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Costume designer Michael Crow breaks down the heroic styles of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
"The first thing I always say to an actor, especially if they’re new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is, ‘The super-suit’s probably not gonna be comfortable.'"
That's one of the many lessons Michael Crow has learned working in the MCU since he started as an assistant costume designer on Captain America: Civil War back in 2016. His Marvel Studios resume also includes Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, but it wasn't until the Disney-owned production company decided to branch out into the world of television that Crow got a chance to lead the costume department for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
"After Endgame, when I was approached about designing this series for the streaming service, I jumped at the chance," he tells SYFY WIRE. At its core, the Disney+ show is a sequel to Civil War and Endgame, so there was no one better for the job. When it came to designing civilian clothes and super-suits, Crow explains he "tried to incorporate details from earlier versions of all of the costumes into their new suits and contemporary civilian clothes. Obviously, the characters are in a different place in their lives as far as their everyday clothes, but I wanted them to speak to what we had seen before."
Both Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) were snapped out of existence for five long years. They haven't changed much since disappearing, but the whole world sure has. "We talked a lot about where we wanted the characters to be in their lives," Crow adds. "The super-suits, that’s a lot of discussion with a large group of people to get to where we end up and what we end up making. But as far as their street clothes, we talked about where they were after the Blip and what we wanted to say about the world after the Blip."
***SPOILER WARNING: The following contains major plot spoilers for all of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier!***
SAM WILSON/THE FALCON/CAPTAIN AMERICA
Bucky may have his name in the title, but The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is really about Sam's journey to accepting the mantle of Captain America. The story doesn't pull short in its exploration of what it means for a Black man to become a symbol that epitomizes the United States and its conceptions of freedom and democracy. As such, Crow wanted Sam's costumes to represent hope and optimism, which would serve as a direct contrast to project's more brooding motifs.
"I wanted to add a little more color and texture to his life than what we’ve seen in previous films," he admits. "I wanted to keep the silhouette the same, I wanted to keep the character of the clothes the same, but add a little more vibrancy because we see his family and life in Louisiana. I really wanted that to feel like a lighter part of his world than all of the darkness that encompasses the rest of the show."
That idea reaches its zenith in Episode 6 when Sam dons his custom-made Captain America costume (a little gift from the Wakandans).
"Because there’s so much darkness in the show and [because] we’re dealing with so many issues we’re struggling with in reality, we wanted him to be a ray of light. This hope at the end of the show," Crow continues. "So, there was a lot of discussion about how much white we were gonna use in that costume when it was being developed and how white that color was going to be versus… some of the previous Captain America [outfits] we’ve sort of toned it down, and it’s been more gray than white. So how vibrant we wanted that to be and I think that tone we wanted to see at the end of the series definitely told us we wanted it to be brighter. We wanted it to be significant and significantly different than what we’d seen before."
BUCKY BARNES/THE WINTER SOLDIER
Despite having his mind wiped of HYDRA brainwashing (thanks, Shuri!), Bucky is still deeply haunted by his tenure as the Winter Soldier. While he sometimes forgets he has a metal arm, he can never forget the horrible things he did as a HYDRA assassin. What excited Crow the most was the chance to explore Bucky outside of his Winter Soldier getup.
"I think we saw him in disguise in Civil War and we saw him in a couple of things toward the end of Endgame," he says. "So, [we talked about] 'What did we want that to be?' My take on it was I wanted him to sort of be a darker reflection of Steve Rogers [with] an Americana kind of look. But darker and moodier. I know Sebastian kept pushing me to lighten it up a little bit and I just wouldn’t give him that."
Bucky also presented one of the biggest costume challenges for the flashback in Wakanda at the start of Episode 4. "We sort of created this Wakandan medical compression shirt, if you will," he explains. "It was tricky, you’re trying to make him look like he doesn’t have arm. There are lots of complicated things going on there, so I think that was probably the trickiest bit."
JOHN WALKER/FAKE CAP/U.S. AGENT
How dare you stand where he stood! Where Sam's final Cap outfit was meant to represent hope and optimism, Walker's (Wyatt Russell) suit does the opposite. "We wanted him to feel darker and more threatening than the Captain America that had come before him," Crow explains. "Wyatt definitely brings that to the character anyway, but we wanted the costume to help that."
By the end of Episode 6, Walker has taken on the U.S. Agent mantle. His outfit "is intended to be a closer representation of his comic book persona," Crow reveals. "As John Walker referenced in the scene, ‘It's the same, but black.’ The red and metallic accents are darker as well, and we added in some white stripes to more closely resemble his look from the comics. We wanted to make clear that he is definitely not Captain America anymore. I'm not sure where this character may show up next, but he has brand-new duds for whatever adventure awaits him."
John Walker's best friend and right-hand man Lemar (Clé Bennett) is accidentally killed by Karli in Episode 4. His death pushes Walker over the edge and the faux Cap proves his unworthiness to wield the shield when he brutally kills a Flag Smasher in broad daylight. In the comics, Lemar was a wrestler who took on the alter ego of Battlestar after the Power Broker gifted him with metahuman abilities. His adventures in the source material are also closely tied with Super Patriot (another name for U.S. Agent).
"When we started developing the Battlestar costume, we wanted him to feel very tactical, very military," Crow says. "We didn’t want it to feel like a super-suit, but we definitely wanted it to harken to the costume in the comic books. So, we worked on incorporating elements of the costume into the star shape on his flak vest and adding elements of red and blue to his costume to compliment John Walker’s costume."
