The week of Aug. 4, Box Office Mojo showed five movies based on comics in the top 15. But you can be forgiven if you don’t recognize them as such.
First, let’s acknowledge how stunning it is that on one summer weekend in 2013 America, the top three movies were all based on comic books, with two more rounding out the top 15. That’s probably a record, and it’s not going to end soon, with “300: Birth of an Empire,” “47 Ronin,” “Kick-Ass 2,” “Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For” and “Thor: The Dark World” still in this year’s pipeline.
But if the five movies on the list now are any indication, some of those films will resemble their source material only superficially.
Take “The Wolverine,” for example. The character is, of course, a well-known Marvel Comics superhero; a mutant with claws, animal senses and a healing factor; and a member of both the Avengers and the X-Men. And that’s pretty much who we see up on the screen, if you squint just right.
This particular movie isn’t an original screenplay, either. It’s loosely based on Wolvie’s first solo book, a 1982 miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. That story followed Logan, who has spent decades learning samurai discipline to master his feral side and speaks fluent Japanese, goes to Tokyo because his girlfriend, Mariko Yashido, is being forced into an arranged marriage by her father, Shingen.
Failing to prevent it, he takes solace in the arms of a Japanese thrill-seeker, Yukio, but in the end he is forced to kill Shingen — which means that Mariko must take over as the head of Clan Yashida, one of the biggest crime syndicates in Japan.
Is that what we saw on the screen? No, “The Wolverine” took elements from the Claremont/Miller story, added characters from other Wolverine stories, and threw them into a blender. It resulted in a movie that wasn’t bad, but as a story lacked the emotional punch of the original comic book.
Even the “The Smurfs 2” wasn’t immune. No matter what the plot of the movie is, it’s a kids’ movie. In the original comics, which have been published in Europe for more than 50 years, the Smurfs are far more sophisticated than the dumbed-down American version.
Meanwhile, “2 Guns” hardly suffered at all in transition from the 2007 Boom! Studios miniseries. The complicated caper plot, involving two undercover law-enforcement officers who accidentally rob the CIA and are betrayed by almost everyone around them, is lifted almost intact from the graphic novel. It was a wise decision, because writer Steven Grant’s original action comedy is a rip-snorting page-turner.
On the other end of the scale is the action comedy “Red 2,” which is nothing like the 2003 story by writer Warren Ellis and artist Cully Hamner.
Finally, we get to “R.I.P.D.,” which is sinking quickly because critics and audiences don’t seem to think it’s good. That doesn’t surprise comics fans, because neither was the 1999 Dark Horse story on which it’s based.