When Fox released the above image of its titular antagonist in X-Men: Age of Apocalypse, the voice of fandom did what the voice of fandom does. Fans took to social media, hastily assembling memes comparing the design of the character to Power Rangers villain Ivan Ooze and drawing unfavourable comparisons to high-end cosplayers, even as they praise the comic-book accurate look of Olivia “nerdy is the new sexy” Munn’s Psylocke.
Personally, while the aesthetic doesn’t do a whole lot for me I can’t help but be grateful that we’re getting an actor of Oscar Isaac’s calibre to play the world’s first mutant.
Say what you will about Bryan Singer (many have), but nobody can deny his love for the X-Men and their universe. Whatever decisions were made in designing Apocalypse, they would not have been made arbitrarily and I’m sure the look they’ve constructed will make sense within the context of the film. Think about it, ever since James Marsden’s smirking “What would you prefer? Yellow spandex?” the film franchise has made itself perfectly clear that it has no interest in paying lip service to the look of the comics just for the sake of it.
Context is the key word here. I’m sure that when we think about it, many of us would rather that film adaptations remain true to the essence of the characters we know and love, whatever the superficial details.
That said, it can be irksome when filmmakers flaunt their ignorance or (in some cases) outright disregard for the source material. Sometimes, filmmakers take rather drastic departures in the depiction of their comic book heroes and villains. Sometimes it still works. In some cases it’s even an improvement (I’m thinking of the designs for Big Daddy and Red Mist in Kick-Ass). Often, however, it doesn’t.
Seated in the dock are some of the most grievous offenders.
All Rise For the Rt Hon. Judge Nerdifi…
Green Goblin- Spider-Man (2002)
When heavyweight thesp Willem Dafoe was cast as Spidey’s nemesis many fans were delighted. A lick of green face paint and we were pretty much there. None of us were expecting the completely encasing body suit and mask that allowed for none of the facial and physical expression that make Dafoe such a compelling performer and made one of Marvel’s most iconic villains look like something that would be more at home in a Power Rangers movie.
While the shiny green plastic aesthetic may have made it easier for the visual effects team to substitute Dafoe for his CG counterpart it also muffles the gleeful mania which the actor brings to the part when out of costume.
Not only that, it makes cock all sense in terms of the films narrative. Yes, the glider and the bright green flight suit are established as some kind of military technology developed by Oscorp but the mask? Norman Osborne is seen to have a collection of masks in his study but to have one in the exact colour, shade and material as the purloined suit?!?
It’s a cock up on a design and narrative level but Dafoe’s performance somehow manages to transcend it.
It’s not the Green Goblin from the comics, that’s for damned sure and this test footage of a far more interesting (and comic book accurate) animatronic mask serve as a tantalising glimpse of what might have been.
Nonetheless… Dafoe is such a magnetic presence he manages to reach through the inanimate shell of the suit and mask. So this one just, just gets away with it!
Deadpool-X Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
“Just don’t make the super-suit green… or animated”, quips Ryan Reynolds in the trailer for next year’s Deadpool, a clear dig at 2011’s unfortunate Green Lantern. Fox and the screenwriters should have looked in their own back yard, though, before throwing rocks at DC and Warner Brothers. Need I remind the jury of the first attempt at the “merc with a mouth” had fans wishing that Deadpool would not only break the fourth wall (in his now famous style) but smash right through it and run away as fast as he can from this disaster.
This version of Wade Wilson may have been cocky, affable and charming to start with (it is Ryan Reynolds, after all) but through the machinations of the convoluted plot the verbose mercenary is transformed into something entirely unlike his comic book counterpart.
Gone is the familiar black and red suit, gone is the self aware humour, gone is the cartoonishly graphic violence, gone is the mouth, THE FUCKING MOUTH PEOPLE!!! I’m not a die-hard fan of the character but even I’m outraged by that casual “fuck you” to the fans.
Instead we get a bare chest, shaved head, retractable forearm blades, creepy make up and an inexplicable grab bag of mutant powers.
