Adaptations from one medium to another are never easy at the best of times, and when it comes to comic book movies, condensing down decades of a beloved character’s development into under two hours can be even harder. Naturally, origin stories, power levels, and significant cosmetic details can get diluted during the development process. These changes often necessitate movie studios’ need to make a character believable to the widest possible audience, but it also frustrates fans of the source material for woefully watering down their favorite heroes, sometimes beyond all recognition. To say that every comic book character that has undergone some light reconstructive surgery before their big movie debut is inherently worse because of it would be wrong, though.
Different doesn’t automatically mean “bad.” No-one has ever really complained about the extra inches added to Wolverine on-screen because, well, Hugh Jackman absolutely kills in the role (sometimes literally.) On-screen changes that are well-liked by fans and creators sometimes even get adopted back into the comics. But, when complete cinematic misfires like Halle Berry’s unpopular take on Catwoman, and virtually every character in 2015’s bland Fantastic Four barely seem to share a chromosome with their originators, these alterations only seem to, unfortunately, neuter rather than enhance these powerful and iconic super-beings.
One of the things that really adds salt to the wound of this messy character adaptation was that a half-decent version was dangled in front of our noses at the start of the film. Ryan Reynolds — well-known for his crude humor in previous roles — seemed perfectly cast, and with his red and black costume and katanas strapped to his back, visually echoed Deadpool’s classic look. Then, after delivering one of the best scenes in the whole film, he disappeared.
And when he came back, we wished he hadn’t. You could argue that by arming Wade with, well, all the powers he was far from weakened. But, more than his tragic origins and invulnerability, Deadpool is known for running his mouth. A mouth that was removed. His muteness also meant there was no fourth wall breaking, and by that point, why even include him at all?
14. SCARLET WITCH
Wanda Maximoff, aka the Scarlet Witch, is easily capable of being one the world’s most powerful beings — not that you’d really know that from the MCU. Of course, her altered origins mean that her powers are still relatively new to her in the MCU, so it’s perfectly possible that she’ll continue growing into them. So far, seeing her rip Ultron’s heart out and go toe-to-toe with Vision offers hints of that already.
In the comics, Wanda is (usually) the daughter of Magneto and possesses reality-warping chaos magic that’s so powerful, she’s considered to be Earth 616’s Nexus Being — an entity that anchors reality itself. Her “oops” moment in Captain America: Civil War also pales in comparison to her mental manipulation of fellow Avengers, and eradication of over 90% of the mutant population’s X-gene with a single sentence in the comics.
The movies that put nipples on the Batsuit didn’t just taint the Dark Knight’s reputation on screen. Though hating on the Joel Schumacher Batman films is lazily easy, we can’t forget the inexplicable way they also completely neutered Batman’s sidekick by turning a badass, orphaned child into a significantly less badass man-boy.
Films like Kick-Ass and Logan prove that seeing children beat the crap out of adults is just as cool in live action as it is drawn. Granted, the Schumacher films intentionally harkened back to the campy roots of the comics, but even when Robin (sort of) showed up in the grittier The Dark Knight Rises, it was still a watered-down, adult version. In the current DCEU, he’s been killed off before even making it on screen. Where’s our kick-ass kid, Hollywood?
Orphan. Queen. Goddess. Cloud Walker. Weather Witch. Ororo Munroe has had many aliases throughout her storied life, but we know her better as a member — and often, fearless leader — of the X-Men. Her devastating and acutely precise weather manipulation powers put her at the Omega Level, and her expertise as a tactician make her a born leader.
Despite all this rich potential, the main thing we remember from Halle Berry’s version of the character in the original X-Men trilogy was that cringe-worthy put-down she says to Toad. Despite featuring in nearly every film, all we know about the character is that she has glowy eyes, makes a good wind machine replacement, and likes to change wigs. The complex, powerful leader we know her as is long overdue on-screen.
