"Captain Marvel," due out next month, is a very big deal on multiple levels. The title character happens to be the most powerful superhero in the universe and the first female superhero to lead her own movie in the Marvel Universe, following "Wonder Woman" over in the DCEU. Plus, based on the end credits scene in "Avengers: Infinity War," Captain Marvel (Oscar-winning Brie Larson) may be the key to vanquishing Thanos in "Avengers: Endgame." But most importantly of all, she's finally dressed for the part.
In her various previous iterations, Carol Danvers a.k.a. Captain Marvel was depicted in hot-pants, non-sensical cut-outs and skimpy onesie situations — not the least bit practical for chasing baddies and saving the world. "Superheroes were both made to appeal to the male gaze," says Sam Maggs, comic writer and author of "The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy" and "Girl Squads." She refers not only to the multitudes of sexualized women throughout decades of comics, but also the men drawn in ridiculous, overly exaggerated masculine silhouettes (see: Captain America).
But, in 2012, author Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Jamie McKelvie gave Captain Marvel a makeover fit for the feminist icon, both in her story and a long-overdue functional — and covered-up — supersuit. The new look then provided Marvel Studios Director of Visual Development, Andy Park, with a starting point to design concept art for the hero's big-screen debut.
"I want to be true to the source material, but bring a respect and a believability that a modern woman would actually wear these costumes," says Park, who also created the original designs for Marvel heroes (and villains) including Black Widow, Wasp in "Ant-Man" and Cate Blanchett's Hela in "Thor: Ragnarok."
A look at the trailer — and Park's Insta — shows that the design of the majestic Captain Marvel suit relates back to the teal green and black suit, which Carol wears at the start of the movie. When we first see her, she's on the highly advanced planet of Hala where she's a member of elite Kree military team, Starforce, alongside the well-accessorized sniper Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan of "Crazy Rich Asians").
Park explains that supersuits drawn in the comics tend to be "simpler" illustrations, since the heroes need to be "redrawn panel to panel," so he needed to create finer, evocative details to convey the hero's power on the big screen. Park incorporated "armored" elements and the overall idea of a "space suit that can endure rigors of space and battle."
"It was finding that balance of that form-fitting bodysuit that is invoked in the comic books and bringing a military realism and a utilitarian suit into her Captain Marvel look," Park adds. But, the gilded, showier details were added for more aesthetic reasons — like an intergalactic A-list flex, if you will.
"In the similar vein of Captain America, the suit is a symbol that gives the Kree people hope and inspires them," Park explains. The Starforce members aren't just protectors of the Kree race, they're homegrown "celebrities," as Cap is for humans on Earth. "They're not just trying to be stealthy and hidden. The suits have have silver and a star. They have elements of... bling."
But bringing the suits from the illustrations to the big screen required a complicated, multistep collaborative effort. "The choice of the material was a big, big, big deal because we knew that action was going to be very, very crazy," says the movie's costume designer Sanja Milkovic Hays ("Star Trek Beyond," "Fast & Furious" franchise). "She's jumping, flying, dropping and all of that, so it needed to be absolutely flexible." The form-fitting suits also needed to highlight Captain Marvel's intense strength and power, enhanced by Larson's superhero-level training, which involved weight-lifting up to 400 pounds and even pushing a freakin' Jeep up an incline.
One trick was creating a combination of materials to ensure that the stretch panels continuously bounce back to the original form — to avoid any distracting and unsightly sagging — after all the intense action sequences. For the Captain Marvel suit, Hays used a mix of leather backed by four-way stretch and panels of spandex-like specialty fabric. The Kree suits were created from a synthetic and pliable "liquid leather," not just to accommodate the action, but also to survive through "the wind, the water, every possible situation," like fighting shapeshifting Skrulls on a moving subway train.
Hays and the team also conducted countless color tests for maximum on-screen effect. The black panels on the Kree suits are printed with a "slight teal undertone," and shimmer under certain lighting and movements, and match the gleaming armor parts. The red on the Captain Marvel suit was painted with a tactile technique to evoke the feel of velvet on-screen.
