Many of us have grown up surrounded by our favourite comics; whether you started off with something as simple as a Beano and worked your way up through the ranks of Marvel, you probably singled out one or two characters and story lines that would become your all-time favourites. When such a bond is formed, any changes to that character or their arc is met with heavy scrutiny.
So upon hearing that a comic or character they hold close to their heart is to be adapted for the big screen, it’s natural for any super fan to be cautious. This week on Back Issues I’ll be discussing some of the best on-screen adaptions of my favourite comic characters.
Be aware that this was an incredibly hard list to put together as there have been some seriously fantastic movie adaptions in recent years, but let me know what your own preferences are in the comments below!
The Joker – Jack Nicholson – Batman
The Tim Burton helmed film was the fifth highest grossing film ever at the time of its release, and it was also a critical and financial success with its campy characters and creepy setting.
Although all of the actors made their mark on the franchise with standout roles like Michael Keaton‘s Batman and Michelle Pfeiffer‘s Catwoman, nobody nailed their character quite like Jack Nicholson‘s Joker.
With a phenomenal turn as the clown prince of crime, Nicholson expertly demonstrated the fine line the Joker toes between genius and insanity, with an iconic laugh to boot.
Although Heath Ledger‘s Joker in the incredibly successful The Dark Knight was a masterful interpretation of a hugely complex character, I felt that Nicholson has been the most faithful to the Joker’s character and, rather than simply dark and haunted, he demonstrates the creative craziness that’s so integral to the persona of the Joker.
Perhaps it’s the bright, unrealistic colours of the Joker’s wardrobe and makeup but that, along with his garish eccentricity and towering presence, really brings the character to life.
Mystique – Rebecca Romijn – X-Men
When I first started getting into comics, X-Men issues very quickly started filling up my shelves, as I related so much to the teenagers who were developing amazing powers, and I desperately hoped that I’d also go through some horrible trauma causing mine to manifest as well. I won’t get into that, however, as it’s just another disappointment story, like my Hogwarts letter that never came.
When Mystique (played by the stunning Rebecca Romijn) first came on-screen, I was a little disappointed that she wasn’t wearing her fabulous white dress and skulls belt with big red hair. Her mannerisms made up for her look, however, as she was spot-on with her portrayal as the kickass, no-nonsense Mystique who kicks ass and takes names.
By the end of the film, Mystique was my favourite character. Romijn certainly did a fantastic job portraying the blue badass, as did Jennifer Lawrence as the younger version of the mutant. Both actresses made the character their own and each performance adds so many layers to the Mystique we know and love (to hate) from the comics.
Judge Dredd – Karl Urban – Dredd
I found the movie itself incredibly upsetting, which in this case is good because it’s a comic strip that has over tragic and violent themes, so the film adaption should (and did) reflect that as well.
Urban did a fantastic job of playing the stoic and strictly lawful Judge Dredd along with a stellar supporting cast including Lena Headey (Game of Thrones). He played Dredd with a raspy and harsh vocal tone similar to ‘a saw cutting through bone’ – a task which he reportedly found difficult to keep up with, but it added greatly to the tough, authoritative aspect of Dredd’s character.
Dredd represents a very clear belief in something; that the law is the law and it must be followed. Those who break the rules, criminals, are to be punished, and Dredd does so without prejudice. Urban had to act with the helmet on at all times, so he had to convey emotion with his body language and the lower half of his face, which must have been a huge challenge. Props to Mr. Urban for a job well done!
Iron Man – Robert Downey Jr. – Iron Man
The popularity of the blockbuster, Iron Man, was unprecedented by pretty much everybody. The metal man blasted onto our screens and into our soft spots in 2008 and revolutionised a character that, to me, didn’t even crack the top 50 of my favourite heroes list. All that changed with Downey Jr.’s terrific performance as the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.
I never liked Tony Stark in the comics as I found his personality, demeanour and gadgets very dull; or, perhaps I should say, there were always many other heroes who were much more likeable. Ironically, I completely changed my mind after watching the 2008 film. Downey Jr. was very faithful to the comic version, and although I wasn’t a fan of Tony Stark in general, I could appreciate how good the adaption was.
From Stark’s quick wit, cavalier sensibility and sassy attitude, Downey Jr. brought his A game and more to the role.
Clark Kent – Christopher Reeve – Superman
Not only was this film groundbreaking in terms of superhero films in general by setting the tone and the standard for similar movies of its kind for years to come, but Christopher Reeve was also a sensation as everyone’s favourite hero reporter.
The sets, props and special effects are now very dated in terms of what modern technology can offer us, but the heart carries it through and that, along with Reeve‘s performance, is what allows it to make its mark years after its release.
I can only wonder how good the modern movies would be if they had Reeve as the title character, with all the technological advances we now have at our disposal. Or perhaps that’s why I love the original movie as, much like Star Wars, there is a certain charm that comes with a smaller budget as your focus is much more on the acting and the characters rather than gaudy sets and props and, more often than not, saturated CGI.
Rorschach – Jackie Earle Haley – Watchmen
A dark and unsettling character in the epic Watchmen by Alan Moore, Rorschach was always one of those extraordinary anti-heroes that immediately piques your interest when they appear in the panels of the comic, because you just know he’s going to do or say something fascinating.
Although it’s almost redundant to say it, because it would be hard to get wrong, but his look in the Watchmen movie was perfect. When I heard there would be a movie adaption, I thought they might do something odd with face paint but I’m glad they were so faithful to the character. With some truly fantastic one-liners along with his fair share of shiver-inducing scenes in the film, you couldn’t help but root for Rorschach, played by the very talented Jackie Earle Haley.
Do you agree with my list? What do you think the best comic to movie adaptions are? Let us know in the comments!