It’s no secret that the most difficult kind of movie to make is one where there is an existing fan base for the story in another form. The “The book is always gonna be better than the movie!” crowd are notoriously hard to please. So much so that there have only been a hand full of truly great adaptations, and even fewer for movies that are adapted from comic books.
I’ve recently re-discovered my love of comics reading Watchmen, Marvel Civil War and many others. Because of this I’ve gained a renewed frame of reference for the recent influx of comic to movie adaptations and, in particular the characters and how well they were executed. So, without further cock-blockery, here are my five favourite comic-to-film characters.
5. Superman – Christopher Reeve – Superman & Superman II
When you think of comic books one of the first names that springs to mind has got to be Superman. He was the first. The spark that lit the fuse. To many, Superman is still the greatest comic book character of all time and the late Christopher Reeve‘s portrayal of the man of steel remains the best. Well, at least in the first two movies.
Reeve pulled off the nerdy, bumbling Clark Kent and the fearless, heroic Superman effortlessly and captivated audiences worldwide with a bit of something for everyone. Unfortunate then, that the second two movies well and truly gave that excellent performance the shaft, employing crappy special effects, ridiculous characters (see Nuclear Man) and the late, great Richard Pryor at undoubtedly his least funny.
All wasn’t lost though. Despite being arguably too young, Brandon Routh did actually give a pretty good performance as Christopher Reeve giving a pretty good performance as Superman. I’m glad that Bryan Singer decided to give the nod to the best rather than trying to re-invent the character. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
4. Magneto – Sir Ian Mckellen – X-Men Trilogy
Most people, when thinking of the X-Men movies will instantly mention Wolverine but as far as I’m concerned the character that was executed best was Magneto. Sir Ian McKellen captures all the subtleties of the great character perfectly from his friendship with Professor X to the lasting impression that being imprisoned in a nazi concentration camp has had on his view of humanity.
You really get the impression that this is exactly how Stan Lee imagined Magneto to act; so driven by blind hatred towards the human race that he is barely even aware of who he hurts along the way. It was upon reading the House of M comic book series that I really got to appreciate just how well McKellen pulled off Magneto, particularly in X-Men: The Last Stand, despite that being the least well received of the three.
Rumor has it that McKellen has already signed up for X-Men Origins: Magneto and I for one can’t wait to see how it turns out.
3. The Joker – Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight (2008)
There is no doubt in my, or anyone’s mind that Heath Ledger played the most amazing on-screen rendition of Bob Kane’s classic villain, The Joker. His balls-to-the-wall insanity coupled with those important nuances like the licking of the lips and the is-he-serious-or not tales of the origin of the scars make him certainly the most frightening entry on my list.
It’s unfortunate that a lot of people will remember this role because it was Ledger’s last movie appearance because even if he hadn’t passed away shortly after, the performance remains truly fantastic and should be remembered as such. Maybe he knew it. Maybe he didn’t want to pull a Raul Julia (his last movie was Street Fighter).
Although the character has been portrayed on screen before by Jack Nicholson this performance stands apart due to it’s unprecedented break from what people imagined The Joker to be like. Ledger’s Joker had much more in common with the version that appeared in Alan Moore’s Killing Joke than any other previous comic book version. Wherever inspiration was drawn from, however, it cannot be denied that Heath Ledger’s Joker is truly one of modern cinema’s great performances.
2. Iron Man – Robert Downey Jr. – Iron Man (2008)
When casting a movie there must be a thought process that goes something like “What actor has the most in common with the character we want them to play?” I don’t think I’ve seen a movie where this has paid off more than in Jon Faverau‘s Iron Man. For those that don’t know Tony Stark (Iron Man), in the comics is a multi-billionaire playboy who lives the ultimate James Bond lifestyle going through more women than I’ve had hot dinners. He also has, though this isn’t portrayed in the movie, a rather serious drinking problem which at one point caused him to stop being Iron Man while James “Rhodey” Rhodes took over. Who better, then to play such a character than a successful actor who, while a huge hit with the ladies, saw his career crumble due to addiction and excess. Enter Robert Downey Jr.
This movie’s success is probably down to three things. One; it was the first time Marvel had taken full control of an adaptation of one of it’s comics. Two; Jon Faverau is a self confessed comic book nerd with a great fondness for the character. And three; Robert Downy Jr. pulled off the character of Tony Stark flawlessly. So successful was the performance that Marvel not only green-lit a sequel but also gave Downey a cameo in their second solo screen adaptation; The Hulk which in itself was still a great movie.
Personally I think Robert Downey Jr. holds the key for the future success of Marvel films. Rumor has it that his Tony Stark is set to appear in both Thor and Captain America as well as having a leading part in The Avengers (a movie that was all but confirmed in the post-credits Easter egg at the end of Iron Man.) Boy, I can’t wait!
1. Rorschach – Jackie Earle Haley – Watchmen (2009)
No matter how good a job you can imagine an actor to do when playing a comic book character it won’t come close to how good a job Jackie Earle Haley actually did when playing Rorschach in Watchmen. Never before have I seen a character in any adaptation fulfil my mental image of the character so completely. The voice, the body language, the whole presence. Everything was perfect. A shame, then, that Watchmen was such a niche that it will be mostly overlooked come Oscar time because Haley’s performance deserves one… fuck it, it deserves five.
I loved the whole two and three-quarter hours of Watchmen but no scene got my heart going like the ones that featured Rorschach. His brutality and non-wavering commitment to his beliefs made the character truly captivating. At no other time is this more evident than when Haley delivers possibly the best bit of dialogue Moore has ever penned;
“None of you understand. I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me!” – Watch it
Like I said, I loved the whole movie and I think the key to it’s success was director Zack Snyder‘s unheard of dedication to doing the job right and honoring the source material. That, of course is all useless if the actors can’t play their characters with the same kind of commitment. For the most part, they all did the job very well but none more so than Haley it was obvious he held the graphic novel in high regard. As much so, if not more than Snyder himself.
Well, there you have it. My top five. you think different? Let me know. 🙂