Deviations from the look of a character I can handle, but to willingly take such a beloved character, nail the casting, provide a hint of the character as seen on the page and then jettison it all for the sake of a convenient plot device?!?
To the dungeons with you!
The Penguin- Batman Returns (1992)
When Warner Brothers executives roped young auteur Tim Burton into directing their 1989 mega-hit Batman, not even they could have imagined the commercial success the film was due. In the film’s wake it stood to reason that the studio would want him to return for the sequel. Burton, fresh off the back of his success with Edward Scissorhands had other ideas. As a sweetner to the reluctant Burton, WB gave the director creative carte blanche over the handling of the characters.
Thus, the accused isn’t just a costume design deviant, it’s a total renovation of the character from the ground up. Out with the Black tux, in with the filthy union suit, greasy locks, black bile and flippers. While this sewer dwelling, raw salmon guzzling Penguin did get his trademark top hat, monocle and cigarette holder, they were added as self-conscious affectations. Real nudge-wink stuff in the hands of screenwriter Daniel “Too Cool For This Batman Shit” Waters.
Batman Returns is easily the most divisive of all 8 of Batman’s cinematic outings to date. While many celebrated Bat-bloggers hate it, I still love it to death (although I appreciate the criticisms levelled at it). For that reason alone, it’s difficult to get too upset with this characterisation of Oswald Cobblepot.
I mean, at least he doesn’t have a fuck-awful British accent.
Plus, it’s worth noting that the popular incarnation of the character in the current comics; a double dealing, sleazy kingpin and arms dealer, is a relatively new invention that simply didn’t exist in the comics at the time.
Waddle on, Ozzy, you’re off the hook!
Steel- Steel (1997)
Believe it or not, kids, Batman & Robin was not the worst comic book movie of 1997. This crass Shaquille O’Neal vehicle takes a little known but generally well liked supporting character from the Superman comics and turns him into a mocking self-parody.
In comic book lore, after the Man of Steel died saving Metropolis from the behemoth Doomsday, the world was left with a Superman shaped vacuum… And we all know how nature feels about those. John Henry Irons, a weapons engineer who decided to keep his head down and get a job in construction when he has moral issues with what’s being done with the weapons he’s designing. When his life is saved by Superman he vows to “live a life worth saving” and upon his hero’s death he builds and dons a suit of mechanised armour complete with S shield, flowing red cape, rocket boots and giant fucking hammer.
Even without the costly links to the Superman franchise Steel had the potential to be Iron Man 10 years before Iron Man but the film’s modest budget (of which it made back around 10%- it was that bad) and the limited capabilities of its star proved extremely prohibitive to the (probably) well meaning but misguided project.
Everything that was cool about the comic book Steel suit is absent here and the way in which the supposedly metal suit moves (and bends) screams foam rubber- hey it was 1997.
Like most attempts to expand Shaq’s career outside of basketball (remember the Shaq-Fu video game) this deserves to be consigned to the enormous pile of embarrassing 90s vanity projects.
Catwoman- Catwoman (2004)
Catwoman is one of the most amorphous villains/anti-heroes in the DC pantheon. She has been cast severally as a femme fetale, dominatrix, hooker, socialite, burglar, socialite and animal rights activist. Imagine, then, how difficult of a character she is to get wrong.
This film, somehow manages to get Catwoman woefully wrong.
The costume, worn by actress Halle Berry serves as a neat microcosm of the extent to which the project completely misunderstands the value of the character.
This skimpy, S&M inspired number with a little bit of Egyptian influence and a little bit of hip-hop influence looks like it was designed by a focus group who were given a brief of “do something sexy”.
There’s no narrative sense to the costume and absolutely no sense of no sense of function, nor is there any of the sense of understated feminine prowess associated with the character.
The pointy ears, whip and claws are the only indication that the character on screen is in fact Catwoman.
While I can’t lay the blame squarely at the door of costume designer Angus Strathie for incorporating high heels into the design (nearly every incarnation of the character on page and screen has had them, but at least Anne Hathaway’s version demonstrated a functional reason) they make very little sense for a character of Catwoman’s gymnastic prowess.
