in my opinion works as it tells the story with a modern feel we have themes of terroism, US foreign policy, weapons distribution etc. Iron Man 2 becomes far to insular to the protagonist and forgets to take on the thematic diversity of its predecessor.

  • Comment number 85.

    I think that there is no such thing as a Comic Book Movie. There's no such thing as a "Book" movie so why label comic movies any different. There are apatations but they vary in subject and quality from superhero fair to Persepolis.

    You want to know what makes a good Comic Book movie. When the people behind them make a good movie. Thats it nothing else to see here.


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