BARON HELMUT ZEMO
The man who nearly tore the Avengers asunder during the events of Civil War is back and now he's a good guy! ... sort of. Considered one of the series' standout characters, Zemo (Daniel Brühl) reveals his wealth and mad skills on the dance floor once Bucky busts him out of prison.
The most important element of Zemo's character, however, was his iconic purple mask ripped straight out of the comics.
"It was a lot of fun. Daniel’s great," Crow says. "The mask was tricky. We didn’t want it to feel like a helmet, but it had to have structure and shape and be menacing. So, there were a couple of variations. We did a prototype when did a little clip for Comic-Con 2019, which evolved into the mask that we ended up using in the series. There were a couple of different iterations between one and the other. We also kept evolving his costume from that early concept to what we ended up with. Because minor things in the story kept changing, so we needed his costume to do different things than it originally did in the early versions of the story."
Crow assures us that Brühl had pretty good visibility with the mask on, though "I’m sure he had some peripheral issues. But it’s a structured mask face and then we covered it in a fabric that had various prints and things done to it, so that it looked the way it did."
KARLI MORGENTHAU & THE FLAG SMASHERS
One people. One world. Led by Karli (Erin Kellyman), the Flag Smashers want to return the world to the state it was in after Thanos snapped away half of the population. Their mission is to give a voice to the millions of refugees who found themselves homeless when half the planet Blipped back into existence.
"We started with the idea that they lived in these refugee camps and they don’t have much," Crow says. "They’re sort of these guerrilla fighters that move around a lot, so we wanted to compact their wardrobe. They do change clothes quite a bit, but I don’t feel like it’s noticeable. It’s slight variations on a theme, but we wanted each of them to feel like an individual. Once we started casting, I started talking to the actors about who they thought these characters were. Because several of them didn’t have much said about them in the scripts. We sort of knew what their background was, but we didn’t really know much about them as individuals. So, the actors brought a lot to the characters and we just tried to make minutely different from each other, but still feel like a collection and still feel like a threatening force."
In a lot of ways, Joaquín (Danny Ramirez) is Sam's eyes and ears on the ground. But if the story continues in a second season or a movie, Mr. Torres could see his feet lift off said ground as he fulfills his comic book destiny as the second Falcon.
"[Since he's a] member of Air Force Intelligence, we wanted to balance Joaquín's youth and enthusiasm with a level of reserve," Crow says. "In many ways, I wanted to leave room for Joaquín's story and character to grow, whatever his future is in the MCU. His style hints at someone who may have more to him than meets the eye."
SHARON CARTER/THE POWER BROKER
After the events of Civil War, Sharon (Emily VanCamp) became an international fugitive. She eventually settled in Madripoor where she assumed the rule of a powerful crime boss known as the Power Broker. By the end of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, she's given a full pardon and rehired by the CIA. Still angry at being forced into exile abroad, Sharon plans to use her insider knowledge of state secrets to screw over the power structure that ruined her life, as well as expand her criminal empire.
"Sharon [is] in a very different place than we left her the last time we saw her," Crow adds. "We discussed the fact that she is still the person she was. She’s still very practical, she’s always ready for action, but she’s also much more sophisticated and has a lot more money and presents herself in a very different way than she did the last time we saw her in Civil War. She’s also darker, she's moodier, she’s a little bitter about what happened to her, post the Sokovia Accords. I wanted to bring all of that to her character."
America's first super soldier of color, Isaiah Bradley (Carl Lumbly) was jailed and experimented on for the crime of disobeying orders and rescuing his fellow comrades from behind enemy lines. If you'll recall, Steve Rogers did the exact same thing during World War II and was celebrated as a hero upon his return. All these years later, Bradley lives off the grid, filled with resentment (rightfully so) against the U.S. government, which tossed him aside — simply because he was Black.
"I wanted him to feel very… reserved," Crow explains. "He holds a lot in and I wanted that to be apparent in his clothes. Very structured and buttoned up. Not severe, but reserved, I guess is the best word."
CONTESSA VALENTINA ALLEGRA DE FONTAINE
As soon as Val (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) showed up to recruit Walker in Episode 5, fans started comparing her to Nick Fury. She's most likely been tasked with putting together a team of villains-turned-heroes — a group known as the Thunderbolts in the comics. Even the producers saw the character as a shadier reflection of the mastermind behind the Avengers. In terms of Val's costume, Crow only channeled Fury "to a certain extent."
"We definitely wanted to avoid anything that was overly Nick Fury," he admits. "But from my perspective, working with Julia, who’s such an amazing talent, I just wanted to not get in her way. She brings so much to the character, that the clothes don’t have to say a lot. Let’s add a couple of details that speak to her eccentricity, if you will, but for the most part, let’s keep a clean slate so that can she bring what she brings to the character."
Mere hours after the finale premiered on Disney+, news broke that series head writer, Malcolm Spellman, had been tapped to co-write a fourth Captain America film (presumably with Sam returning to the title role). Now, it should be noted that Marvel Studios and Disney have yet to officially confirm the project, whose announcement surprised everyone, including Mackie himself. If the movie really is moving forward, Crow would love the opportunity to continue to build out the Cap corner of the MCU from a costume POV.
"From [the] comic books [perspective] there’s a lot of potential for a lot of these characters," he concludes. "I don’t really know anything. The reports on Friday were the first I had heard of anything and I don’t know if they’re true, but I’d certainly be happy to work on any of it. It’d be fun to do any of those things, any of the potential future [projects]."
All six episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier are now available to stream on Disney+.