Square-jawed superhero Steve Rogers lays strangely immobile in the bowels of an enormous “suborbital bomber” — a contraption that looks like Howard Hughes’ legendary Spruce Goose if it were pimped out for Darth Vader. His eyes closed, the hero might be lost in deep contemplation or possibly praying for help to foil an evil plot, in this case the impending launch of a missile targeted at a major American city.
But from a certain vantage point, his face pressed against the glass encasing the weapon, it sure looks as though Captain America’s snoozing. Even if Chris Evans, who plays the weakling soldier wannabe turned strapping superhero in the new film “Captain America: The First Avenger,” were catching a few winks, it would be tough to blame him. The actor, 30, had to bulk up at the gym to better embody Rogers, who becomes a hulking good guy determined to fight for classic American ideals.
Specifically, Rogers is tasked with thwarting the nefarious designs of the villainous Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) in the World War II-era comic book adaptation, which opens in theaters July 22. In addition to the physical demands of the role, though, Evans has had to spend time wrestling with Rogers’ inner demons.
“He’s given this amazing blessing, all of the ability that he has always wanted,” said Evans on the sidelines of a frigid soundstage at Pinewood Studios outside of London late last year. “That can easily corrupt. If you give anyone this power, it is easy to become a bully and let human emotion take over.”
That notion — essentially that with great power comes great responsibility — is, of course, central to the ethos of more than one star character from the Marvel Comics universe, so it’s perhaps not surprising to find that same message at the core of “Captain America.”
What is perhaps more notable is the movie’s retro-futuristic aesthetic, which production designer Rick Heinrichs said is unique in its representation of slick and oversized World War II-era cars, tanks and aircraft; the sets and props combine elegant prewar industrial styles with the organic plantlike visions of the 20th century Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, who is famous for Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia.
“We’re not doing a historic war movie but a stylized and exaggerated war movie,” Heinrichs said. “It is the future as seen from the past.”
The approach extends too to Rogers’ costume — which includes a distressed leather coat that he wears over his familiar red, white and blue garb. Speaking with Hero Complex months later, director Joe Johnston (“The Rocketeer”) said he used “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as a template for developing the story.
“This is futurism in the 1940s; if you went to 1942 and thought of what the future would be, that’s what the approach was,” Johnston said. “The villain has a much more futuristic style and his science and his apparatus — he has a whole design motif that is beyond 1942 but it’s what you might have perceived as futuristic from a 1942 vantage point.”
Of course, setting “Captain America” in the storied past helps avoid some of the more charged political questions that accompany releasing a patriotically themed production around the world at a time when the U.S. is perceived in certain places as somewhat less than heroic.
Marvel is not blind to the potentially alienating title and is planning to open the film simply as “The First Avenger” in South Korea, Russia and Ukraine, where the comic book is not already well known, according to the film’s producer and Marvel Studios’ president Kevin Feige.
But he and Evans, who will reprise his role in next year’s “The Avengers,” point out that the movie highlights the universal elements that have made Steve Rogers an enduring presence in the seven decades since his debut.
“Right now in America how we handle ourselves in political and global issues is up for questioning,” Evans said. “I still think Captain America is timeless. He might wear the red, white and blue, but I don’t think this is all about America. It is what America stands for. It could be called ‘Captain Good.’”
– Eric Pape
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