10 Radical Movie Makeovers of Nerd Characters (and How We Ultimately Received Them)

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He’s weird looking. He’s not how I envision the character. He would appear to be violating canon in multiple ways.

That’s what a whole lot of people were saying about Jared Leto’s reveal as a tattooed, “grilled” Joker, as revealed Friday night…but it’s also what we’ve been saying about cinematic interpretations of our favorite characters ever since people have been listening to our voices. And each time, a number of self-appointed gatekeepers in the mainstream media tell us something to the effect of, “Well, you’re the ones who said Michael Keaton would be like Adam West. Why should ANYONE listen to YOU?” This is, of course, a gross distortion of the comic-nerd’s point of view, which could point you to the plusses and minuses of both West and Keaton (funnily enough, in reviewing the 1966 Batman recently, I’ve decided that West acts far more psychotic, of the two).

So let’s look back at some legendary “first looks,” and see how we really felt about reimaginings, both before and after the fact.

10. Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (The Dark Knight Rises).


How We Felt Then: Catwoman’s comic-book costume change has arguably been the most successful of the last two decades, at least. Most changes of clothes for superheroes, no matter how cool, ultimately get disposed of come the next universe-altering event, but Catwoman’s has stuck – it’s not just more practical than most outfits, but it’s also way sexier and on-point than the purple spandex with green cape that pre-dated it.

So when early rumors leaked that Christopher Nolan’s Catwoman would have goggles and a bodysuit, our hopes were raised. Then we saw it, and the prospect of Anne Hathaway in sunglasses just seemed like a big letdown.

How We Feel Now? Hathaway’s performance as Selina was spot-on, with her criminal tendencies and sense of justice rubbing up against Batman in just the right way. Her costume was more of a 1966 throwback than we expected, with the flip-down visor turning into Julie Newmar-style cat ears on her head, but it did the job.

I’m still hoping for a modern, comic-accurate Catsuit – but at least inside the outfit, the actress got it right in the end.

9. Bryan Singer’s X-Men.


How We Felt Then: While many of us were delighted that any kind of X-Men movie was going to be made, the leaked images of the team in black-leather, Matrix-style outfits rubbed a lot of comics readers the wrong way. Though minor highlights in the outfits hinted at the classic comic designs, the team’s final battle suits were best summed up by Cyclops’ line, “What would you prefer – yellow spandex?”

How We Feel Now? The movie X-Men helped usher in the modern era of superhero movies, and got audiences comfortable with the idea of a live-action superhero team onscreen. It took several installments in the franchise before anyone even tried blue and yellow outfits, and even then it was in a retro-installment set during the ’60s. It came off far less cheesy than movie people expected, but Singer’s X-films remain stuck in movie retroland – Days of Future Past‘s Quicksilver earned derisive groans from his initial appearance, even as his role in the final film was well-liked.

In the end, the leather suits worked well for the time – but Singer’s inability to let them go as times change may prove to be his downfall.

8. Teenage Mouth-Lipped Nostril Turtles (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).


How We Felt Then: The moment we heard Michael Bay would be producing a TMNT live-action movie, the knives were out. Period. It would have taken a lot to make most of us walk back that opinion…but revealing the Turtles with creepy humanoid lips and nostrils did not help at all.

How We Feel Now? The movie was successful enough to spawn a sequel, despite hardcore fans of the source material clutching their sides in pain. In the end, the more weirdly human look for the Turtles made plot points like Michelangelo’s crush in April even creepier than they ever had been before…but nobody cared. These things made money anyhow. We haters are still correct, but nobody is listening.

7. Ben Affleck as Daredevil and Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin (Daredevil).


How We Felt Then: Kevin Smith aside, Ben Affleck has never been a a fanboy favorite, and his appearance in red leather on the movie poster looked more like a client at a West Hollywood sex store than a superhero. And when it came to his arch-enemy, Wilson Fisk, people wondered why the racial switcheroo?

How We Feel Now? It’s impossible to discuss the 2003 movie – in its theatrical or director’s cut – nowadays without making obligatory Evanescence jokes. Very much a product of its time, the film did a tolerable rendition of an exaggerated-for-the-big-screen Daredevil, with Affleck doing what he could. Some suggested that complaints about Kingpin being black were racist, while others, who stated that the notion of a spoiled, rich supervillain sounded obviously white called the backlash reverse-racist. In the end, the director’s comments seemed most likely – that there were very few competent actors with that kind of physical bulk, and he took the best one available.

Today, we have a Netflix series that is better cast all-around – but for the time and for what it was, the Daredevil movie did okay.

6. Timothy Dalton as James Bond (The Living Daylights).

How We Felt Then: Pierce Brosnan was the first choice to replace an aging Roger Moore as James Bond, but the moment the Remington Steele producers got wind of that notion, they held Brosnan to the letter of his contract and kept him from taking the offer. In his place, Timothy Dalton got the role, and he played Bond as a newly monogamous, non-smoking, politically correct sort of licensed-to-kill agent.

How We Feel Now? Dalton’s first Bond film, The Living Daylights, is amazing. His followup, Licence to Kill, is less so. That’s not entirely the actor’s fault, but fans never really got over the notion that Brosnan should have had the role, and after only two Dalton movies, he got it.

To me, most of Brosnan’s movies were crap compared to Dalton’s, but it’s safe to say that’s a minority viewpoint.