Speaking of neutered X-Men leaders, what’s the deal with movie Cyclops? Comic book fans know Scott Summers — one of the original X-Men — to be a deeply divisive figure, riddled with insecurities and plagued by difficult marriages and a cosmically dysfunctional family. His optic blasts pack enough power to “punch holes through mountains,” which he doesn’t normally exploit due to their uncontrollability.
Though we’ve been given hints of his power level and his continual struggle to contain it in the films, you’d think these hints would have been far more expanded upon than they have across more than five cinematic appearances by now. In X3 — an adaptation of a defining story for Scott — he’s reduced to a mere cameo, and in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, he’s similarly dismissed so Deadpool can steal his powers.
10. THE PUNISHER
Considering this murderous vigilante has been on our screens since 1989, it’s taken a surprisingly long time for any studio to give us a version of this compelling comic book character to really fall in love with. In the ’00s, comic writer Garth Ennis re-characterized Frank Castle as a classic anti-hero; a hardened Vietnam veteran and loving family man who executed criminals with alarming efficiency.
His black-and-white approach to justice works especially well in contrast to heroes like Spider-Man and Daredevil, who are less ethically conservative. However, three film adaptations have given us little more than a simplified, “hard man” fuelled (unconvincingly) by revenge. The cartoon violence in each one also severely hinders Frank’s grittiness. Thank god that Jon Bernthal and Netflix finally gave the character some soul.
9. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
The mutant brothers have been an integral part of our childhoods since the ’80s — whether it’s adding some”cowabunga” to our Saturday morning cartoons, or making live-action and CGI appearances on our cinema screens. However, the Turtles you see munching peanut butter and pickle pizzas on screen are very different breeds of ninja to the hacking and slashing ones from Eastman and Laird’s early comics.
The black and white indie stories were created to parody popular comics of the ’80s, especially Daredevil, evident in names like Splinter and the Foot Clan (takes on Stick and the Hand). Similarly, the Turtles engaged in brutal, martial arts violence to fulfill Splinter’s vengeful mission. At the climax of the first issue, Leonardo even graphically skewers Shredder as per the rat’s instruction. Not exactly merchandisable for kids though, is it?
8. EMMA FROST
The X-Men movie-verse has given us two versions of Emma Frost so far, and neither of them did the character an ounce of justice. In the Wolverine Origins movie, her secondary mutation — organic diamond skin — was grafted onto the younger sister of Silverfox and she was barely given anything to do. In First Class, she was played as little more than shiny, eye-candy by January Jones. January had the frosty thing down, but that was about it.
Arguably, this second attempt was kind of true to her comic book origins as a campy, underwear-clad, Hellfire Club villain. But, considering the character has grown into an integral heroine in the X-Men comics now, with phenomenal psychic powers and a hugely nuanced personality, this measly role in the film as “Henchwoman 1” felt pitifully underdone.
The Guardians went through quite a few changes to fit them into the stories James Gunn wanted to tell. We can let most of them slide because of the high quality of the end results, but the changes that were done to Mantis, unfortunately, did her character more of a disservice than an upgrade. In Vol. 2, Mantis is an alien, bug-lady who can read people’s emotions.
Other than the basic capabilities of her powers, this is all a movie fabrication. In the comics, Mantis is able to empathize a lot with Peter Quill without using her mental abilities, because, well, she’s also human. She also has a more adult origin as a Vietnamese prostitute, is a master martial artist, and has an array of powerful psychic abilities. “I was not happy with Mantis’ portrayal,” co-creator Steve Englehart said of Vol. 2. “That character has nothing to do with Mantis.”
Jason Mamoa’s hearty cries are the best part of every Justice League trailer, plus his regal magnetism seems to compensate for his vastly different look to the Arthur Curry we know from the comics. This is the opposite difference to Smallville‘s take on the Atlantean ruler. The CW version had the beach blonde hair, the orange and green suit, and showed off a good number of his powers. But, his origins and Kingly status are barely touched upon.
