Monday, May 4, 2009

Comics versus the Movies - Villains Edition

Last week we looked at how closely the movies followed the appearances of the heroes from the comic books. Iron Man and Spider-Man were the two winners of our poll, and I have to agree. They were both pretty close in appearance to their comic book counterparts.

This week I thought it would be fun to look at the bad guys. Without a doubt, the bad guys in the movies have been radically changed from the comic books in almost every case. Were any of those changes for the better? Let's take a look and see.

The Green Goblin

In the comic books, he's Norman Osborn, a freaky guy who puts on a rubber mask and flys around throwing pumpkin bombs at Spider-Man. For some reason, the guys who put together the first Spider-Man movie didn't feel that was scary enough or something to be taken seriously. Instead, they decided to put Norman in a Power Rangers suit and let that be tough enough.

It didn't work like they'd planned. When the first pictures of GG hit the internet before the movie came out, it caused serious doubts in the minds of many fans as to whether or not the movie would be worth watching. It was a really stupid choice, as they'd gotten Willam Dafoe to play the Green Goblin, so all they really had to do was just put green paint on his face. The guy was scary enough as is!

Doctor Octopus

Now this one seemed a hard one to pull off, but they really managed to do a great job with it. While the comic book version of the villain always ran around in green and orange spandex (and for someone with his figure, it didn't flatter him), the movie version stuck with a trenchcoat and dark glasses.

His arms were more streamlined and a lot more sinister looking than the comic book version, but you have to admit they stayed fairly faithful to the concept at least. And Alfred Molina made you actually manage to care about the bad guy in this one. I liked how they were able to let him die a hero in the end.


Trying to find pictures of Venom from the Spider-Man 3 movie isn't easy. That's due in large part to the way they pretty much kept him from showing up in the movie until the very end--and even then it was mostly Topher Grace with fangs.

In the comic books, he's this hulking monster with an oversized mouth and tongue that you just know is going to eat you alive. In the movie, it's Topher Grace. You make the call.


As far as appearance goes, I don't think any villain on this list has come closer. The costume was a dead-on match for how he looks in the comic books, and the powers were pretty much in line with the books as well. They even got the little striped shirt right! Thank goodness they didn't go for the old Fearsome Four look.

Church was at first considered an odd choice to play the Sandman, but I think he pulled it off.

Doctor Doom

As far as appearance goes there toward the end, he was pretty close. I mean, he's in armor and a green hood/robe thing. Of course, in the comic books he wears the armor, while in the movies he actually was the armor and had this weird electric power thing going on.

And in the comic books, he was scarred and mutilated beneath the mask. In the second FF movie, he was back to his old good-looking self. No points for Marvel in this one.

If there was ever a huge rip-off in comic book movies, this is the one. When it was announced that the Silver Surfer would be showing up in the second FF movie, the internet was buzzing more about the possibility of seeing Galactus than it was of even seeing the Fantastic Four! Would they remain as faithful to him as they had the Human Torch and the Silver Surfer...or would they pull a Doctor Doom and mess it all up?

As the opening date of the movie drew closer and the studio continued to refuse to release even a casual glance of Galactus, people started to get worried. I think the director realized far too late that he had messed up big time by going with the planet-eating cloud, but by then he couldn't do anything about it. The second movie was critically panned, and Galactus didn't help it. The single-greatest supervillain they ever could have brought to the movies, and they make him a dust cloud. Boooooooo, Marvel!

The Abomination

With the reboot of the Hulk in the second movie, we waited anxiously for a glimpse of his villain in the film. We all knew it was going to be hard to pull of those crazy fin ears, so would they even try? The answer was a resounding "No". Instead, we got this weird deformed thing.

While the CGI Hulk was dead-on with his comic book counterpart, the movie version of the Abomination was a huge failure. I can understand it was supposed to look like a freak, and I can appreciate the whole "super soldier serum" thing was a set up for the Captain America movie in the future, but they went way too far in the wrong direction with his looks.


The weird helmet thing was something they could have chosen to scrap and we would have understood. We wouldn't have been happy about it, but we'd have understood the reasoning behind it. But for once the writers really stayed close to the original. While the colors were a little off and the helmet had been altered to show more of Ian's face, for the most part it was faithful to the source material.

Ian definitely had the regal bearing going on throughout the whole movie. You honestly believed this was a man who could someday rule the world as its king. And he managed to keep such a real friend/foe relationship going on with Stewart's Professor X that it just added to the role.


