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How Much is a Movie Allowed to Change

aka when did “Canon” become a bad word?

Obviously, I just watched Man of Steel this weekend, along with a ton of other people, but not everyone was happy with the way Superman was represented on screen. Of course with 75 years of different writers, artists, comic books, TV series, and movies there’s bound to be some discrepancies, but when does it become too far removed that it no longer resembles what the original character is supposed to represent? Personally, I’m on the side that is much more forgiving of liberties with the character. In music, I’m a big fan of remixes and mash ups, and in a way I think this translates to some of these characters. I like both the Sam Raimi and Mark Webb Spider-Man movies for different reasons, just how I like both the original Christopher Reeve Superman as well as Dean Cain’s Lois and Clark, Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel, Tom Welling’s Smallville, and several of the various animated incarnations. They are all very different from each other even though they are essentially the same character.

Now, I bring this up for a couple different reasons, and these are spoilers for Man of Steel. First up is the big issue with many fans of Superman: The death of Zod. Some people also include the deaths of all the innocent people that had to have been in all the buildings in Metropolis as well as the deaths of all the other Kryptonians, although the second half is for those who I think weren’t paying close enough attention and/or aren’t familiar enough with Superman lore. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that all the Kryptonians were sent back to the Phantom Zone in exile, not killed in a black hole singularity. The only death in that instance would be the Colonel who likely died in the crash. The civilians killed in the massive destruction in the city of Metropolis, that’s a harder one to ignore, but it’s also one of those things that falls into movie logic. The buildings are destroyed because it looks cool (and it does), you don’t see any of the fallout, and it’s the kind of destruction that’s done in comics and animation all the time and without question.

Before I get to the big question, there’s also the change with Jonathan Kent, who was always the moral center of young Clark Kent. But in this movie, he values Clark’s secrecy over the value of lives, both of young children and even his own life. And finally, when faced with Zod’s resistance and inability to submit he takes a life. This is a major change in the character of Superman, something that’s been at the heart of the character for ages. In the novelization of the comic book arc Infinite Crisis, Wonder Woman was faced with a similar situation. She had a villain incapacitated with her lasso, he was mind-controlling Superman and through the Lasso of Truth said that he would never give up his control and so she killed him. Not only that, but she was recorded killing him and the event threw a massive amount of distrust toward her and many superheroes in general. In Man of Steel, there’s a moment of anguish and comfort, but many fans feel that it wasn’t taken seriously enough. I thought the moment was handled well within the context of a movie. I think they would do well to revisit the aftermath of that event in the inevitable sequel, and if it were a television show or comic book arc, the aftermath would be revisited for quite a while. But where, when, and how it happens in this movie worked for me.

How much liberty do you feel is allowed when taking over for an established character? Sometimes it doesn’t work out for the best, like the huge backlash Michael Bay was getting over his proposed changes to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as the Keanu Reeves Constantine movie which I understand is almost a complete 180 degree turn from the original Hellblazer comic books. Even something like Jonah Hex, which is essentially a straight up western, when it became a movie there was a big supernatural angle added to it that was never in the comics. At the same time, Spider-Man fans were originally upset over Sam Raimi’s decision to change Parker’s web shooters to a part of his mutation rather than a creation of his own like they were in the comics. I’m sure some fans still are, but I think a large portion of them came to accept the change and I’m sure some even embraced it. Personally, I thought it actually made more sense that way, the same with Zack Snyder’s Watchmen. While some people missed the ending with the giant squid, I think that most agree that tying the calamity to Dr. Manhattan was a great choice that actually improved the story rather than detracted from it. What do you think, and can you think of any other examples where a character was changed for the better rather than the worse? Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.

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About Bubbawheat

I'm a comic book movie enthusiast who has watched and reviewed over 300 superhero and comic book movies in the past four years, my goal is to continue to find and watch and review every superhero movie ever made.

Posted on June 16, 2013, in Blogs and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I loved Man of Steel. Everything they did with Superman’s mythos in the movie I loved and there was logic behind of all of it. Maybe Superman takes a vow that he will never take a life again. Everything worked for me.

  2. The death of Zod and the aftermath were the best thing about this movie IMO.

  3. I have no problem with creating canon pieces of work, in comics they can be some of the best material. The Dark Knight and Rises was very similar to The Dark Knight Returns which was itself a cannon of Batman. Nobody seems to be complaining about those 😀

    • Well no one complains about Dark Knight, there’s plenty of people who complain about Dark Knight Rises. Eight years off, super-knee brace, *all* the cops in the sewers, etc.

      • That is true, but just enjoy it. I love some changes here and there because it makes the adaptation a little different than what we have already seen. Granted they can go too far, Galactus for example 😦

  4. I actually liked that he killed Zod and I loved how devastated he was over it. I really think that Superman has been the squeaky-clean do-gooder for far too long. He really needed a bit of edge to him and it payed off, at least in my humble opinion. I absolutely loved Man of Steel and I thought it was the film that he deserved way back in 2006. Heck, I saw it twice this weekend.

    As far as changes go to these superhero stories, I’m okay with them as long as they can make the changes work. Being a massive Batman fan, I was pissed off when they changed Harvey Dent’s Two-Face transformation in The Dark Knight. I was upset that he didn’t have acid thrown in his face but after thinking a little bit about it, it made sense to change it. It worked better than the acid. And as far as Watchmen goes, I liked the change at the end. The alien-squid would have been very difficult to pull off. Then again, I am one of those that loved Snyder’s Watchmen and I feel like it is a good companion to the book.

    Just my two cents. Great piece, buddy!

    -Steve

    • Thanks, my only problem with the Two-Face was the whole painkillers line. So unnecessary. I would have loved to have seen Man of Steel twice, can’t wait to see it again though I’ll probably have to wait a while.

  5. Really good article man, and interesting to think about. I was never a big reader of Superman, nor did I necessarily grow up on any comic so when I say that the way they handled Superman here in Man of Steel, that may not carry a lot of significance since I can’t really compare my other experiences or expectations. I personally loved Henry Cavill in this role; thought he demonstrated a tremendously intimidating yet more likable persona that really suited the dark tone in MoS.

    • Based on what I’ve read from people who didn’t like the changes, they thought it was too dark for Superman and there wasn’t enough humor. I’d say I kind of grew up with Superman, though I don’t remember too much of him when I was young, I remember more watching Lois and Clark and the animated Superman when I was a teenager. While there wasn’t as much fun, I thought there was still enough fun bits for me, and overall I really loved it. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Well, like a lot of things, it depends on exactly how it’s handled. I’d say it’s down to degree, nature, and quality. In degree, there almost have to be some changes — a different medium mandates a few differences here and there — but it can’t be so different as to be totally unrecognizable. And the changes have to be appropriate to the character or story… I keep thinking of the rumored Jack Black Green Lantern that supposedly was in the works at one point. Green Lantern simply isn’t supposed to be a slapsticky slacker character, so that wouldn’t have worked. And, of course, any changes have to amount to a good story in and of themselves. The changes in premise and character were the smallest issues with Catwoman.

    • I wouldn’t say the Catwoman changes were the smallest issues, but yes there were much bigger problems with it than making her a mystical cat goddess or whatever. I had almost forgotten that Jack Black was up for Green Lantern at one point. That would have been… interesting, though it couldn’t have been much worse than what we ended up with.

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