1. Watchmen is a comic book movie done right
Given the behemoth nature of the novel it’s no surprise that opinions were polarised on this one, even right from the start.
Most notably, Svengali author and expert recluse Alan Moore cast his aspersions over the movie, likening it to “regurgitated worms” before it had even been released, and arguing that Watchmen was “inherently unfilmable”.
But these doubts belied director Zack Snyder’s vision. Using the comic as a storyboard, as he did with 300, there’s shot-for-shot likeness galore. Similar, but meaner, costumes bring it up to date, while grim Cold War reality is brought home with modern covers of Bob Dylan classics.
Some might rhetorically shout “but what about the alien?!”, but the plot alterations have been tightened up to the extent that the naysaying becomes irrelevant; these aren’t the convoluted shambles that they were expected to be, merely simplifications which made the film possible.
Moore might not have approved, but he did admit that David Hayter’s screenplay was “as close as I could imagine anyone getting to Watchmen.”
2. 30 Days Of Night is a comic-book movie done right
Amid Twilight’s insidious wake of sparkly bloodsuckers and high school japes, 30 Days Of Night is a beacon of jet-black darkness.
This is what vampire movies should look like.
David Slade’s adaptation of Steve Niles’ miniseries is pretty much unchanged, and the comic makes short work of a silent, darkened cinema. The unique setting translates effortlessly onto the screen; arterial red splatters over fresh snow under a starless sky, and looks great doing so.
But the best part is undoubtedly the hunt, adding an element of tension the comic doesn’t quite harness. The villains spend a large part of their screen time eviscerating the locals, but once feeding time’s over it turns into a game of cat and mouse, Caligula eyes blinking in the night while the scattered survivors hold their breath.
A terrific mandate for what a vampire film should be.
3. Road To Perdition is a comic book movie done right
Not typical SciFiNow material, we’ll grant you, but it’s simply too good to overlook.
Loosely based on the hugely influential manga Lone Wolf And Cub (better known for the cult movie Shogun Assassin), Max Allan Collins’ The Road To Perdition tells the story of a father and son caught up in a mafia family betrayal. Where the manga is primarily story-driven, Collins’ takes more time to look at family relationships, and the child’s perspective of his father’s violent retribution.
This approach attracted Sam Mendes, recently finished with American Beauty, to filming it; he described it as “narratively very simple, but thematically very complex.”
Needless to say, he captured it with due decorum. Perennial A-lister Tom Hanks was recruited as the honourable yet dangerous father, while Conrad Hall’s rain-soaked backdrop of depression-era America earned him an Academy Award for Best Cinematography.
Mendes might have stripped the comic down somewhat – the lack of dialogue between parent and son paints a father struggling to balance paternal duties with his lust for revenge – but there are a few welcome additions here and there. For example, Jude Law’s sallow-toned assassin is introduced to provide a persistent sense of threat to Hanks’ quest.
The Road To Perdition seems to have been overshadowed, even forgotten, since initially receiving widespread approbation. It deserves more – both Mendes and Hanks can count it as one of their finest works.
4. Kick-Ass is a comic book movie done right
Arguably one of the best superhero films ever made, Kick-Ass’ transition from page to screen took all the best aspects of the comic and dressed them in Hollywood finery; punchy scores and sublime blends of slow-motion and colour are littered throughout, giving the unrestrained violence a diamond-hard edge that awes rather than bores.
But most importantly, the source material’s charming naiveté and sense of fun remain untouched; for example, the bubblegum costumes and spunky characters are nailed to perfection – Chloe Moretz’s Hit Girl has reached cult status among keen cosplayers.
It has been slightly Hollywood-ised, with the origins of Big Daddy glammed up a touch. This in the grand panorama, though, changes little; with the scale lifted to epic by the aforementioned cinematography, Hollywood tinkering isn’t just successful, it’s apt. It helped that creator Mark Millar insisted on being “massively involved” in production – who better to temper and mould narrative than the author?
Millar likened the comic-store-to-cinema process as “like having a child and raising a child.” Parenting – you’re doing it right, Mark.
5. Men In Black is a comic book movie done right
An unusual entry in that it’s not really like the comic at all. The shell of the premise is there – secretive government suits investigating extra-terrestrial activity (in the comics this remit extended to the supernatural) – but that’s about it.
As with The Mask, the source material’s bleaker shades were toned down, or replaced entirely, with lighter alternatives – for example, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones merely erase witnesses’ memories. In the comic, the agents utilise a more permanent solution which leaves innocent bystanders quite dead.
Another similarity with The Mask is the use of humour. Grim professionalism and sinister aliens are replaced by itchy trigger fingers and streetwise ETs. Likewise, Smith’s charming slapstick plays foil to Jones’ headsmart competence in an original take on mismatched cop duos. The result is a funny, well thought-out remodelling.
Given the success of The Mask and Men In Black, you’d think more studios would have tried this formula with some of the lesser known comics out there. But today, if anything movie-goers want more grit, not less – maybe it’s best to let the 90s rest in peace.