Clearly, no attempt at congruity with the character on the page was even contemplated as this Catwoman isn’t even Selina Kyle (instead she’s mousy cosmetics industry gopher, Patience Phillips) and it’s clear that none of the three screenwriters who brought this confused mess to the screen had even picked up a comic book featuring Catwoman. More likely they saw Batman Returns and took all of the wrong things away from Michelle Pfeiffer’s excellent performance.
This film not only wasted an intriguing and visually striking character but one of the best actresses of her generation and one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood.
This costume is a neat symbol for all the myriad ways in which the people responsible for this film have flaunted their ignorance. To the dungeons with you, Patience Phillips (whoever the fuck you are).
The Rhino- The Amazing Spider-Man (2014)
Traditionally Aleksei Sytsevich was a huge, brutish low-level Eastern bloc thug who has his skin infused with an experimental polymer, making him near indestructible, augmenting his physical strength and giving him the physical characteristics of a rhino.
While absent from Sam Raimi’s film trilogy, the character did make an appearance in the video game adaptation of The Amazing Spider-Man. Here he was recast as Alex O’Hirn (?), again a low-level thug whose genetic make up was bonded to that of a rhinoceros using a variation of the serum that transformed Dr Curt Connors into The Lizard. While a deviation from the source material, it fit well into the universe of the film and the rebooted franchise.
When diminutive actor Paul Giamatti was cast in the role of Aleksei Sytsevich fans were left wondering if the actor would indeed be transformed into a man/animal hybrid with a little visual effects wizardry. Instead we see the celebrated actor hamming it up in a prologue chase sequence before returning for about 30 seconds in the finale in a rhino shaped tank that charges at the web slinger on all fours and comes complete with gatling guns and rockets.
VFZ supervisor Jerome Chen revealed that the suit was a Frankenstein’s monster of soviet era weaponry acquired by Oscorp in the 80s. It’s a neat idea, I suppose, and one that could have been developed further if the film hadn’t belly flopped and the franchise rebooted (again).
Giamatti is a wonderful actor known for his nuance and powerfully understated performances. While I’m sure he had a whale of a time on set, this hammy cameo (or hameo, if you will) reeks of the missed opportunity to bring a new dimension to a Spidey villain often dismissed as a witless oaf.
While I have no particular issue with the concept or design of the suit it’s one of many underdeveloped fecal nuggets that the film lobs at the wall of its desperately rushed third act in order to see what sticks.
Green Goblin (Again)- The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
Oh, Sony. Why of why didn’t you learn your lesson from Spider-Man 3? At some point in the development in this film, somebody decided that what its dissonant narrative structure needed was… MORE VILLAINS!
The film introduces acting wunderkind Dane Dehaan as Harry Osborne to the rebooted Spider-Man franchise. An inspired choice… Or so we all thought.
Inheriting a gleefully absurd comic book disease from his father Norman (played by everyone’s favourite bad Dad Chris Cooper) young Harry finds himself slowly losing his muscle control, his marbles and… for some reason turning green.
Again, this departure from the comics is a fairly interesting idea had it been allowed to marinade. Unfortunately, Dehaan’s Harry finds himself going from zero to cackling villain as he crawls into a mechanised suit that has a one-size-fits-all disease cure built in (which he just happens to have). Thus endowed he hops on the levitating glider (which he also just happens to have), to cram himself with gleeful villainy into the bloated third act finale.
I actually don’t mind the design but the concept entire is stupid, stupid, stupid and one of many half-baked ideas shoehorned into the clumsy narrative.
What could have been an interesting take on what is essentially Spider-Man’s Joker, ends up half-baked and unsatisfying. Oh and this dread disease? Apparently it comes and goes. Fuck off Harry, just fuck off!
Green Lantern- Green Lantern (2011)
Well, well well. We have another verdant defendant in the dock. And Mr Reynolds, I didn’t expect to see you before the judge again, so quickly.
It’s clear that somebody at Warner Bros saw Iron Man in 2008 and thought to themselves, “I want an Iron Man”. Thus they began assembling what they thought were the crucial ingredients. A witty and charismatic lead, a supporting cast of respected actors, a jovial but reverent script… And a CGI suit.
