The push-and-pull dynamic between faithfulness to the source material and original innovation for the story on the page defines the modern comic book movie. No matter whether the film is DC, Marvel, or any other commercial comic book publisher, fans debate changes made to their favorite characters in service of various interests.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has managed to honor the comics, dishonor them, and innovate on unengaging or dated material. With a lifespan as long as the MCU’s, it’s bound to have accumulated a number of successes and errors in its vast repertoire of experimentation. The characters of the MCU span the length of the honor/dishonor spectrum. Some transcend their sidelined status to become integral players to the franchise, while others regress to cliches or generalities evident of a lacking vision.
10 BETTER | Wong Is A Responsible Sorcerer Supreme
A subtle but startling update to the status quo of the MCU comes courtesy of Spider-Man: No Way Home. While the film does essentially give the titular hero a soft reboot, it also indicates early on that Doctor Strange is no longer the Sorcerer Supreme. Thanks to Thanos’ actions of him in infinity warStephen Strange is Blipped for five years and vacates the position by default. Wong, evidently not Blipped, takes on the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme and is exceedingly more cautious than his predecessor. Generally depicted as a servant to Strange in the comics, Wong is elevated by the wonderful actor Benedict Wong. Imbuing the character with an authoritative yet charming aura, Wong has established himself as a major star for the franchise going forward.
9 WORSE | Quicksilver Lacks Development & Screentime
Some characters suffer because of an actor’s performance; however, that isn’t the case with Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Pietro Maximoff. As an adaptation of the Marvel character, Taylor-Johnson is let down by two major factors: his underutilization of him at the hands of Joss Whedon and the fact that his film of him, Avengers: Age of Ultronwas released an entire year after X-Men: Days of Future Past.
This latter film contains the now-iconic scene of Quicksilver set to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle.” Having to follow up Evan Peters’ slick performance in that superior film is quite a task, and Taylor-Johnson does an admirable job. The scene when he saves Hawkeye is arguably iconic. However, given the character’s long and storied history in the comics, it’s an underwhelming adaptation.
8 BETTER | Thor Reinvents Himself On Screen
It’s an awkward thing to say, but it should probably be put out there: Thor isn’t a goofball in the comics. That said, it might be time to change the status quo for the God of Thunder. Chris Hemsworth’s star-making performance as Thor, particularly in Thor: Ragnarök, delighted audiences with its earnest warmth and self-awareness. Thor is a Shakespearean character in Marvel Comics, delivering dialogue reminiscent of the bard’s most flowery tales. This rendition is given to audiences, also by Hemsworth, largely intact in the original Thorits sequel Thor: The Dark Worldas well as the first two avengers films. However, as it didn’t strike a chord with viewers, Marvel Studios brought on writer/director Taika Waititi to help breathe new life into Asgard and he, along with his leading man Hemsworth, delivered big-time.
7 WORSE | Ultron Is Reduced To A Single Film
Suffering a similar fate to Quicksilver, and in the same film no less, Ultron is killed off after his sole appearance in AoU. Renowned actor James Spader provides the motion capture and voice for the live-action adaptation of the legendary comic villain, and for the most part, he delivers a chilling and engaging performance as the AI powerhouse.
However, the character doesn’t appear in any subsequent films and only received a revival courtesy of the animated Disney+ series, What If…?. This latter version reached far more deserving heights, but i’s a shame the MCU couldn’t get the villain right in live-action. His impact may have been felt for another film or two, but the antagonist achieved so much more in the source material. Hopefully, he’s among the coterie of rumored cameos popping up in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
6 BETTER | Vulture Is Given Nuance
One of the biggest surprises to come out of Spider-Man: Homecoming is the overhaul given to Adrian Toomes, better known as the Vulture. Weirdly enough, the character remains faithful to the comics to some degree: Toomes is still an engineer who designs a vulture-like suit and turns to a life of crime. The addition that makes legendary actor Michael Keaton’s Vulture unique is his personal connection from him to Peter Parker. Being his crush’s (Liz’s) father of him, Peter is subjected to a tense car ride straight out of the film Collateral. Peter rides along with Liz and Vulture as the truth slowly dawns on him about his heroic passenger. No one expected the MCU to make the Vulture terrifying, but they accomplished it, giving viewers one of the series’ best antagonists.
