Jan 16 2014

You’re Doing It Wrong: Five Horrifyingly Lame Villain Adaptations in Marvel Films

Published by at 11:00 am under Comics,Lists,Movies

villains

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Marvel flicks. Even the ones other people  hate. I own Daredevil, Elektra and both Fantastic Four movies on DVD (all but the last in extended editions) for chrissakes so my standards are not super high. Ups and downs aside, Marvel’s characters have been successful on the big screen far more often than DC can even bring themselves to put theirs up there in the first place. And being a big superhero/comics guy in general, I’m predisposed to enjoying their efforts so there’s that.

But given the large quantity of Marvel’s comic book characters that have been adapted to film, it’s only natural that some work better than others. What often dictates how good a given story is the quality of the villain. Would Batman be as popular as he is without his rogue’s gallery? Would the X-Men have taken off without Magneto, Apocalypse, and the Brotherhood to act as their antagonists?

Without great villains, a hero can only be so great themselves, but with a truly formidable and memorable opposite number the sky is the limit. This is true in comics, and it is arguably even more true in film. With the right performance and a script that captures the essence of the character, a new take on a classic villain can redefine that character and reinvigorate the franchise. But when they try and get the wrong performance and the wrong script…well, this list happens.  Here are the five Marvel villains on screen that make me pull my hair out.

1. Doctor Doom

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As I said, I own both Fantastic Four movies, which implies that I enjoyed them. And I did. That said, they are far from perfect. My complaints are far different than most though, since in my experience the film captured the FF pretty well, even if they did cast a Latina as Sue Storm and then try to whiten her up for some reason. It was an odd choice, but Jessica Alba’s creepy-looking blue eyes aren’t going to make or break anything.

What really miffed me was the portrayal of Victor von Doom. Doom is for many people the most iconic villain in the Marvel universe. A character who exudes cool, looks badass, is arguably the smartest man in the world, and has the most ambitious plans. In a way, he’s like an evil combination of Iron Man and Batman with a megalomaniacal streak a mile across. He’s just a dude, but he’s such a brilliant one that he can take pretty much anything that’s given to him and use it to make himself an unstoppable force. His talent is only exceeded by his arrogance, which is inevitably his downfall.

Doom’s vision is a utopia where the failings of lesser men can be overcome by his genius. He thinks he’s the good guy and it’s everybody else who are the villains trying to stop him from creating a perfect world, and to his credit, his country Latveria does alright for itself.

So why is absolutely none of this in the FF films? Why is Doom given undefined powers along with the heroes and relegated to a poor man’s Magneto? Why is the voice of such a commanding villain so weak and uncommanding? And why, oh why, do they insist on calling him by his first name? The word “Doom” implies menace; “Victor” not so much. And is it me or is he just hassling the Four because he thinks Sue is pretty?

In the sequel, Victor usurps the powers of The Silver Surfer in a rare Doom-like move. Ironically, while flying around on the board, he looks like he’d make a better Green Goblin than the one featured in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. What exactly does he do with his dose of Power Cosmic? Just fly around laughing like a dope and looking like the Green Goblin until somebody stops him, pretty much. Goddamn it, what a wasted opportunity.

 

2. Silver Samurai

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I am very disappointed in the film-going public at large for pretending that The Wolverine was better than the previous attempt at a solo film than Origins was. They got my hopes up only to see them dashed in a film that was an attempt at making a better film with a more serious tone that just ended up boring me to tears.

I was going to use a picture of the convalescent old man who is the actual character in the above-pictured Silver Samurai armor, but why deprive you of some eye candy out of spite? It’s silver, it looks like a samurai, and they call it that, but that’s about it. File this under advice probably taken from Michael Bay. Kenuichio Harada is the Silver Samurai in the comics, and he’s a mutant with the ability to charge an object to cut through anything. His history with Wolverine is complicated and Mariko was his half-sister.

The film made an insane mess of these characters and I will never in a million years understand why. One thing I can say is that the film is suitably Japanese. It’s rare for an American film to cast actual Japanese people (even to play Japanese characters) and in that spirit having a mecha involved made sense. But you need to stay true to the characters first and foremost.

Having old man Yashida suit up in the most ridiculously convoluted mutant power-sucking machine you can think of for the big showdown was cartoonish as hell in a movie that had made it a point to stay mostly grounded up to that point. It just baffles me.

 

3. Venom

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Alright, this time I am depriving you of some eye candy because one of my biggest complaints with this one is that this is how the character appears onscreen most of the time in the nightmarishly bad Spider-Man 3. Topher Grace of That 70’s Show fame with his boyish face peering out of the symbiote suit, ruining one of Marvel’s coolest villains I can only assume because Hollywood actors are so full of themselves that they demand that their face be onscreen at all times whenever possible.

