Editorial: The Great Costume Debate
As long as Hollywood continues to look towards comic books and graphic novels, fan boys and girls will bitch and moan about one thing or another: the origin story sucks, they wrote the character wrong, they changed their hair color, blah, blah, blah! One of the biggest complaints you’ll find from fans, however, is typically in regards to the costumes that our favorite characters are shown in. Looking back at past films centered on comic books, some of them have done a great job in translating the costumes and uniforms for the big screen, while others have completely and totally missed the mark. But what is it that makes a costume work? What attributes separates the good and the bad? That’s why I’m here today, to discuss those very questions. In doing so, we’ll take a look at what has worked and what has been complete and utter garbage.
When discussing comic book movie costumes, there is one, or several actually, that usually come to mind right from the get-go and that would be the uniforms from Bryan Singer’s X-Men films. At the time, I was thrilled to even be seeing these characters on the big screen and couldn’t give a flying monkey’s ass what they were wearing, but looking at the film(s) now, they missed a huge opportunity to do something awesome. In placing the characters in black pleather jumpsuits, Singer unknowingly created a trend among comic book movies: dark, leather(ish) uniforms is accepted and good. But if you look at when these films were released, nearly 15 years ago now, we’d only seen a few Batman films, some Superman films in the 80’s and a couple random characters that people had no idea even came from the pages of comics. If Singer had put the X-Men in blue and yellow spandex as they are in the comics, I’m convinced the film would not have been accepted as well as it was and we may not be where we are today in regards to comic book films being a viable genre in film. As the series progressed, we saw minor changes come to the black uniforms, adding colored trims and designs that helped distinguish each character’s style and powers. Storm, for instance, was featured in a blue nylon material by the third film, rather than black, which was a great change. And Colossus dropped the sleeves from his uniform, hinting at his physical strength. But it still wasn’t quite what we were looking for.
Fast-forward a few years to Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class. Setting your feelings on the character line-up aside, you have to admit, those costumes were pretty cool; bringing to the big screen the blue and yellow color scheme we all know and love from the comics, with each one being personalized to match the needs and looks of the characters. It will certainly be interesting to see what Singer does in regards to costume design when they begin production on X-Men: Days of Future Past, which combines characters from all of the X-Men films.
As we know, taking the design of a costume directly from the source doesn’t always pan out. Take Supergirl for instance, which is pretty much an identical copy. While it’s not the worst design out there, it certainly leaves something to be desired. But that is not always the situation; case in point: The Watchmen. Zack Snyder’s film is quite possibly one of the most faithful comic book movie adaptations out there, with the exception of the absence of a certain sea creature. Part of that comes from the costumes the iconic character wore in the film, which were, like the story, quite true to the original source. So why did these costume designs work so well? I’d say that the biggest reason is the dreaded “grounded universe” the film is set in. I hate to use that term, but here, it works. The characters, with the exception of Dr. Manhattan, have no powers; they are simply everyday folks who have banded together to fight the bad guys and their costumes reflect that.
This leads me to my next topic: Batman, the hero with no powers. In past films and TV series, we’ve seen Batman in numerous different versions of his costume, but as far as films go, we’ve primarily seen one theme: black. Tim Burton’s films featured an all-black suit with a yellow Batman logo on the chest and a yellow utility belt. This was a pretty cool set up and that worked quite well in the two films it was used in. Shortly after that, Joel Schumacher came along and totally took a major dump on the Batman world, including the costume, eventually turning the costumes into a black and chrome atrocity. Then, the DC fanboy savior Christopher Nolan came into the picture and grounded the character, placing him back in a solid black suit. This time, however, the Dark Knight could actually turn his head. While I didn’t hate the most recent iteration of the Bat-suit, I think it’s time to see a change and give the old grey and black (or blue) suit a whirl. We all know that DC Comic and Warner Brothers will be rebooting the Batman character, whether that will be in a solo film or a Justice League film has yet to be seen, but what a great time to give this costume a chance. As an example of how the costume could look, I turn to the porn industry, where Vivid Video put together a fairly impressive costume for the Batman porn parody. With a bit of work, the costume has a ton of potential to be impressive.
Back in 2011′s Green Lantern, director Martin Campbell wanted to take a different approach to costumes with the iconic lead character, one that proved to be one of the several downfalls of the film. Rather than placing Ryan Reynolds in a leather, latex or spandex, Campbell opted to use a full CGI-created suit. While the idea may seem like a good one, it failed to capture what the character is known for. Whether that was due to the actual look of the suit or the very idea of using CGI is to blame is still up for debate. Needless to say, should the character show up in future films, be it solo or team-up, the costume will likely undergo some changes.
One group of films that fans don’t have too many complaints come from Marvel Studios. The get-ups that the characters wear are some of the most accurate and faithful we’ve seen to date. Iron Man, for instance, has given us some fantastic suits of armor and each film he appears in offers up something new and different. The upcoming Iron Man 3 will be taking that to a whole new level, with over 45 new armors rumored to be appearing. Captain America is another great example, with his World War II costume being a great and practical representation of the comic books. His suit in The Avengers is a bit more polarizing, but it still looked fairly believable on screen. Even Thor, who many thought would be among the most difficult to adapt has proven to look great and translate well.
So what does make a good costume? Just because it is faithful to the comics does not mean that it will translate well to the screen, as proven by Supergirl, but making a lot of changes to the suit also may not work. The biggest thing that makes a suit work in a film is whether or not the costume matches the tone and feel of the film. As I mentioned earlier with the Watchmen, the costumes the heroes wore were not overly showy and matched the look and feel that Snyder was creating with his film. Another example would be the Spider-Man films , both Sam Raimi’s and Marc Webb’s films. Each franchise has a certain look and tone and the suits that Spider-Man wears reflect that, with Tobey Maguire donning a lighter and brighter costume for his films and Andrew Garfield wearing a darker, toned down suit. Whether or not you like the suits is a whole different discussion.
Ultimately, whether a fan likes a costume or not is purely up to that person’s tastes and likings and as the saying goes, you can’t please everyone and to think you can is rather ridiculous. However, I think it’s quite necessary to at least make an effort to be somewhat faithful to the origins of the character and now that comic book films are front and center in Hollywood, there really is no excuse to do at least that and black pleather suits should not be used going forward.
So, CBT readers, what are some of your favorite costumes from comic book movies? What are your least favorites? What do you see happening as the comic book movie genre movies forward?