The results… Were unfortunate.
As a concept, I think it makes sense for the Green Lantern suit to be made of light rather than something readily identifiable as fabric or plastic. Moreover, with the exception of the mask I think the suit looks pretty good. The mask, by the way, represents a real stumbling block for the film. Upon closer inspection, Blake Lively’s Carol Ferris is easily able to recognise Green Lantern as Hal Jordan.
“I’ve seen you naked, do you think I wouldn’t recognise you, just because I can’t see your cheekbones?”
It’s supposed to be a cute, self-aware, deconstructivist take that just ends up looking like its poking fun at its own mythos. Moreover as the supposedly hyper-intelligent ring is supposed to reflexively protect the identity of its wearer with the mask it makes the most powerful weapon in the universe look like an inept cretin. Now if the suit had kept the flimsy domino mask but exerted more light to dazzle the spectator the closer they got, that would have been a good idea (you can keep that, Warner Bros.).
With all the time and effort spent on developing and animating the suit, as well as the proliferate CGI characters in the film it seems like perhaps other elements suffered. The often flat performances would have benefited from greater rehearsal and someone definitely should have looked twice at the film’s structure and ordered in some re-shoots / re-edits. Hal speaks the Green Lantern oath for the first time and then drops everything to go have a drink and do some awkward dancing with his ex?
What the serious fuck?
Your glowing CG suit may have diverted director Martin Campbell’s attention from other areas where it was sorely needed but it is nonetheless a handsome aesthetic that made sense for the film’s sensibilities.
The film has its faults but I must admit to a fondness for it, due in no small part to the rogueish charm of the suit’s occupant, Ryan Reynolds.
Away with you , Mr Reynolds. You have been spared the axe this time.
Batman, Robin and Batgirl- Batman & Robin (1997)
You may not have noticed it under the glare of all that neon but as the crime fighting launch their final assault on Mr Freeze they are inexplicably wearing new silver and blue suits. No context, no explanation, nothing.
The sonar suit in Batman Forever, for all its excess, at least had a narrative purpose (an experimental prototype that happened to be the only one spared the blast of The Riddler’s grenades). This variant of the self same suit, complete with inexplicable silver patches, gets no such benefit.
And it looks just fuck awful!
The one redeeming feature of the triumvirate of garish awfulness is the cool looking cowl which Batgirl gets to wear for about a nanosecond before relinquishing it and tossing it over a cliff for NO GOOD REASON WHATSOEVER.
Criticising Batman & Robin may be like shooting fish in a barrel but never before has a Batman movie been so brazen in its admission that it would rather sell toys than provide a cohesive narrative.
Down you go, Dynamic Douchebags.
The Red Skull- Captain America (1990)
Even as a child I was aware of the modest budget of this straight-to-video super flick. I knew to lower my expectations accordingly when I saw the obviously fake ears on Cap’s rubber mask, but I was surprised to see that his nemesis The Red Skull (bizarrely changed from a German Nazi to an Italian fascist) looked surprisingly decent.
A quick time jump later and Johann Schmidt… No, wait Tadsio de Santis (honestly) has had some major reconstructive surgery and now looks more like Silvio Berlusconi than one of Marvel’s most recognisable and compellingly evil villains.
Had the creators behind this mess the slightest awareness of the character on the page they would realise that the Red Skull is an egotist of the highest order who believes himself the vanguard of a higher order that has transcended humanity.
There’s no way he would endure hours of surgery to blend in with the masses that he feels are so beneath him.
The make-up / prosthetic job is, to be fair, competently done but to take such an icon of villainy and recast him as a mob boss that looks like the bastard love child of Berlusconi Rocky Dennis?
No. No. No.
This look, like everything else in this early 90s embarrassment deserves to be kept out of human sight for ever and ever and ever.
So, I have pronounced judgement on 10 of the worst offenders in comic book movie costume history.
Think I’ve been too lenient?
Think I’ve been too harsh?
Think I’ve missed out the most egregious costuming mishap of cinema history?
Talk nerdy to me, folks.