These are an important facet of Aquaman’s character because; without them, he just comes across as a fish guy with fish powers — i.e. the butt of every superhero joke. For some reason, water is the one element whose power no-one really respects. For Smallville to water down (yes, that was intentional) this royal origin makes Arthur little more than a glorified lifeguard.
In the original manga and its anime adaptations, Goku is a Saiyan trained by a human martial arts master to become the strongest fighter in Universe 7. Though he was originally sent to Earth to destroy it, he becomes its ultimate defender, with each new challenge only elevating his Super Saiyan powers to even greater heights — and hair colors. He’s essentially Japan’s answer to Superman.
Instead of a happy-go-lucky, Japanese-coded warrior, Evolution‘s Justin Chatwin plays a whitewashed, angsty, high-school student. Instead of an endearing, alien naivety about Earth stuff, movie Goku has normal teen problems like bullies and how to ask girls out. You know — boring, everyday problems we all have. To cap it all, the incredible power levels he’d achieved in the manga/anime by the age he is in the film are also severely reduced.
4. MARTIAN MANHUNTER
Martian Manhunter, also known by his human alias, J’onn J’onzz, is like a flesh and blood version of Batman’s utility belt. He possesses flight, shapeshifting, super speed, super strength, regeneration, enhanced endurance, and a dazzling array of psychic and telepathic abilities, to name just some of his powers. Combine that with his genius-level intelligence and you’ve got one formidable Justice League member.
It’s a shame then, that his recurring role on Smallville reduced his character down to his human form with a comparatively basic power set. J’onn worked as a police detective, as he often does in the comics, and served really as just a mentor to Clark rather than a fellow superhero. Even worse, he lost what little powers he had only to die when he finally recovered them. At least Supergirl seems to be doing him better justice.
It’s hard to find a comic book character with less in common than their movie counterpart than Rogue. The sassy, Southern mutant started as a minion for adopted mother Mystique, blossoming into a fully-fledged X-Man with a volatile temper and an even more volatile mutation. Her absorption powers may come with a big downside but if Rogue manages to keep what she steals, she can fight on the level of powerhouses like Captain Marvel.
The dangerous drawbacks of Rogue’s mutation — and her psychological problems because of them — are somewhat explored in the first X-Men movie. We also glimpse the strength of her abilities when Magneto uses her as the lynchpin of his plan. Following this, Rogue is totally sidelined; her powers left unused, and her feistiness sadly gets downgraded to stereotypical teen angst. At least they got the accent right.
2. JEAN GREY/DARK PHOENIX
X-Men 2 remains a high watermark for the movie series and hopes were high for the sequel, especially after director Bryan Singer teased the true power of Jean Grey’s suppressed abilities when she sacrificed herself at the film’s climax. Famke Janssen did a solid job at making Jean Grey believable and recognizable. As Dark Phoenix, while she retained the believability, she lost the recognition to X3‘s detriment.
It’s not all bad. The deaths of Cyclops and Professor X were suitably shocking ways to prove that Jean was not really herself anymore. Beyond that, the omnipotent, cosmic entity that can eradicate entire planets without blinking and claims to be “life incarnate” was boiled down to Famke burning stuff in a red corset with black contacts lenses. Let’s hope X-Men: Dark Phoenix can do better.
This is probably an unfair one but that doesn’t make it any less true. From Christopher Reeve to Henry Cavill, and everyone in between, we’ve seen adapted versions of the Man Of Steel do extraordinary things. He’s travelled into space, thwarted many of Lex Luthor’s plots, snapped General Zod’s neck, and valiantly tussled to the death with Doomsday.
Though his personalities — both as the mild mannered reporter and alien superhero — have been largely well-represented, live-action Superman has yet to come even close to the god-like being we know from the comics. We’re talking about a guy who accidentally destroys solar system with a sneeze and once lifted a book with infinite pages. Sure, much of that is Silver Age silliness but it’s about time the most over-powered superhero matched up on screen.
Which superhero adaptations do you think were neutered on-screen? Let us know in the comments!
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