This one is special because he's one of the few Marvel movie villains to be played by more than one person. The first time out it was Tyler Mane, and for the new Wolverine movie we have Liev Schreiber. Both men approach the character with big differences. I have to say though that Tyler actually was closer in bringing the comic book version of the villain to life as far as appearance goes. He was a little too "stupid sidekick" for personality, but he had that hulking, beastial appearance that the comics portray.

Fortunately, they've all stayed away from the orange spandex. Big props there. However, the "let's stick him in a trench coat" thing is starting to wear thin.


I'm not sure how you mess this up, but leave it to Fox to find a way. You have a villain specifically named "The Merc with a Mouth"...and they put him in the film and sew his mouth shut. How did that make sense to anyone? Ryan Reynolds was perfect at the beginning of the film with the wisecracks and one-liners. He absolutely was Deadpool personified (with one of the coolest scenes in the film as he takes out an entire room of gun-wielding bad guys) and then they screwed it up by giving him swords coming out of his arms that would have made it physically impossible for him to bend his elbows unless they were extended all the time. Sure, the teleporting thing was awesome...but how much better could it have been if they'd let Ryan make wisecracks during the fight like Deadpool does in the comics?

I wonder sometimes if there will ever come a day when the writers will actually read the source material rather than just create a whole new concept for the characters. They took what could have been an incredible spin-off movie and destroyed everything cool about the character. This was almost a Galactus-level failure.


Another bold change in interpretation, this Marvel villain runs around in black and white spandex. When it was time to make a movie, someone thought that didn't work well in screen tests so they came up with the brilliant idea of giving him this weird scar on his forehead and letting him wear a trench coat.

While Marvel loses points for changing his appearance so radically, they have to be given credit for the Bullseye/Elektra fight. A lot of that dialogue was straight from the original Frank Miller story, and the way the fight ended was also pulled from that. It was very cool to see that awesome fight hit the screen (even though it was dramatically shortened).

Lex Luthor

A bald guy in a suit. Let's be honest, you'd really have to try hard to screw this one up.

Kevin Spacey wouldn't necessarily have been my first choice, but there were so many other things wrong with the "Superman Returns" film that it hardly matters. As far as appearance, Spacey's Luthor was very faithful to the comic book version.

And the winner for best improvement in a movie version goes to...

The Joker

Two words here: "magic trick".

Do a Google Image Search for "The Joker". When you actually have to go three pages into the search before you actually find an image of the comic book version of the villain, you know you've found the actor for the part. Sure, Ledger's death gave the entire role this iconic feel that'll never be repeated...but you have to admit he was one freaky dude onscreen.

While the comic books and cartoons had given the Joker this almost harmless feel over the years, Ledger turned him back into a psycho again. Big points to DC for the fake out at the end as well. When Ledger started falling to his death, visions of Jack Nicholson doing the concrete dive flashed through my brain. Fortunately, Nolan had other ideas for this villain and let him live. Unfortunately, no matter how many Batman movies they make from here on out I doubt we'll ever see the character again. What actor would even try to step into that role now?

So that's a look at how the bad guys were treated on film. As you can see, for the most part they aren't given that much respect. Maybe that's why they always want to kill everybody all the time!

Now get out there and go see "Wolverine" at the theaters!


Pisthetairos said...

The worst part about Doctor Doom, for me, wasn't the character's appearance, but his behavior. Instead of being the ruler of Latveria who wants to rule the world, they put him as a corporate suit with a thing for Susan Storm.

Doctor Doom is one of the most epic Marvel Villains, and this change was completely off-putting. Were the writers afraid of offending someone in Eastern Europe?

LEon said...

I really enjoy this entry of yours.
Two greatest disappointment of the movie villains for me are Venom and Dr Doom.

Size does matter in both counts. Venom in person is same size as peter but with the suit, he is all beef up.

Dr Doom does command the presences enough in the movie as a threatening villain. Maybe it has to do with his love story with the invisible woman... He is just not focus...

Dorian said...

You forgot to add Lady Deathstrike, Mystique, Striker, Juggernaut, Ra's Al Ghul, Scarecrow, Two-Face (Nolan's) the Pre-Nolan Batman enemies (Penguin, Riddler, Two-Face, Bane, Poison Ivy, Freeze. If you want to include them), Blackheart, Kingpin and Iron Monger. Sorry to be such a nitpicker, but in that list we can find some real gems (Mystique) and some stinkers (Bane anyone?)

james said...

Thanks for the great post. I always appreciate your insights!

Tom said...

Good post - its not really true to say that the 'Spider-Man 2' Dr. Octopus had a MORE stream-lined set of tentacles than the comic. They went from being tubes to rusty, segmented vertebra. I'm not saying one's better than the other... just that you're wrong.

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