Let's say you're a big fan of Spider-Man, and why not, he's a pretty awesome superhero with a powerful lesson ("With great power" and all that). But here's the big question, which is better? The original films? The Amazing reboot? The video game adaptation? We are going to get to the down and dirty and see which ones are the best, and which are wastes of your time. It is superhero time for movies vs games, and we will figure out which on deserves to be on top.
From Comics to Films to Games
Taking a comic book story and making a movie or video game out of it is not a simple task. Both films and games have very dynamic elements -moving visuals, audio, and in the case of games, interactivity. Even if it is not a direct adaptation, there is still a lot of work involved.
After all, the existing fan base already knows what's on the comics. This creates a level of anticipation and standards of expectation by which all games and films will be compared to. How close does it follow the original, how much does it deviate, what is an acceptable change? It mostly varies from person to person, but some simple things must stay the same. Being able to identify which simple things those are is not as easy as it looks.
So let's start this comparison with the biggest fish in the sea: comic's most recognizable superhero, Superman and the rest of DC comics.
The Myth: You Can't Make a Good Superman Game
One favorite notion by critics of video games is that if you play as Superman and replace or remove his invulnerability then it won't feel like playing Superman. While that is kind of sort-of-true, it is a very narrow minded view about game (and even film) design. Sure, we have seen some pretty bad Superman games (the N64 one being the worst of all), but all it takes is some good scriptwriting and you can have amazing, and logically acceptable, brawls with Kal-El. Take Injustice: Gods Among Us. This fighting game presents a world where everyone has access to super-pills that give them superpowers on par with the last son of Krypton.
Point of the matter is, having a powerful hero or protagonist does not instantly entail a crippling of story or plot or game mechanics. There is a reason why Lex Luthor has been Superman's greatest nemesis for more so many decades (moreso than Darkseid or Doomsday could ever be). And that is because Lex is written as a smart and capable person -striking at Superman in ways that his yellow-sun given powers cannot help him.
The irony is that while Superman has yet to have his own good game (Injustice is more of a Justice League game), he has not had a proper modern movie. Man of Steel had him face General Zod, which is pretty epic in its own way, but was resolved in a very terrible manner. Also, the amount of destruction that he caused and his lack of apparent regret for it, makes his characterization in the film seem lacking. Superman stands for a lot of optimistic ideals, and Christopher Reeve's charismatic approach to the character was spot on. The real super-power that Superman had was that his presence alone made people feel safe and secure. This all new approach by Zack Snyder where the America is too paranoid and too distrusting takes too much away from what the character is.
Looking at the recently released Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it is hard to feel optimistic with how WB/DC is handing the film series; Zack Snyder continues to be completely oblivious to the concept of a proper hero (he wants to treat every single superhero film as if it were a deconstruction of comics, or basically he wants everything to be like Watchmen). And that, by itself prevents DC's heroes from achieving their potential as heroes. With games like LEGO DC Comics, and several LEGO Batman games already out there, it is pretty obvious that a better DC-themed video game will be released before a proper movie is (though we still have a small bit of hope for Suicide Squad -we're just choosing to completely ignore that version of Joker). Bottom line is that if you are a DC fan, you better just stick to games (and the awesome CW TV shows) instead of the movies.
Certainty: Marvel's The Avengers Got It Right
It all started with the post-credits scene in the highly successful Iron Man movie: Samuel Jackson appears in his full Nick Fury regalia and talks about the Avengers Initiative. From there, we got Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and finally, The Avengers. It was a slow build, and it took several years to culminate, but now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is moving at full speed with a lot of new entries that include Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, several Netflix shows, and more upcoming films.
At first glance, Marvel's films seem way ahead of anything that is present in video games. But that is not exactly true. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes also hosts all of the major Marvel characters plus those not in their film licenses (X-Men, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and more). It is an incredibly fun game that puts together many great comic book stories and adapts them into all new comedy skits -this is a LEGO game after all. And Disney Infinity has it's own Avengers lineup.
But aside from having game adaptations of movies, there are also video games that adapt stories straight from the comics books. Most notable of which are Civil War and Infinity War -two major Marvel comic events that serve as inspirations for upcoming films. And while the films are going to be very loosely based on the comics, the games come so much more closer to the source material.
Capcom's Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems is a fighting game that focuses on Infinity War, here, players select from a variety of Marvel heroes and villains (Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Wolverine, Hulk, Magneto, Doctor Doom, etc) as they battle their way towards Thanos, the mad titan who has gained the power of the Infinity Gauntlet. Making the game more interesting is the fact that during battle, the Infinity Gems can be used in order to gain a powerful advantage.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 (made by Activision), is an almost-direct adaptation of the Civil War storyline -which includes the tragic nuclear explosion of the New Heroes that turns Speedball into Penance, Nick Fury's Secret War, and most importantly, the Super Hero Registration Act (all important story elements that are obviously omitted from the movie adaptation). The best part is that Ultimate Alliance 3 is rumored to be in the works too.