I’m not even going to bitch that Eddie Brock is supposed to be a massive man whose size and physical prowess are part of what gives him an edge over Peter Parker when the symbiote envelops him. That’s easily overlooked. But the choice of actor and general portrayal of the character was just beyond underwhelming.

In the comics, the origin is roughly the same at first but much more involved after that. There was a distinct horror story feel to the proceedings as Spidey was being stalked by a foe who was not only his physical superior in every way, but was undetectable, knew who he was, and was utterly driven to make his life unlivable before he killed him.

Venom even went so far as to show up as Parker’s apartment to menace Mary Jane, which left her so traumatized that she made him swear never to wear his black suit again. This is all great stuff. None of it made it into the film. Instead they just had him team up with Sandman for a big action set piece.

I’m convinced Raimi made Spider-Man 3 specifically to trash the franchise beyond repair because he was tired of dealing with it. He made it clear that he wasn’t into doing Venom and the studio demanded he do it anyway and this was the result. This is why I think the writer and director should always get final say in their projects.

 

4. The Mandarin

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Hey, how about we reinvent Iron Man’s biggest arch-nemesis as a modern era terrorist? Surprisingly inspired notion, Iron Man 3; I offer thee kudos. Casting Ben Kingsley? Awesome. Spend the first half of the movie building up to an epic confrontation; so far so good. You probably know what happened next. Boom went the dynamite and then the plot was uninspired rubble.

While having the Mandarin turn out to be just a doofy actor paid to play the part to scare America to cover up a much more pedestrian corporate villain’s scheme is an effective socially relevant commentary on the simplicity of using the media to make fiction into accepted fact, it pretty much deflated and derailed the entire film plotwise. M. Night Shyamalan would be ashamed of that twist.

The treatment and disregard of the character reminds me of Kevin Smith’s story about being approached to make a Superman movie where the producer insisted that there be a giant robot spider involved. When Smith ended up walking out, the same producer managed to get his giant robot spider idea into Wild Wild West. One way or another, he was getting that giant motherflippin’ robot spider into a movie. It seems like someone just really wanted to do this fake terrorist bit in some movie somewhere and why the hell not Iron Man 3?

My favorite defense of this choice from people who had never heard of the character before stumbling on message boards threads discussing Iron Man 3 is that the Mandarin couldn’t have worked because he was a racist caricature, all using the same exact picture from the 60’s of the comic book character looking particularly caricaturish as proof. Because the last fifty years never happened and the movie version as he was presented initially wasn’t working at all, right?  Some people just should not have been born with fingers to type with in the first place.

 

5. Deadpool

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That $#!+, ladies and gentlemen, is the Merc Without a Mouth; the very pinnacle of Marvel-based abominations. The most ass-backwards, what were-they-thinking adaptation of a character I’ve ever endured.

Deadpool is my favorite comic book character ever and the closest thing to a mainstream superhero comic left on my subscription list. Wade Wilson represents the perfect blend of badassitude, madcap comedy, self-aware satire, and chaotic insanity. I was concerned when pretty boy Ryan Reynolds was cast in the role for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but in the early going of the film, Reynolds displayed a certain knack for capturing Wade’s trollish personality.

Then the final act happened. The character disappeared for most of the film and then appeared for the boss battle at the end having been infused with all of the character’s collective powers; a pool of death… or something… I guess.

In the comics, Weapon X was trying to replicate their success with Wolverine’s healing factor and Wilson agreed to let them attempt on him since he was dying of cancer anyway. The “dead pool” was something the other prisoners of Weapon X betted on regarding which experimentee would be the next to successfully off themselves (or get the brutal overseer to do it for them since they were strictly guarded). Wade was the leading candidate to be killed because of his talent for infuriating banter. Hence his awesome mercenary handle, Deadpool.

It’s pretty dark stuff and very fertile ground to adapt to film, but hey, removing the mouth of a character whose calling card is trash talk and giving him teleportation, adamantium arm blades, and eye beams in addition to the healing factor instead of making any attempt at using anything relevant or relating to the actual character is cool too if that’s your thing….Actually, no. No it’s not.

Forget the logistical ridiculousness of this broken-tier video game-esque boss and just LOOK at him. This is one of those instances where the movie version looks more cartoonish and silly than the spandex outfit of the comic book. It’s one of those moments where you just can’t believe what the hell you are seeing on the screen. With the other baddies on this list I was annoyed, but this is the one that literally left me incredulous.

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Say what you want about comic books, but there’s no medium that is more renowned for creating great villains. Other film, television, literature, and games may have a comparable success rate with memorable heroes, but when it comes to truly unforgettable antagonists that define the heroes they oppose, comics are in a league of their own. A lot of Marvel films have done a respectable job with their villains, but when they get it wrong, they REALLY get it wrong.

