Monday, July 11, 2011

Captain America Film Makes a Statement

Captain America (the Super Soldier alter ego of young patriot Steve Rogers) marked his first Marvel appearance in March of 1941, eight months prior to the U.S. entry into WWII; the unforgettable comic book cover image displayed a young hero, with the American flag on his chest, punching Adolf Hitler square in the jaw. Such an unadulterated political stance landed creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in hot water, but it also forever announced the arrival of a bold champion for those suffering at the hands of tyranny and militaristic authoritarianism. Simon and Kirby made no bones about the super hero’s overriding goal. The staunchly aggressive art created quite a stir, and Simon remembers, "This was the time just before the War, and we were besieged by political activists who used to have big rallies at Madison Square Garden.

There would be 50,000 people in the rallies. Some found out where we lived, and these very aggressive people would protest at us and spit on us. The FBI found out what was going on and they assigned agents to be at our offices, just in case." (Marvel Studios President and "Captain America: The First Avenger" producer Kevin Feige observes, "When you have Captain America punching out Hitler in March 1941, before Pearl Harbor, it's definitely a statement, which proclaimed, 'We cannot sit by on the sidelines anymore.' That immediately spoke to Steve Rogers and Captain America as a character.")

Casting Steve Rogers/Captain America was a long and arduous task. On paper, his character goes from one extreme to the other, from put-upon reject to dynamic leader. Where do you find someone who can start off as a shy, undersized adult, capable of gaining audience sympathy and respect, who transforms into a tough, believable leader, able to legitimately challenge an elite force of Hitler's most unscrupulous soldiers? Filmmakers went through many names who, for one reason or another, were ticked off the list.

Chris Evans found his way onto the list, having previously collaborated with Marvel, portraying Johnny Storm/Human Torch in "Fantastic Four" and its sequel. As the list grew smaller, Evans' name remained. Feige comments, "We all really liked Chris and, it's funny, his name was there from the start— it's just, as filmmakers, we took this roundabout journey back to him. Like once you clear the forest, you can see the tree at the center." Johnston picks up, "We realized that Chris met with all the criteria, everything that this character needed to be. He was charming. He is boyish, but still capable of being a man and being a leader. He looks like he's just walked out of the comic books."

Evans, at first, experienced a little hesitation when approached about the project. The scope and scale of the commitment was a little daunting. Evans says, "I was scared and nervous— this is a huge property for Marvel and is a character a lot of fans care about. I'd be lying by saying I wasn't massively apprehensive at first, but it's a role that is an honor to play and I really wanted to do him justice. I couldn't be more grateful for the role, but…well... just a little nervous at the same time. As far as building my character is concerned, I really concentrated on looking at the comic books that dealt with his transformation," Evans says. "It's the story of the making of a hero,  something that starts before he even has the suit and the shield."

For fans of the original Captain America, fear not as this film has been meticulously driven. Even though filmmakers were aiming for the Marvel version of the 1940s, care was taken to keep it all grounded in reality. Co-Producer Victoria Alonso says, "We always have a compilation of what was historically accurate, and then we augment as necessary to fit our story."

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