At E3 2019, Square Enix finally revealed Marvel’s Avengers, a new action video game based on the Marvel Universe and clearly, heavily inspired by the Avengers cinematic franchise. Whether or not the game’s universe is in canon with Insomniac’s Marvel’s Spider-Man isn’t clear. What is clear is that Captain America’s costume looks like total, grade-A butt.
On Monday, game publisher Square Enix held its own presentation as part of E3, the annual trade show for the video games industry. In addition to revealing more info about the long-awaited remake of Final Fantasy VII, as well as a remaster for Final Fantasy VIII on Nintendo Switch and a new shooter titled Outriders, the publisher debuted the first look at Marvel’s Avengers, a story-driven action game starring Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
Based on the realistic aesthetic of the game as well as its core ensemble — Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, and Black Widow (Hawkeye, where are you?) — it’s quite clear that the overall game is more inspired by the Marvel Cinematic Universe than any other form of Marvel media.
Which brings us to Captain America. Although Iron Man mostly looks like Iron Man, and Thor looks like Thor, Captain America looks like a ripped Kevin James who made some cosplay using spray painted paintball gear.
You think I’m joking? Just look at what they’ve done to Steve Rogers:
The thing screams “alt-right tactical,” down to the reimagining of the white stripes as ammo pouches. While it’s clever in the same way Netflix’s The Punisher reinvented Frank Castle’s vest to make his skull’s “eyes” part of the structure, for Cap, it just feels like someone decided there had to be a reason Cap wears stripes other than the fact he’s Captain America.
Look: I know it’s easy to arm chair quarterback on the very complicated, very difficult job of designing a licensed video game that is still deep in development. But just because a game is making its first public impression doesn’t mean it’s immune to scrutiny. So here it goes: This is the dumbest Captain America design in all 75 years the character has been around.
Let it be known that this is not a new phenomenon, either, and in about a year’s time, I’ll probably eat these words. Back when Marvel’s Spider-Man was unveiled and Spidey sported a giant white spider on his chest, the design also received criticism before fans finally came around.
Perhaps this will happen with Captain America, but the adjustment is a little steeper than just an oversized chest emblem. Taking a page out of the first X-Men movie, Cap’s costume in Square Enix’s game looks like a dramatic overcorrection on what one could see as a cheesy, old-fashioned costume. (It’s been twenty years and I will never, ever get over Cyclops dragging Wolverine for expecting to wear “yellow spandex.”)
Captain America is very, very old fashioned. That’s the core of his character. Even more than Superman who wears undies over his pants, Captain America’s unambiguous flag design screams wartime propaganda, a difficult concept for a superhero even in the 1960s.
It’s even more puzzling given the game’s clear admiration for the films is how the films celebrated the red, white, and blue costume. While Captain America is a soldier, and thus needs the suit to be functional and tactical, the MCU never shied away from the old timey aesthetic. The costume in 2011’s The First Avenger, a period piece set in the middle of World War II, was a perfect marriage between the cheesy and the functional.
Then comes 2012’s The Avengers, and the question of Steve Rogers in the modern era. Although Steve Rogers eventually wore what is arguably the worst costume of the series and finally got its rightful due in Avengers: Endgame (“That’s America’s ass,” quips Ant-Man), a key exchange between Steve and Agent Coulson still challenged the idea of redoing what already works, and already means something to people.
Steve: “The uniform? Aren’t the stars and stripes a little… old fashioned?”
Coulson: “With everything that’s happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old fashioned.”
I’m not opposed to change. I’m not precious about nostalgia. What I am opposed to is the needless adherence to a grounded realism in a superhero fantasy. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to ground logic in things like costumes, either. We’ve seen the MCU films reimagine “out there” superheroes like Black Panther and Ant-Man in exciting ways that don’t look outrageous.
There’s also just nothing wrong with a little old fashioned.
Marvel’s Avengers by Square Enix will be released on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PS4, and Google Stadia on May 15, 2020.