Stick To The Script?: The Pros and Cons Of Deviating From Source Material
Stay with what got you here, or branch out in a different direction? This topic always is on the minds of comic book movie enthusiasts. Which one presents a better argument? I'll look at both, and then give my opinion.
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Weird entrance is done, let's get to the topic at hand.
Source material adherence. It's always a bubbling topic for CBM fans. It was hotly debated when it came to Iron Man 3's take (or in some fan's minds, "non" take") on the Mandarin, and was re-ignited when Joss "The Boss" Whedon announced Ultron would be featured in Avengers 2, but he would not be created by Hank Pym (aka Ant-Man). Both of these moves caused a sharp divide among fans:
(First off, before we go anywhere, can we just admit that Sir Ben Kingsley nailed both the fake Mandarin, and Trevor Slattery roles? You may hate the character, and despise how they did the Mandarin, but credit must go to Sir Ben for being incredible in both roles. Ok, let's get this train started again)
Whether you are for the changes, or against them, both Iron Man 3 and Avenegrs 2: Age of Ultron brought up interesting points: There are those who say that going away from the comics help the storytelling, and defend the changes by saying if studios adapted things directly from the comics, we would have seen the same type of story, and movie we've seen in CBMs lately, and they would be uninteresting Then there are those who say that the studios are (among other adjectives) destroying, embarrassing, disrespecting and all around just taking a giant dump on beloved characters and that lessens the quality of the film.. So here is the question: If staying close to the source material hinders one's ability to tell an interesting story, should you not deviant from the source, or should you just find a way to implement the characters into a good story. After all, there's a reason why your writing movies, and random joes like me aren't, right? Let's take a look at both arguments, and see what we come up with, shall we?
1. Change Is Good
Let's start out with the financial angle. What's a studios job? Make money. How much does it cost to make a CBM? Over the last 15 years, the average budget for a CBM film (counting only DC and Marvel here) comes to $136M. A general rule of thumb is for a movie to be considered a box office success, it must double its budget. With that in mind, and figuring in the numbers above, a average CBM needs to make at least $272M to be considered successful. And with North American ticket prices averaging out at about $8.38, that would mean a movie needs over 32 million people to see it at least once, in order to double its profit. What does all of this math mean? It means that if the studios only made movies for hardcore fans, they wouldn't make enough money back. As fanaddictal (see what I did there?) as we comic book fans are, and as large as we are, I highly doubt there are that many fans. If it were true, that would mean there are more hardcore comic book fans than there are people in the South American country of Peru (fun fact, Peru has approximately 30 million people. Geography lesson now over). All of that is to say, you can't make a movie a hit just getting to the hardcore fans. You have to get the more general audience. The casual person who will want to see the movie because it looks interesting, not just because its a adaption of their favorite hero.
(i.e. I used North American ticket prices as the NA has the largest consumer spending on films of any continent, hence, they would be the ones most like to go to the movies)
Now I know what you're thinking with all this talk about average budget of CBM, ticket prices, the country of Peru:
Let's get around to the point. The people who will holler for source material adherence aren't that the ones you will have to please if you want your movie to be successful, because that group (while loud), isn't a huge percentage. The general audience is who you target, and if you're going to go after them,, you have to cater to what they would like to see. They didn't grow up on comics, and aren't attached to the characters like long-time fans are. They focus more on the movie's story per se, then how well the characters are adapted. Not saying that the long-time fans don't want a good story, but they want the characters to remain relatively the same, and the story to be changed in order to implement them. Let's look Iron Man 3 for starters. The movie crushed box office records, and skyrocketed to the fifth highest grossing film of all time. And a good part of the reason why it was well received was its twist. You wanna know why?
Look at the plot just by itself for a moment. It's a great twist, Put it in another film. Let's say that Mission Impossible 5 has the same story: A new terrorist pops up, and he's vicious A supposed attack ordered by him gravely injures Ethan's good friend Luther Sharpe. The big baddie then attacks IMF HQ, destroying everything and leaving Ethan and his team stranded, beat and broken. Now the whole audience has had over half the movie to build up hate for this guy. And you can't wait for him to get his comeuppance. And sure enough, Ethan and his team make their way to take down the terrorist. They storm his compound, and catch him unarmed and unaware of their prescience. The audience is elated, waiting for sweet vengeance to be exacted. And then..... You find out the big baddie..isn't even a baddie. He's just an actor. You're shell-shocked! For months you've seen trailer, after trailer promoting this guy as a sadistic, despicable guy who commits atrocities, and is an all-around BUN tyen-shung duh ee-DWAY-RO (pardon my Firefly). And then you get into the theaters, and you see this mad-man, and you despise him, and just when you think he's about to get what's coming to him, and then..