I’m not really sure what goes through a writer or director’s head when they decide to scrap everything that worked about a popular villain and just make random shit up, but I do wish they’d stop. Classic characters are classic for a reason. Something about them stands the test of time. It’s paramount when adapting any work that the adapter recognizes what those classic elements are and integrate them into the adaptation. Otherwise, you end up on a list like this one.





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17 responses so far

  • Frothy_Ham

    I agree with all of them except for The Mandarin…sorry, but I loved how they handled him in the movie… *dons flame retardant cape*

    • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

      So you weren’t even a little disappointed when there was nobody cool for Stark to fight except for a bunch of half-ass glowy people whose names I’ll bet you don’t remember (did they even have names)?

      • Frothy_Ham

        I actually wasn’t, and to be honest it was refreshing for that very reason.

        So many superhero movies having been trying to out-do each other by having crazier and crazier villains with funnier and funnier accents. A common thread through all of the Iron Man movies has been about capitalism and the military-industrial complex, with the main villains being Obadiah Stane, Justin Hammer (arguable) and Aldrich Killian basically being greedy businessmen.

        I enjoyed that they baited you with the idea of a new type of villain for Iron Man to battle, someone who wasn’t in it for the money this time, oh noes…how is he going to take him down!?!?! Nope lol just somebody in it for the money still…which I can understand if someone else took that as a con…but for me it just nailed the entire theme of the series and tied them all together.

        Opinions eh?

        • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

          Opinions indeed. Yours is legit and you’re welcome to it, but I just feel they could have done better.

          • froggystyle66

            Maybe in some future installment, kingsley will go mad and become the Mandarin for real. Until he revealed himself as an actor, i found the Mandarin to be really unsettling and awesome.

  • froggystyle66

    While I agree with many of your choices, I disagree with your premise that “you have to stay true to the characters.” The reality is, if you want to see the mandarin you know and love, there are decades of material depicting that mandarin. The real issue is not that they betrayed the nature of the characters, but that the characters they dreamed up are, in most cases, not better than the originals.

    Think for example, if the situation was reversed and the Doctor Doom in the comics was the lame version in the movies, but the film version depicted Doom more like the comic does. Would people be complaining?
    This is demonstrable in De Vito’s penguin, who is nothing like the comic book adaptation, arguably Ledger as the joker, Molina as Doc Oc, etc…

    Bottom line is, it isn’t about not being true to the characters, its about being lazy writing characters that suck.

    • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

      If they were lame in the comics, they probably wouldn’t be the choice for the film, though. Don’t expect to see Superman battle Toyman anytime soon or for Batman to face a Condiment King/Sportsmaster team-up. Characters like Doom become classic because they are memorable and cool. The anti-thesis of what he was in the FF films.

      Ledger as the Joker was very true to the core of the character. He was a different version that was, if anything, actually less psychotic than his comic counterpart, but it was without a doubt a legit take. I’ll give you Penguin, though. He’d be a challenge to adapt as is and Burton’s take wasn’t bad. I wouldn’t say Doc Ock was all that different. More of an attitude adjustment than anything else.

  • waybose

    Galactus as a freaking CLOUD?!

    • Pedro

      Yeah, I’d switch the Mandarin with Galactus

    • John W

      Yeah that’s what I was thinking.

    • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

      I thought about it, but Doom was so very much worse. I can work with Galactus as an entity rather than a giant robot-looking dude with a G on his belt, but they should have at least made him an actual character and not only hint at his sentience.

    • Robert Dean

      Galactus wasn’t a cloud, he was IN the cloud. That’s why the Silver Surfer flew inside of it instead of stopping in front of it. Besides, a giant man in blue and purple tights floating in space would be just weird.

  • froggystyle66

    All I’m saying is, if the characters work, it doesn’t matter if they are true to the comics or not. The reality is that every beloved character has had some bad comic issues where they seemed off, or wrong, but they usually have hundreds of appearances to rectify those bad moments. For film, it’s usually a single appearance that defines if they work or not.

    A lot of people genuinely love Jackman’s wolverine, even though he is very different from the comics, even more people hate Afflek as Daredevil, even though he is really similar to the comics.

  • Steffen Pedersen

    Yea, no wonder Marvel started producing their own movies.. So if we go by actual Marvel (studios) film, you only have one (highly debatable) guy. Looks so much better that way :D

    • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

      I’d love to see Marvel get the rights to Spidey, X-Men, and the FF back. Only the last one is likely to happen anytime soon, though.

  • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

    I think most of us can agree that Iron Man 2 did a pretty incredible job with Whiplash so yeah, improvement is an option.

    • froggystyle66

      Careful, praising anything about IM2 around these parts could get you shanked in the shower.

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