5. Shaquille O’Neal as John Henry Irons (Steel).


How We Felt Then: Shaq benefited from making this movie during a period in which nobody expected comic-book movies to get it right. We knew that the character of Steel couldn’t be portrayed exactly as he was in the comic – for one thing, the character is a Superman spin-off, and there had been no Superman movies since Christopher Reeve’s time. For another, full-face metal masks aren’t very cinematically interesting, and the technology didn’t exist yet to do a morphing metal face a la Destro at the end of G.I. Joe: the Rise of Cobra. So yeah, the costume looked kinda dumb…but it wasn’t clear to a lot of us how it could be made not-dumb in a real-world setting.

How We Feel Now? Taken on its own terms as a dumb action movie, Steel isn’t really as awful as it ought to be, and it’s made fun of a lot less than Kazaam and the Shaq-Fu game. In a serious Superman film today, Shaq and that costume would look atrocious, but in their own element, they’re just mediocre ’90s star-vehicle stuff.

4. Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin (Spider-Man).


How We Felt Then: Fans liked the idea of Dafoe as the Goblin. We just hated that they gave him a Power Ranger villain costume instead of anything comic-accurate. Yes, the origin of it as a military project made sense with that armor look – but the mask never did, despite a worthy production designer’s attempt to establish that when it comes to home decor, Norman Osborn really loves masks.

How We Feel Now? Despite Osborn’s constant flipping-up of the eyes on the mask for no story reason – merely so we can see an actor’s face when he acts – Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie was well-liked by critics and fans, up to and including the Goblin. In a rare instance of resurfacing rage, however, we all got totally butthurt again when tests surfaced online of a more organic-looking Goblin mask, supposedly rejected by Dafoe for actorly reasons.

In the end, though, I think we all liked him better than Dane DeHaan’s Buttvis.

3. Heath Ledger as the Joker (The Dark Knight).


How We Felt Then: The first image to be revealed of Ledger’s Joker showed a scarred mouth and dark circles around his eyes – it was creepy, and clearly designed to put to rest the notion that heartthrob Ledger was going to turn the Clown Prince of Crime into a pretty boy, but was it really the Joker? When the first footage of him showed up, and it was clear that the character painted his face and dyed his hair, hearts sank…a faithful Batman origin tale was going to be followed by a thoroughly unfaithful take on the Joker, without the chemically bleached skin? (Contrary to common misperception, the Red Hood origin story existed long before Alan Moore revisited it, though it wasn’t as well known.)

Well, before the 1989 Batman, we had seen images of Jack Nicholson with blurred white and skin tones from the museum scene – so there was always a chance we were misinterpreting.

How We Feel Now? Not every comic fan is onboard, but a majority of viewers were satisfied that Ledger captured the spirit of the Joker even with the skin-deep differences. He wound up winning a posthumous Oscar, and is generally considered to have given one of the finest comic-based performances of all time in a movie. It was so good, in fact, that we should stop citing it as if it’s a routine example of fanboys getting it wrong, rather than a gifted actor being utterly transcendent.

2. Michael Bay’s Optimus Prime and Megatron (The Transformers franchise).


How We Felt Then: Megatron was the first robot design to leak online from the live-action Transformers movie, and it confused all of us. Aside from the color, he looked nothing like any previous iteration of the character, and even the explanation that this was his alien form didn’t quite wash. We knew he wasn’t going to shrink down to a handgun any more, but that?

Optimus, meanwhile, looked more or less recognizable in robot form, but fans took issue with an overly complex design, his having lips under the face shield, and a truck mode that differed from tradition not just in shape, but by the fact that it had painted flames on the cab, which were compared to the nipples on George Clooney’s Batsuit.

How We Feel Now? The Transformers movies are still hugely divisive, with old-school Transformers fans disliking them, and casual movie fans enjoying the big dumb action spectacle. Generally, though, the objections aren’t so much about Optimus, whose color scheme remains instantly recognizable, as it is about the many gray and/or black robots who become a big ol’ blur in fight scenes (and not Blur the robot, either). Bumblebee’s redesign was also controversial – but restrictions put in place by Volkswagen since the original toy was made forced a change on that score.

As for Megs, he at least got a giant arm cannon and a tank mode in the second film, which appeared to be an evolution towards his more classic mode…though he has lost both since. At this point, nobody expects Bay to be faithful, and nobody cares any more. The fourth movie finally had Optimus transform into his classic truck design – if that had just happened in the first film, a lot more good will might have been bought.

1. Halle Berry as Catwoman (Catwoman).


How We Felt Then: When Michelle Pfeiffer became everybody’s favorite part of Batman Returns – every horny straight man’s, at least – talks immediately began for a Catwoman spin-off. Unfortunately, half the equation changed when Tim Burton was pushed out of the Batman franchise by WB, and notions of Pfeiffer starring ultimately got replaced with talks of Ashley Judd. By that point, it seemed like the idea of doing Selina Kyle at all was no longer seen as a necessity.

When Halle Berry was finally announced, it wasn’t, at first, as big a deal as, say Michael B. Jordan for Johnny Storm. Catwoman had been black before in the form of Eartha Kitt, so having her be mixed-race wasn’t especially hot-button. Until, that is, we got our first look at the most awfully conceived superhero movie costume of all time, which looked more like it was inspired by a hamster that had been clawed by a cat.

By the time the movie arrived, and it was set in the fashion industry featuring a protagonist named Patience Philips, most of us had stopped caring. This was not a comic-book Catwoman any more anyway.

How We Feel Now? The movie and the costume are still regarded as disasters. On the other hand, if the costume had been accurate and everything else not, we might have been even madder. As is, it’s easy to compartmentalize this as an aberration everyone can agree not to talk about. Except, um, now.