That film would get rave reviews from everyone. The writers and directors would get lauded with praise, and the movie would be in "Sixth Sense" territory as far as twists go. It might get oscar nominations, and I doubt anyone would hate the twist. But, because the twist was in a superhero movie, fans reacted with acidic tones. Because the movie made the Mandarin just a goofy actor, fans called a rather serious (by Marvel standards) film a comedy. And while the people who hated it were vicious and very loud in their dislike, the majority of people did like it, and they helped IM3 to land #5 on the all-time (not counting inflation) highest grossing films list. And that's what studios care about: Making the biggest profit. And before we go any farther, let's deal with one thing: This the Mandarin we're dealing with. They didn't take a legendary villain and make him a nobody. It's not like they made Lex Luthor a stooge, or made the Joker really an innocent drug addict who was hired by the mob, or had Doctor Doom as a puppet leader installed by the US in order to justify the invasion of Latveria. (....that's actually a pretty good idea....). They took a B-list hero's C-list villain and changed him up. Fans should be grateful that we're talking about the Mandarin period. I'm not saying the film couldn't of benefited from a more traditional Mandarin (I plan on making an editorial about that later) but it did have a pretty nasty Mandarin-type guy (I actually really liked Killian). Now let's look at the Ultron situation. You know who in the GA cares that Ultron won't be made by Hank Pym? Nobody. You know why? No one knows who Hank Pym is. Nobody. Only the small, dedicated fans will throw a fit. If they make Iron Man create Ultron, as its been suggested (while I am putting my money on S.H.I.E.L.D), more people will be excited that Iron Man is creating the villain than they would if Ant-Man did. That will bring more people to the box office, and as stated earlier, studios care about making dough. I think at times that we get a little spoiled, and think that a studios job is to make characters we love, and make sure they stay that way. That's a writers job. A studios job is to, say it with me know.. make money. And while they may make films that hardcore fans hate, if its not a huge percentage, it really doesn't matter to them. Firefly was beloved by its fans, and they helped get it a movie after cancellation. You know how Serenity did in theaters? Didn't even make back its budget. It got great reviews from its fans, but it didn't appeal to the masses. It didn't make the required dough, and that's really all that matters to studios. Don't mistake that for me saying fans don't have reasonable complaints. They do, and we'll get into that now.
(but seriously guys...a comedy... really...a movie where Tony Stark suffers from PTSD-like symptoms, his house is utterly annihilated and a recurring character (Maya Hansen) is shot and killed right in front of the audience is considered a comedy...whatever, let's just move on...)
2. Stay The course
Two things right off the bat
First: You know why these comics are getting films? Because they proved successful enough that studios thought "Hey, we can sell this to a more broad audience and make it successful". Who were the people who propelled comics to that point? Hardcore fans.The ones who bought every comic that they the publishers sold. The ones who bought every licensed t-shirt, action figure, mug, blanket, who went to every comic-con, who watched every show. They made comics the huge money making industry it is today. They're like Al Pacino in "Devil's Advocate"
(That movie was awesome by the way. If you haven't seen it, watch it. It's mind-blowingly awesome)
They helped build the empire, and they can help sustain it. If they don't sustain it in movie numbers, they'll more than make up for it in other areas. They're the people studios can count on, year in, and year out to support their movies. So with that in mind, it would be a pretty good idea to them happy, no? Oh, you weren't planning on keeping the life-blood of your industry happy?
