It all starts with an idea and a pencil. Characters in flashing costumes coming to life in small panels. This is the birth of comic books, but what started out on the pages of comic books, quickly became blockbuster hits. While this isn’t anything new, the fashion in which superhero films such as The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises have adapted to the big screen is not only remarkable, but believable. These films no longer follow the cliché archetypes that molded many of the superhero films of the past, but the heroes are now given an identity, character, and real human emotion.
Comic books are the source material for this new genre of film, yet the source material is often largely ignored. Jon Favreau who directed Iron Man 1 & 2—both which received positive reviews from critics—says that many comic book films tend to fail due to the director either straying from the source material, or not being knowledgeable in the source material. This is often done in order to try and achieve greater commercial success, but what is ironic is, the films which stayed true to the characters/source material did far better both financially and critically.
“We tried to make our characters as human and empathetic as possible. Instead of merely emphasizing their super feats, we attempted to make their personal life and personal problems as realistic and as interesting as possible. We wanted to make them seem like real people whom the reader would like to spend time with and want to know better.”
Many people fail to see past the flash and fantastical powers that encompasses most comic books. Behind this are stories and characters with real conflicts. While it is fair to say the visuals of comic books tend to overshadow the story, the world of comic books features characters and stories that make the reader feel as if a world with heroes is possible.
When directors such as Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy) and Joss Whedon (The Avengers) take on the task of directing a superhero movie, it is bound for success, because they are fans of the source material.
Comic books are in a sense, a source of mythology. A creation of myths with morals and analogies, that provide a sense of entertainment while questioning the very world around us. Nolan specifically follows this in his masterpiece Batman trilogy. Nolan borrows from Frank Miller’s version of Batman while tweaking the mythology in a way that still stays true to the characters. In his second film in the trilogy—The Dark Knight—he changes a minor detail about the villain Joker by explaining that he wears makeup instead of his face being white due to his run in with a vat of chemicals. This allows him to further enhance the mythology of the Joker as a symbol of anarchy rather than straying and changing the mythology.
Christopher Nolan, Joss Whedon, and Jon Favreau are some of the few directors that have adapted the source material to enhance the already thriving mythology of the comic books. Comic books already contain real conflicts and emotion, and by building upon that, these directors have done what many could not, they made the surreal real. The mark of a great superhero movie creates a realistic character, conflict, scenario, in an otherwise unrealistic world. These directors have triggered our imagination into believing—or wanting to believe in superheroes.