Part Four: Putting Together the Pieces
2012 – A Dialogue
S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson: We made some modifications to the uniform. I had a little design input.
Steve Rogers: The uniform? Aren’t the stars and stripes a little old-fashioned?
Coulson: With everything that’s happened, things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old-fashioned.
From that exchange, we can take away two things. First, Phil Coulson is, himself, an old-fashioned guy with old-fashioned values, as we see later in The Avengers. Second, Phil Coulson won’t be on Project Runway any time soon.. In The Avengers, the filmmakers try very, very hard to make Steve Rogers look like he does in the comic books. Unfortunately, he comes out looking closer to a Mego eight-inch soft figure from the ’70s.
It may be telling that our first view of the Captain America uniform is in a locker on the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. It’s difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of a costume when it’s on hangers.
We didn’t get enough of a look at the uniform in that scene to form an opinion. It’s on screen for only a fraction of a second. When it appears on Cap’s body, 41 minutes into the film, it’s somewhat obscured by darkness in Cap’s first two scenes in costume. Shadows can hide a multitude of sins that even a little bit of light make obvious. For instance:
On the left, in flat, low light, Cap leaps into view, saving a defiant man from Loki. Cap’s looking cool and determined. Except for the chevrons on his shoulders, he appears to be the hero we’re familiar with from the comics. On the right, a few seconds later in direct, strong light, the costume already begins to fall apart. On first view, the fabric is crumpling. It looks rumpled around the neck and shoulders, rather than smooth and sleek. It’s covered with zippers, clasps, and pouches — lots and lots of small accessories.
Also, the helmet makes Chris Evans’s head look freakishly long. Where the helmet in The First Avenger curved smoothly above the hero’s skull, the Avengers helmet has lots of extra headroom. It features a built-up brow ridge, destroying the clean lines of the original helmet.
It also lacks a chin strap, instead featuring ear covers that appear to clamp the helmet to Cap’s head. Those, along with a mass of fabric covering Evans’s neck and the angle of his jawline, make the Avenger look like he has a weak chin and a huge forehead. In addition, the look of the Avengers material is cheap. While the original helmet probably was made of plastic, it looked like leather over metal. The Avengers helmet looks like plastic without any solid underpinning.
This photo is a good place to start discussing the costume as a whole. I see at least three different shades of blue in the costume, maybe four if you include the helmet. Why? Perhaps they wanted to avoid having a huge swath of one shade across most of Cap’s body. Maybe it needed to be broken up, and they decided multiple panels of different shades would do the job. And yet, they dropped the white half sleeves, which would have differentiated Cap’s arms from the rest of his body. Instead, Cap’s costume features light gray panels on the insides of his upper arms.
Here, ready for action, the suit looks pretty good, in spite of the helmet. Getting back on track with the idea of protective gear, we see that Cap has some hardened areas of his uniform, including padding on the knees, but none of the shoulders, this time around. His boots and gloves are much brighter than in The First Avenger, and they’re heavily protected with strap-on gauntlets and leg covers. Guess Cap learned about Velcro quickly.
Things start to get silly with some elements that are meant to be functional but seem more aimed at making action figures look good. Slash pockets on skin-tight pants? A utility belt with eight to ten pouches too small to hold anything bigger than flash drives, bubble gum, or condoms? Cap’s leather belt in The First Avenger was functional, but this one seems goofy.
The decorative touches are a bit iffy, as well. The star on the front of the jacket is riveted at its points but still appears in danger of wobbling loose; the star in The First Avenger, which was of similar construction, seemed fastened more securely. The “A” on the helmet is immense, which is fitting for the size of the helmet, I suppose. What’s with the silver chevrons on Cap’s shoulders, though? They are mirrored by silver highlights on the boot and glove guards, and don’t seem to have any function. If the shoulder chevrons were doubled, they’d at least be a modest nod to Steve’s military rank.
The jacket is impressive and cheesy at once. Unlike the shirt in The First Avenger, this is definitely a piece of outerwear; we see Cap otherwise in uniform but without it, and in those scenes he is wearing a blue full-length knit shirt. Although the jacket closes securely up the abdominal armor with a zipper, the top portion hangs slightly loose, the flap tacked down at a couple of key points rather than for its full length.
At the wrong angle, the flap moves freely and the look is less superhero than a $50 costume from the Hallowe’en store.
it really has its moments. Any time the helmet is off, Evans looks less foolish. Surprisingly, the more beat up the costume gets, the easier it is to take. By the time the last battle against the Chitauri begins, Cap is dirty, torn, bloodied and once again battle-hardened. He looks great. With a better helmet, he probably could have looked great for most of the film.
I’ve spoken of the busyness of the costume. Let’s talk a bit more specifically. You’ve seen how piecemeal the construction of the jacket is. The hood and helmet base, for reasons I won’t claim to understand, are likewise made up of many small pieces of fabric. The hood, even though it’s never on display, even has wings on the sides.
The red gloves, constructed of mostly smooth leather, have gripping surfaces on the inside of palm, thumb, and first two fingers. It’s an excellent idea, but why are the gripping stripes blue?
Rather than continue along this line endlessly, I’ll refer you to this good page of photos from the 2011 San Diego ComicCon, where the uniform locker was available for view. The detailed pics show just how much (possibly unjustified) work shows up under close scrutiny.
Last, and quickly, tell me what’s missing from this picture.
If you said, “a star,” you are correct. Give yourself a big, ugly stuffed animal from a sleazy carnival. In spite of all the extraneous detail seen elsewhere in the uniform, Cap is denied both his star and some of his abdominal stripes at the rear. You would think the star would be absent so that Cap would have a harness, as in The First Avenger, that allows him to quickly stow his shield out of the way and pull it free easily when he needs it. Nope. Whedon and crew denied the Captain that very useful piece of suspender hardware, this time around.
We’ll see that the brothers Russo saw a flaw in that.