Secondly, the excuse that "We need to change some aspects in order to appeal to the masses" is flimsy. Yes these characters and stories at times need to be updated, but if they were good enough to get a following in the first place right? And fans aren't asking for the movies to be a page for page adaptions, but just for studios to capture the essence of the characters. Ra's al Ghul wasn't middle eastern like in the comics, but he was still the same character in movie. If The Mandarin had been the same character for the whole movie as he was in the first half, there wouldn't be nearly the hate. But to fundamentally change a character so much that he doesn't resemble his comic basis, is going to alienate the people who you count on to make your movie a success. And when it comes to the Ant-Man not creating Ultron, why should Ant-Man's obscurity cause him to have such a huge part of his history taken away? Is this not stunting his potential growth in popularity? Iron Man wasn't well known before his first movie. Marvel didn't change Tony's character. They trusted the material and look at where he is now. Why not give Ant-Man the chance to do the same, and give yourself another possibly successful franchise? Why put all of your eggs in the Iron Man basket, a basket I should remind you, will be 50 when AoU is released, and likely had its last film in the franchise this year...
(I was talking about RDJ if you didn't know.....oh you did know?)
The point is, comics have thousands of worthy, and varied stories (and in them, heroes) to be used. Trust the material. You will reap its benefits. These stories are good enough to stand on their own. Try to change it too much, and not only will you alienate fans, but the story will get convoluted and messed up. Example, Spider-Man 3. Soooo, Sandman killed Uncle Ben....but, not really because Carradine spooked him...so technically it was Caradine...but technically, wasn't it Flint...
Yeah, Marty's it's confusing...
Ready for my take? No? Well, your getting it anyway!
I don't mind a decent amount of divergence. I had no problem with the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, and maybe it's because I didn't grow up as a comic fan, but I feel no great crime has been committed. I feel that while the characters are what keeps you interested in a movie, and they shouldn't be changed too much if they don't have to, the story is what gets your interest, and that's what I care about mostly. Now yeah, there are times when I'm not looking for a really complex story, and I just want the movie to tell me "Here's ya bad guy, here'a ya good guy, here's why they are fighting, enjoy" (or, you know, what Avengers was :D). But typically I like interesting story, and if it means going away from the comics in someways, I'm cool with that. I prefer more of the characters essence being kept. A really cool thing that's happened to CBMs recently is how so realistic (Realistic. Not gritty. A big difference that I think isn't understood) they seem. You can actually imagine Batman being a real guy, or Iron Man actually existing. To do this they kind of remove more of the fantastical parts of comics. No lazarus pits for Ra's al Ghul, the spider that bit Peter was genetically engineered, heck even the costumes aren't as out there *points to Hawkeye, and Falcon*.They still are the same characters, they just feel more real. Taking out some of the incredible elements makes characters feel more real, and that makes the movie appeal to a broader majority of people. I also feel its necessary for the comic book movie genre to change up its status quo in order to stay relevant. If they stay too close to source material, they'll become like the action movie genre, and only appeal to people who love superheroes. Making some of the films more mainstream, ("diluting" if you will) will allow them to stay around longer, and when the classic superhero type story is out, people won't get fatigue from seeing the exact same type of movie. Now while I think they need to change up some aspects about CBMs, don't take it so seriously that you take out the fun, escapism they present. But if I'm presented with an interesting story that requires re-working of a character, I'm more interested in the story. Former user Levitikuz (can't believe I'm writing "former") once said he thought that the Mandarin twist was actually a great twist, but he didn't think it was good for a CBM. This was a fascinating quote, because looking at the criticism of Iron Man 3's twist, it appeared many people agreed. They weren't saying that the twist was bad because they didn't like the twist, but because it was a twist in a superhero movie. They would prefer a good story and accurate character adaption, than a great and interesting story, and changing up of adaptions. Fans often get riled up when people dismiss comic book movies as not real films, but if we fans are more concerned with seeing the characters directly adapted from the comics, rather than seeing a interesting story, the movies will still be looked at with disapproval.
(On a totally other note, for people who know of him: LEVITIKUZ GOT BANNED???? LEVI? Yeah, it's not shocking, but I would've pegged Grif, or Intruder getting the boot before him....)
Well, there's my take. Been wanting to write this for a while, so I'm really glad to get it out. But, as always, what do YOU think? Agree? Disagree? Think I'm nuts? Tell me why! (respectively). I love debate! Thanks to all of those who read till the end, look forward to more articles if you enjoyed it (if not....well...don't...) This is NBAFanAddict, I need a send-off, and with that, I bid thee adieu!
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