Of course, it has to be said that the Capcom fighting game and Ultimate Alliance are both old titles, same with other notable titles like Spider-Man 2 and Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. With Disney now controlling much of Marvel's licenses, it is unlikely that we will see any other Marvel themed game outside of the Disney Infinity ones. In the meanwhile, the MCU is gonna release Doctor Strange, Black Panther and many new films. Gamers who like Marvel comics will just have to hope for good games to come out, but at least the great films are certainly arriving (same goes with the Netflix shows too).
If you look for Marvel or DC themed games, you will find a lot of them. Mobile apps alone would give you endless runners (Iron Man 3, Spider-Man Unlimited, Batman and Flash), tap-fighting games (Avengers Initiative, Arkham City, Injustice), some pinball games (Zen Pinball), and a whole load of other stuff (Avengers Academy, Future Fight, Alliance 2, Comics Legends, etc). But only a few of these apps are truly, exceptionally good (and some of the seemingly decent ones are crippled by IAPs). Movies has its share of flops too, both Hulk films, Green Lantern, Jonah Hex, Wolverine Origins, are just a few.
But let's talk about the good ones -films and games.
There are times when games manage to surpass the movies they are based on. Take older entries like Spider-Man 2 and X-Men 2, as films, these were not as impressive. But the game adaptations were exceptionally good (Spider-Man 2 had an amazing open world, web swinging mechanic while X-Men 2's depiction of mutant powers was exceptional, especially Nightcrawler's bamf-ing ability).
There are plenty of exceptionally good Marvel superhero films (almost all of MCU is impressive) while its video games, despite being fun, are not really that exceptional game-wise. Both of the better titles we just mentioned are from the Playstation 2 era, which is two console generations ago. While Deadpool had a nice HD-era game (full of fourth wall breaking and chimichangas), it was nowhere near as fun as the actual Deadpool movie. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is not as good as the first one and Marvel Avengers Battle for Earth (which follows the Secret Invasion storyline), has nice visuals but suffers from having the gameplay of a mobile app. The recent Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions failed to impress both gamers and critics alike. At the very least, LEGO's take on Marvel is great to play (even if it is very humorous in delivery). It has to be said that thanks to the success of Marvel's movies, more and more superhero themed games have been appearing and they are not necessarily based on either DC or Marvel licenses. Take games like Saint's Row, Whack Your Boss Super Hero Edition, Infamous, Prototype, and others -sure, not all are necessarily 'comic' themed, but they all focus on the concept of having super powers.
DC Comics has it a much better in terms of games with the amazing Arkham series for Batman (one of the best superhero game series ever made), Injustice: Gods Among Us, and a little loosely, through the simplistic yet fun DC Universe Online. Though movie-wise, DC has not had much luck since the first two Nolan films for Batman (the third one is just as bad as the Nicholas Cage Ghostrider films).
Now here's an obligatory statement when it comes to quantity and quality: movies are not as long as video games. Indeed, even if you marathon all existing MCU films, that would only bring you to under 30 hours (counting everything from Iron-Man to Ant-Man). And a single video game (even the old ones) is just as long or even longer. But that's not really the point. The duration by which you play a game or watch a movie does not really affect the overall enjoyment and fulfillment factor. Simply spending more time on a game does not make it worth more. So there, enough said about that.
So Which is Better? Video Games or Movies?
The bottom line is that it all comes back to the developers and filmmakers. Marvel's filmmaking teams are the best -there is a respect for the source material, but the directors are also good at their craft (choosing Joss Whedon for the first Avengers movie is a stroke of genius since very few directors can balance an ensemble cast). This is why we can all keep looking forward to the next Marvel movie or Netflix series.
However, with Disney controlling the game licenses for all things Marvel, no good game developers has been attached to a Marvel game title as of late. And this leaves Marvel gamers with no options other than old game releases. And judging from what Disney did with the Lucasarts Star Wars games in production, things to not look good for Marvel's future games lineup outside of mobile apps.
DC is failing miserably with the movies since they keep hiring the wrong people to do the wrong things. Zack Snyder is great at adapting Frank Miller's original works (which is why 300 was so nice and the atmosphere of Watchmen was so spot on), but that cinematic skill does not translate well to the brighter idealisms present in the core DC comics -particularly, Justice League. And this clash in representation is why Snyder's directing skills are doing more harm than good. Ironically, DC's animation staff includes some really good screenwriters and directors who would do wonders with the live action films, but are not being chosen since they do not have the same industry reputation as well known directors.
Gamewise, WB/DC has been smart to outsource development. Rocksteady for Arkham, Activision for Injustice, and Sony for DC Universe Online -good game developers make good games (further proved with Arkham Origins being not as good as the rest of the series since it was developed only by WB Games and not Rocksteady).
Convergences and Multiverses
Regardless if you are a hardcore gamer or a film buff, if you love superheroes, this is the best time to enjoy it. There are ton of movies and games being released not only for Marvel and DC, but other graphic novels and comics are being given attention to as well. And there is no reason to limit oneself to just films or just games -in fact, there's even TV and Netflix. CW's connected universe with Arrow, Flash, and Legends is fun to watch, while Netflix has delivered Daredevil and Jessica Jones in the most breathtaking ways possible. The best part of being a fan of superhero culture is that you are not forced to just stick to one thing, you have all the freedom to enjoy them all.