Does the Suit Make the Iron Man, or Vice-versa?

As General Thunderbolt Ross pointed out at the end of The Incredible Hulk, Tony Stark always wears such nice suits. With the armor wars heating up in this week’s Iron Man 2 release, it looks as if Stark will be wearing even more suits as his “Shellhead” alter ego, and will even have extras to hand-me-down to friends and foes.

Yet make no mistake, while it’s Iron Man who gets top billing, the Golden Avenger is billionaire playboy Tony Stark’s alter ego — not the other way around. So what about the getups of other famous characters? Do the movie men make the suits, or do the suits make the movie men? Here’s a breakdown — costumes, outfits and uniforms aside (with apologies to Batman, Harry Potter and James T. Kirk).

Dr. No: Sean Connery as the oh so smooth and handsome James Bond

The tux is as much a part of the Bond film series as the vodka martini and Walther PPK, but since his onscreen debut in 1962’s Dr. No, six different actors have worn the tux with varying success. Bond the man transcends his snazzy threads. After all, even when he was wearing a ridiculous terry cloth robe in Goldfinger he was the coolest dude in powder blue. Besides, if you can’t look good in a tux, you simply can’t look good. Although George Lazenby’s frilly cravat in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service almost unmade Bond, this is a case where The Man Makes the Suit.

Star Wars: Hayden Christensen as the ultimate Man in Black, Darth Vader

Before you witness the stranglehold of the Dark Side, or his slice-em/dice-em lightsaber skills, it’s Vader’s suit that makes the impression in 1977’s Star Wars. Sure, his chestplate looks like the outdated ATM at the questionable bodega down the block, but at the time, those buttons and lights looked like they had a purpose. Add to that the hissing sound of his breathing, the all-black pleather outfit complete with cape, and the domed head and featureless faceplate that made him look like a robotic Cenobite biker, and you’ve got one helluva suit. Let’s face it, it was a little disappointing when Vader’s mask came off to reveal Anakin, a mere, pale California Raisin of a man. Too bad, as well, we saw him pre-cybernetic suit as a podracing rugrat and obnoxious adolescent in the prequels. Because no one can really believe it’s Hayden Christensen under there, this is a case where The Suit Makes the Man.

RoboCop: Peter Weller all decked out as, well, RoboCop

Alex Murphy is the police officer resurrected into Old Detroit’s cyborg cop, but it’s RoboCop who serves the public trust, protects the innocent and upholds the law in the 1987 film. RoboCop possesses Murphy’s face, Swiss-cheesed memories and gungslinging flair (and KITT’s “eye” scanner), but the new combined consciousness of the robot and the man exists inside the hulking blue-steel frame only because Murph was a little too vulnerable to bullets. Since he is more tin than man, this is a case where The Suit Makes the Man.

Beetlejuice: Michael Keaton suited-up as the ultimate nut case, Betelgeuse

Michael Keaton may be most famous for his caped crusader costume, but it was as “Betelgeuse”, the ghost with the most, when he wore his best suit. The black-and-white striped suit worn by the bio-exorcist in the 1988 movie is an immediately recognizable pop-culture set of threads, and he has worn it in a video game, an animated series of the film, and at the Universal Studios theme parks. He apparently loaned the design to Tim Burton’s other undead character, Jack Skellington to adapt, but even when he switches to flannel or a violet tuxedo, the Juice is still loose and ready for showtime. Because Beetlejuice’s mayhem isn’t contingent on his funeral garb, this is a case where The Man Makes the Suit.

The Blues Brothers / Reservoir Dogs / Men In Black: Will Smith always well dressed for the role — in this case, a sequel

The classic combo of black suit and tie with white shirt and sunglasses is the de facto clothing for a simple, cool look. It’s what to wear when on a mission from God, while pulling off a heist, or iwhen policing aliens for secret agencies, as with the characters in these 1980, 1992 and 1997 films. Even though Will Smith’s Agent J claims he makes the suit look good, aside from Rod Serling who did the look sans shades, few men have been able to make this suit work when traveling solo – probably since it’s also the standard uniform for butlers and servers at fancy restaurants. So this is one is a toss up: When alone, the suit makes the man, but as a team, this is a case where The Men Make the Suit.

Austin Powers: Mike Myers as the man who looks oh, so smooth in blue velvet

While James Bond shouldn’t be caught dead in a lace cravat, an International Man of Mystery can rock it along with crushed velvet. When he first went with the blue suit in the 1997 movie, Austin Danger Powers was irreverent, chauvinistic, very cool and all British swagger. Powers wasn’t tied down to just one fashion, and even said, “If it looks groovy, wear it man.” Wear it, he did. Even when he shed the suit and was left with a hair sweater-vest chest and gold medallion, he was still all that. While the same cannot be said about his Nehru-loving nemesis who has a one-note wardrobe, when it comes to Powers, this is a case where The Man Makes the Suit.

Godzilla: Haruo Nakajima, the man who can wear rubber like no other

When the King of the Monsters was unleashed on American soil in the 1998 blockbuster flop, he was a giant computer-generated mutated iguana. This iteration of “Gojira” may have been scarier or more in line with modern movie tastes, but the Roland Emmerich-directed Godzilla wasn’t dressed right. Instead, the “real” Godzilla that arrived in Japanese cinemas in 1954, and continues to be loved today with his last on-screen outing in 2004, has always been about the rubber monster suit. Sure, there’s a man inside the rubber monster suit, but it’s easy to forget that since it’s the suit that trashes Tokyo and takes on Mothra and does it better in that rubber suit than than any CGI-generated character could. Clearly, when it comes to the big “G”, this is a case where The Suit Makes the Man.

Halloween: Michael Myers as That Really Bad Guy in an outfit that Really Needs Dry Cleaning

The one-piece jumpsuit is apparel for getting dirty and down to business. Whether it’s the business of ghost removal or mass murder, however, depends on the wearer. When Venkman and the boys don their grey Ghostbusters jumpsuits, it’s a sign of team solidarity and you know they’re ready to believe your ghost story – and thus prevent disaster of biblical proportions. When Myers is wearing his workman blues, however, he’s traveling solo and painting the town red. Since we see the busters cracking jokes and being likeable characters when they’re not wearing their jumpsuits, it’s easy to assume they’re feeling good even post-bustin’ in the 1984 movie. However, the original 1978 Myers from Halloween is never really out of his boiler suit, but he’d probably not be the same terrifying hulking force had director John Carpenter shown him hanging out in a parlor wearing a tweed jacket and khakis. The contrast of leisure suit and worksuit is everything, so with Myers and the Ghostbusters jumpsuits, this is a case where The Man Makes the Suit but the Suit Makes the (mad ) Man

The Man in the White Suit: Alec Guinness as the highly desired Sidney Stratton

In the 1951 sci-fi satire The Man in the White Suit, Alec Guinness plays a young scientist who invents a glowing white suit made of a resilient fabric that won’t absorb dye and can’t get dirty. The suit proves to be a bane to the textile industry since the need for replaceable clothing will disappear. After corporations attempt to manipulate Stratton into signing away rights to the fabric, he dons the suit and takes off in style with a new sense of purpose. Like Tony Stark, the man Stratton literally made the suit, but unlike Stark, this is a case where The Suit Makes the Man.