Mixed reviews for "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" (and a Sad Ben Affleck) didn't keep droves of fans from the box office this weekend. The tentpole of forthcoming big-screen DC Comics franchises that include Cara Delevingne co-starring in "Suicide Squad," next year's superhero-packed "Justice League" and the stand-alone "Wonder Woman," scored a record-making box office opening. Crowds packed the theaters to take in stunning superhero action sequences, real world allegories (alien foreigner Superman against right-wing billionaire vigilante Batman, etc.) and jaw-dropping costumes, including the debut of the scene-stealing Wonder Woman's supersuit.
While Lynda Carter's patriotic blue, red and gold onesie from the '70s series remains iconic, the Wonder Woman costume has been a bit challenging to update for millennial audiences. (Ahem.) "We really wanted our Wonder Woman [played by Gal Gadot] to be strong, confident and every bit the equal of the film’s male superheroes," said veteran costume designer Michael Wilkinson, who also runs film and fashion design company Wilkinson Martin. So he took inspiration from the Amazonian warrior's thousand year-old legacy in the comics and looked to metal armor worn by Greek warriors and Roman gladiators. (The suit is actually made from chrome-painted polyurethane.)
"We wanted this feeling that she was a legitimate fighter. There’s nothing decorative about her. She was intimidating and she was practical," Wilkinson said, pointing to functional and battle-appropriate hand wraps and sword harnesses in Wonder Woman's crime-fighting ensemble. While just as kick-ass as her super-team members, the female superhero still looks a bit unclothed compared to her practically head-to-toe covered male counterparts — which hasn't gone unnoticed on the Internet. "I think there's lots of different ways of showing power," said Wilkinson. "It's not really about the amount of clothes you're wearing. I think it's about your attitude."
Speaking of attitude, in this film, Bruce Wayne and his superhero alter ego Batman — played by Affleck — are at a different, and dare we say, advanced stage in life and career. "[He's] someone who's already been fighting crime on the dirty streets of Gotham for 20 years and he's little world weary and frustrated," explained Wilkinson, who looked to Frank Miller's comic "The Dark Knight Returns" for the latest iteration of the Caped Crusader's supersuit. "[Director Zack Snyder] wanted that sense of a more mature Batman and it affected everything: the choice of fabrics, the textures. He really wanted the suit to be completely beaten up." So the costume designer used a thin carbon fiber weave to highlight the "brawny tower of muscle" that Affleck put on for the movie to convey "someone who relied on his own physical strength and fighting technique rather than armor."
Or alien superpowers, like Krypton native Superman, played by hunky Brit, Henry Cavill. The Superman suit was initially created by James Acheson for the 2013 movie "Man of Steel," which Wilkinson also costume designed. But director Snyder wanted to "keep evolving" the costume, so Wilkinson spruced up the famous red cape with a new material featuring a metallic finish that really popped on camera. He also tweaked the surface detail on Superman's muscle-hugging blue and red suit with a "high tech" sort of feel, but the most interesting update might only catch the trained eyes of seasoned Superman aficionados.
"Zack had a quote from [novelist] Joseph Conrad that he loved. So we had our resident Kryptonian expert translate it into Kryptonian script and it was woven through the suit — across the bicep and across the S glyph on the front through the wrists and the belt," Wilkinson explained as fan-people squealed in delight everywhere.
When it came to dressing the superheroes' civilian alter egos, Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, the lack of a supersuit didn't necessarily make things easier for Wilkinson. Case in point: As widely covered in the media, both Affleck and Cavill became a tad too swole to wear off-the-rack suits. "Keeping track of the way their physiques were changing and developing was a full-time occupation," Wilkinson said. (Tough job, eh?) "So we had them in measurements every couple weeks and charted how they were changing." Gucci custom-designed Affleck's one-percenter industrialist suiting, while Wilkinson and a team of in-house tailors made Cavill's intrepid journalist costumes, including khakis, corduroy jackets, shirting and "a beautiful Clark Kent suit."
"We found a fantastic iconic trench coat that worked for him," the designer added. "A nod back to the golden age of comic books — having a reporter in a trench coat — so that was a nice moment that the fans will get to see in the film."
Then there's the villainous Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who's a floppy-haired millennial tech bro, as opposed to the shiny bald headed, wolf of Wall Street version that we've seen in the past. "Zack Snyder had the brilliant idea of bringing fresh energy to this iconic character and portraying him like a Silicon Valley genius," Wilkinson explained. "A young businessman that would run his corporation in a very out of the box, modern kind of way. So this unconventional nature was reflected in his clothes." Sounds familiar, right? But don't expect hoodies, fitted grey T-shirts or even shower slides on Eisenberg (who also played out-of-the-box Silicon Valley genius Mark Zuckerberg in "The Social Network").
"[Luthor] makes a lot of idiosyncratic choices," Wilkinson said. "He's slightly attention-seeking, perhaps, in his choice of clothes. He mixes up quite high-end, expensive clothes with beaten up sneakers and wears everything in a slightly disheveled, casual way."
Along with an appearance from the aforementioned Wonder Woman, various superhero colleagues will make brief cameos — as teasers and hints of what's to come in next year's "Justice League," which Wilkinson is also costuming designing. Actor Jason Momoa briefly appears as the much-debated fish whisperer, Aquaman, who happens to be one of Wilkinson's favorite superheroes. "Anyone that’s critical [that] Aquaman might be one of the less tough members of the Justice League is about to be corrected when they see how [Momoa] portrays the character," the costume designer hinted. To channel the former Dothraki chieftan's more rugged version of the traditionally orange and green clad superhero, Wilkinson took inspiration from the actor's "very compelling physicality" and the character's tough-guy tattoos.
Also joining Aquaman et al in the "Justice League" is The Flash, a character we've been enjoying on the small screen for two seasons in a costume originally designed by Oscar winner Colleen Atwood (and updated by CW supersuit master Maya Mani). While Grant Gustin plays the TV version of Barry Allen, aka The Flash, Ezra Miller will be taking on the movie portrayal — as has been greatly discussed on the Internet. "We didn’t really take the TV show costume into account," hinted Wilkinson of the costume. "It's a different universe with different directors, so we were thinking about what makes sense for our universe."
For this and future superhero costume outings, Wilkinson is taking advantage of rapidly developing costume technology. For "Batman v Superman," he scanned all the actors to produce "life-size mannequins" of the actors, employed computer 3-D modeling programs and printers and created fabrics from digital artwork. "It's amazing," he added. "And the great thing about these films is that each time you do them, the technologies —and hopefully your creative imagination — are just increasing. So you get a chance to take these costumes even further than you did last time."
Follow Michael Wilkinson on Twitter @WilkinsonMartin.