5 WORSE | Abomination Is Ready For His Comeback
Emil Blonsky/Abomination is one of the earliest villains of the MCU. However, this evidently didn’t count for anything until 2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which sees the Hulk’s archenemy briefly return. Not only is his appearance from him comics-accurate in this latest cameo, but Tim Roth, who portrayed the character’s original incarnation, returns for motion capture and voice work.
The character is also primed for a return in the upcoming Disney+ series she hulkso it’s clear Marvel Studios is working to correct the underwhelming portrayal of the character in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. Back then, Abomination sported bony protrusions (totally unlike his normal reptilian look of him) much like Doomsday in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and was simply a little bland.
4 BETTER | Scarlet Witch Is An Antihero For Modern Times
Catapulted to superheroic stardom following the conclusion of WandaVision, Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch has elicited an overwhelmingly positive response from critics and fans. A showcase for actress Elizabeth Olsen, Wanda is in danger of overshadowing Doctor Strange in her very own film, MoMwhere she appears to be embracing her villainous instincts on display in the comics. WandaVision works overtime to understand Wanda and the impact her trauma left on her psyche. It does this so creatively: by weaving in popular sitcoms and even a touch of horror to humanize a pained woman. Female characters in film have long been subjected to caricatures or oversimplifications, failing to enliven them with the human qualities that make fiction so engrossing. This is another accomplishment of Wanda: she’s traversed the gender spectrum, speaking to each individual viewer through the lens of her own pain. Comics Wanda accomplished this as well, particularly with themes of mental health, but the MCU Wanda is the perfect heroine for modern times.
3 WORSE | Gamora Is Toned Down For The Films
Gamora is a fierce warrior, often given to violent acts to satisfy her bloodlust. However, these more problematic elements of her character de ella are toned down and even erased entirely from her cinematic portrayal of ella in the Guardians of the Galaxy films. She’s described as the most dangerous woman in the galaxy, but seeing her struggle to hold her own while fighting Star-Lord – a random outlaw with no real combat training – the claim becomes nefarious and lends itself to doubt. She’s written more as the love interest that she winds up being, and she is killed off as a plot device to further the development of Peter Quill and Thanos. She has a more promising doppelganger running around after the events of end gamebut this acts as a counterpoint to the progress brought on by Wanda.
two BETTER | Thanos Is “Enlightened” Rather Than Lovesick
Thanos is famously obsessed with Lady Death and notoriously wipes out half the universe in an effort to garner her affection in Jim Starlin, George Perez, and Ron Lim’s infinity gauntlet. This proves motivation enough for him as it drives him to commit such heinous acts; However, the MCU, in an effort to find complexity in the character’s goals, jettison this superficial desire for a more timely cause.
The cinematic Thanos, as played by Josh Brolin, is less a homicidal madman and more a willing tool for what he believes is the destiny of the universe. In his mind, he’s saving people – thus creating a formidable villain by rendering him unable to recognize the error of his ways. The change makes for a more relatable foe and the films are better for it. Avengers: Infinity War is often regarded as less an Avengers movie and more a film about Thanos himself.
1 WORSE | Taskmaster Is Molded Into A Cliche
2021’s Black Widow suffered a lot thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. It received a home media release simultaneously with its theatrical premiere thanks to the uncertainty surrounding the virus’ spread. However, the film’s failure cannot be solely attributed to the change in its release strategy. Black Widow also butchered the cult-favorite villain Taskmaster by altering him ENTIRELY.
Tony Masters is a mercenary who’s able to accurately mimic the fighting styles of his opponents, be it Captain America, Black Panther, or Black Widow, and has a personality to match his abilities. The MCU decided to instead make Taskmaster mute (largely) and a different character altogether: Antonia Dreykov, the mind-controlled robotic daughter of Widow’s primary antagonist. Having seen the “villain not in control of their own actions” trope plenty of times, this seemed like a retread of an already tired cliche and added no new depth to either Widow or Taskmaster’s characters. Perhaps, somewhere in the MCU, Tony Masters finds inspiration in Dreykov’s antics of her and is perfecting his own suit of her.
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