Sometimes The Costume Isn’t the Problem
Without question, there are cases where a bad costume ruins a movie – making it difficult for audiences to take tense superhero conflict seriously. Still, there are plenty of times where a divisive visual design choice is the absolute least distracting aspect of an especially problematic production.
Three years ago, DC Comics adaptation Green Lantern was derided months ahead of its release when pasty-looking images of Ryan Reynolds suited-up as Hal Jordan hit the Internet. Fan reaction was overwhelmingly negative, causing us to ask if Green Lantern’s CGI costume could ruin the movie? Sadly, the absurdity of Green Lantern‘s story overshadowed even the most sensible criticisms of the costume. As soon as Hal Jordan saved a crashing helicopter by way of an overly complicated stunt car track, instead of something significantly more straightforward (and quicker), it was clear that director Martin Campbell had prioritized cartoonish style over the ability to suspend disbelief at nearly every turn.
Problematic superhero movies aren’t limited to the DC Comics side – and Marvel, not to mention plenty of indie comic publishers-turned movie makers, have their own skeletons to hide. Initially, fans were split on director Mark Steven Johnson’s choice to turn Daredevil‘s spandex suit into a fully leather costume for his 2003 film but nearly everyone ultimately agreed that it was the campy story, melodramatic performances, and underwhelming action that deserved primary blame for The Man Without Fear’s poor showing (even before the Elektra spinoff).
Point being, while it’s easy for us to nitpick costumes (without even mentioning the preliminary outrage that comes along with casting), there are many other factors that determine whether a movie will be successful (and satisfying) when it hits the big screen. In fairness, certain moviegoers keep a close eye on script writers, plot synopsis, and comic book prequels to gauge if a soon to be released adaptation will be dead on arrival – but a disproportionately higher amount of readers chime in when costume or character designs (even unofficial ones) are available to critique.
Additional Examples: Spawn and Punisher: War Zone
Still, even when we all agree that a costume or character looks idiotic on screen, that doesn’t outright mean that the respective film project is doomed.
Sometimes The Costume Isn’t Great But the Movie Still Is
Since stunt casting or a bad script (among countless other elements) can sink any superhero movie, regardless of costume quality, it should come as no surprise that a strong character story is also capable of ensuring a film delivers – even when costuming isn’t exactly what fans had in mind.
Years before Daredevil, back in the early days of the “modern” superhero movies (circa 2000), X-Men and X-2 director Brian Singer chose to ditch the mutant team’s colorful skin-tight spandex – in favor of black leather outfits. Singer’s decision moved the movie away from a live-action replication of comic book pages – vehemently angering fans that were clambering to see a yellow-suited Wolverine (as well as Cyclops in blue under armor and Rogue wearing a leather jacket over a green onesie). Nevertheless, a solid narrative and slick special effects made even the goofiest leather outfit moments palatable – especially given that Singer even allowed Wolverine to poke fun at the absurdity of costumes (in general) within both narratives.
Not a movie, but still a superhero adaptation success story, fans were initially skeptical of the simplistic design for the “Hood” (not yet Green Arrow) in Arrow – especially since the character, at first, opted for eyeliner instead of a proper mask. Yet, an enjoyable lead actor, fun DC villain cameos, and a gritty Batman Begins-like tone, have made the CW TV series a hit among casual viewers and die-hard comic book fans. To the show’s credit, many of the same viewers who thought the hero’s costume would look idiotic on screen are, one year later, signing petitions for Warner Bros. to include Amell’s version of the character in an inevitable Justice League feature film.
As a result, just because a character might not be portrayed the way fans remember (or want) doesn’t necessarily mean that the final experience will automatically be outright garbage. Costumes are, without question, a major part of the equation but sometimes (admittedly not always) changes can make for a better film – especially if they are in service of a stronger performance by a talented actor or a more satisfying set of story sequences. In some cases, this might mean letting go of an “iconic” character element or adding something entirely new – knowing that the change will upset certain fans (and set the stage for subsequent boycotts).
Honorable Mentions: Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class
Which brings us to our final point – from time to time we (fans) are just plain wrong.
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