"I am now Captain Marvel and I'm embracing my emotions," explains Park, about the emotional reveal of the bold red, blue and gold look. "I'm embracing who I am and I'm no longer being pushed down, as I was my whole life."
Plus, finally, the feminist superhero wears realistic and refreshingly practical footwear — not high-heel wedges, as most hero and villains preceding her did (and still do). Park envisioned "combat boots" and Hays carefully selected the most comfortable (and chic-looking) pair for Larson to run, jump, parkour and kick-ass. "She probably tried 30 pairs before we decided," says the costume designer, who then worked with the team to customize the final selections to seamlessly fit with the design of both suits.
Captain Marvel's iconic mohawk helmet also makes its way from McKelvie's pages to the screen, much to the excitement of her stans — and Park. A lifelong fan of comics himself, he notes that masks and helmets tend to be reserved for the male superheroes. So he was excited that directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck were on board with incorporating the signature headpiece into the movie. But, the actual process brought "a lot of challenges."
First, Park had to conceptualize how — and why — a faux-hawk-styling helmet would pop out of nowhere in live-action. "My thinking was: 'This is an alien helmet created by the Kree, so their technology is far superior to ours,'" he says, comparing it to say, Starlord's or Black Panther's hi-tech masks, which instantaneously materialize. "So, as the helmet is forming, it's grabbing her hair up into that vertical position. Why wouldn't that make sense?"
Building the helmet entailed a team effort involving Hays, 3-D modeler Adam Ross, specialty costumer Russ Shinkle of Film Illusions, longtime Marvel hair designer Camille Friend, their teams — and of course Larson, herself.
"We would have a prototype helmet and we would go to her house, we would try it on, and see where the problem areas were," Park says. "She would make comments, 'oh, this either feels uncomfortable' or just 'looks weird right here,' and then we would make adjustments. So there was a lot of back and forth to finally get that helmet to sit and look right on her."
The helmet ultimately consisted of multiple parts: "two main pieces that you clamshell into the head, a separate chin piece, the wig and, inside, a custom-made balaclava." The supersuits were actually comprised of individual pieces, too, including up to four units for the boots, gauntlets, shoulder and chest segments and a back with zippers and velcro for an easier fit. The modular design made repairs more efficient, plus allowed — relative — ease of wear for Larson. Although, she still needed the assistance of six people for restroom breaks.
"The life of the superhero," laughs Hays. "We went to big trouble to make it as comfortable as possible for her."
As we see in the trailer, Carol, sporting her Starforce suit, literally lands on earth and directly into the most '90s-specific location: a Blockbuster Video (RIP). Among the humans, she starts to uncover memories of her time as an Air Force test pilot; back then, women in the American military weren't allowed to fly on combat missions.
Also speaking to the era: a banging soundtrack and a plethora of delightful '90s pop culture Easter eggs, including the Nine Inch Nails t-shirt Carol eventually changes into, along with mom jeans, a flannel shirt, a leather jacket and vintage Dr. Martens combat boots.
"Grunge was a little bit of an influence," says Hays about the very '90s 'fit, which Nick Fury (a Marvel CG-de-aged Samuel L. Jackson) refers to as dressing like "somebody's disaffected niece." Hays found an authentic vintage NIN T-shirt, which she then copied into multiples because of all the action sequences. The costume designer also custom-built and perfectly distressed Carol's moto-jacket to look like it was bought from a thrift store.
Ironically, creating an authentic '90s aesthetic was a challenge for Hays, despite the fact that those fashion trends have cycled back. "So I was trying to figure out something that looks '90s, but doesn't look like we had gone to Forever 21 and bought it," she explains. The costume designer also sourced a series of '90s authentic rocker T-shirts to depict a through-line for Carol's past on earth (and perhaps her fun taste in music?).
"But it was about simplicity, really simplicity," adds Hays. "T-shirts and jeans: What a girl who lives for flying would wear."
Top image: Courtesy of ©Marvel Studios 2019