The biggest miracle about Iron Man 2 so far is that Black Widow's skintight jumpsuit looks decent. Often, superhero costumes from comics are just ridiculous on the big screen. Here are 10 other comic-to-movie costume translations that actually work.
It's easy to think of superhero costumes that have looked ridiculous on film — most of them have. A lot of comic-book costumes really only work in two dimensions, and especially many superheroine costumes would be a bizarre disaster if a flesh-and-blood woman tried to do any action scenes in them. Even the relatively sane comic-book costumes often fail to make the jump to movies, though — for my money, there has never been a non-absurd Batsuit on screen, including in the two Nolan films. (The Dark Knight's version was better than the one in Batman Begins, except that it had the weird bra cups.)
I considered expanding this list to include television, but I honestly couldn't think of an example of a comic-book character costume that didn't look at least somewhat ridiculous in its television version.
Some superhero movies take the easy way out and do away with the original costumes — like the Bryan Singer X-Men movies, which dressed the mutants in black leather instead of the canary-yellow spandex they'd sported until then. (My recollection is that Grant Morrison's New X-Men comic, which similarly went with the black leather look, came after Singer's first movie.) In any case, although the Singer costumes mostly worked, you can't really cite them as an example of a successful conversion of a comics costume to the movies.
Superman, Superman: The Movie.
This was the first — and for years, the only — superhero movie that took a slightly ridiculous costume from the comics and presented it on screen, with... what's this unaccustomed feeling? Oh, right. Dignity. Christopher Reeve actually manages to look dignified wearing the blue union suit. I can't tell how much of it is just Reeve's amazing posture and force of personalty, and how much of it is neat tailoring. But it just works. By contrast, the updated costume in Superman Returns always looked a little too fake and plastic. And his chest "S" has teeny tiny "S" symbols all over it, which is just silly.
The Joker, The Dark Knight.
To be fair, the Joker's look in this film takes quite a few liberties with the original — especially the scar-mouth and smudged eye make-up. But it gets the spirit of the Joker absolutely right. And the actual clothes are very, very close to the comics version. The overall appearance is very Joker-esque — and it's a million times cooler and more menacing than the Jack Nicholson version, sad to say.
Hellboy and Abe Sapien, Hellboy and Hellboy II.
Here's where you stray somewhat from costumes to creature effects — you could argue Hellboy and Abe Sapien are creatures rather than people in costumes. But Guillermo Del Toro, working closely with Mike Mignola, does such an amazing job of capturing every aspect of the look of these characters, including their clothes and their gear. It goes beyond just Del Toro's usual attention to creature effects, and gets into the tricky business of capturing the look of a comic-book character on screen.
Catwoman, Batman Returns.
When superheroines and other female comic-book characters get translated to the big screen, their outfits inevitably become fetishwear. It's just the way it works. And you can go two directions with this — the Barb Wire direction, in which the costume looks purely like an exotic dancer thing, or the Emma Peel direction. Tim Burton's Catwoman costume is definitely fetishwear, and it inspired a whole generation of fetishwear designers, but it has a bit of that Emma Peel thing going on. It's slinky and assertive, not just flirty. I think that's why ScarJo's Black Widow costume seems to work too, based on the footage I've seen so far. (And if you want an example of a Catwoman costume that does not work, look no further than Halle Berry's version.)
Iron Man, Iron Man.
Iron Man's costume, of course, is armor, which is a slightly different issue than making spandex look good. But it could so easily have looked cheesy, or dull, or like one of Michael Bay's transformers. The coolness of Iron Man's look, zooming through the sky, is a huge part of why a second-string superhero managed to become so popular at the movies. The crew at Industrial Light and Magic used a blend of practical effects and CGI so seamless, you can't quite tell where one begins and the other ends.
The Comedian and Rorschach, Watchmen.
I'm on the fence about some of the costumes in this movie. The Nite Owl costume was a valiant effort, but a bit too shiny and armor-y. Silk Spectre's costume was okay but way fetishy. And of course, Ozymandias... Well, you know. But the Comedian and Rorschach were perfect. They were like your mental images after reading the comic, somehow beamed out of your head onto the screen. The first time I really got to see Watchmen footage on the big screen, including the moving inkblots on Rorschach's mask, I freaked.
Doctor Octopus, Spider-Man 2.
Actually, when the first Spider-Man came out, I couldn't help being impressed that they managed to avoid the "footie pajamas" look that all of the live-action television Spideys had always sported. The Raimi Spider-Man costume was definitely a major leap forward for movie superhero costumes — and yet, it still looked a bit too plastic and armored, with too much texture. If I have to pick one costume from the Raimi Spideys, I'd go with the Doctor Octopus costume in the second film, which was note-perfect, including the coat and glasses.
Ghost Rider, Ghost Rider.
I was racking my brains to think of a terrible comic book movie that did a great job with the costumes, and I couldn't think of any for a while — but I think Ghost Rider is it. The whole movie is one long Penance Stare of cinematic pain that will shrivel your very soul. But if you're somebody who read a lot of Marvel comics in the early 1990s and always wanted to see a biker with a flaming skull head, then you know, it actually looked pretty bitching. Just ignore all the dialogue, and all the scenes where Nic Cage is not a flaming skull, and you're set.
The Fantastic Four, The Fantastic Four.
Oh, here's another one. The Fantastic Four movies weren't as bad as Ghost Rider, but they weren't great. Still, one area in which they did succeed was costuming — Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch, the Invisible Woman and the Thing look pretty much the way you'd always imagined them after reading the comics.