Captain America

Posted: August 23, 2018 in Entertainment, Movies, Needless Things
Tags: ,

 

I’m taking a quick break from my “Around Dragon Con” pieces this week to take a look at Captain America. Specifically, having just rewatched Infinity Wars now that the film has hit the Blu-Ray shelves, Captain America as embodied by Chris Evans. Even more specifically, how important the casting of Chris Evans may have been to the Captain America we now know.

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“Wait… THAT guy?!? The freaking Human Torch from the crappy FF movies?!?”

That was the early response I saw in many places to the casting news around Marvel’s First Avenger. In many ways, it reflected the fan response seen in some quarters of fandom to the news that Iron Man would be played by Robert Downey Jr. in the first film to kick off and then anchor a shared Marvel Universe on the big screen. It seems like a concept from another universe now, but there were actually quite a few people who thought that RDJ would ruin the movie when the news was announced a little over ten years ago. Go ahead, play around on Google for a bit. You can still find entire discussion threads from way back when devoted to fans explaining in great detail the many ways RDJ was going to kill off the big screen MCU in its very first film.

This criticism reflected another bit of negativity directed towards the soon to launch MCU. It didn’t have characters most mainstream audiences gave a damn about. Spider-Man was the big money character, many would repeatedly inform anyone who would listen, and Marvel had licensed him off. The X-Men were the biggest money group Marvel was going to have on the big screens, and, again, they’d licensed them off. The only thing they had left were the second and third stringers. In Captain America’s case, he was written off by some as a big blue boy scout without the mainstream appeal of DC’s big blue boy scout.

Then Iron Man happened. Not only did RDJ prove the doubters wrong, but Iron Man proved that Marvel’s “second string” was stronger than some thought by outperforming the most recent mutant movies and coming fairly close to Spider-Man’s box office appeal. Suddenly the buzz for the next movies was stronger.

Then the next movies happened. The Incredible Hulk hit theaters and was something of a hot mess. It was enjoyable, but the biggest buzz about the movie in many circles was seeing RDJ as Tony Stark in the film. It also failed to connect with audiences at large in the same way Iron Man had, grossing less than half of Iron Man’s box office take on a slightly higher budget. Three years went by and the MCU served up Thor to the movie going audiences. Many Marvel “fans” seemed determine to bury the film before it even came out, and Thor, while more successful than The Incredible Hulk, also failed to be the draw with mainstream audiences that Iron Man was.

Finally, it was time for the penultimate chapter of the MCU’s build to a film featuring the Avengers with the origin story of the first Avenger. Captain America: The First Avenger was ready to hit the big screen with the Human Torch in the lead role, and, well… It did better at the box office than The Incredible Hulk did.

Captain America: The First Avenger

I was somewhat annoyed by the performance of Captain America: The First Avenger in theaters as well as some of the bad word of mouth about the film by fans. What was being written off as just an okay film at best by many was not only a very good film, but it was exactly the film needed to launch Captain America and to create the character that would ultimately be both the soul and the conscience of the Avengers and, in some ways, the greater MCU. More importantly, perhaps most importantly, it was the actor needed to do it.

The actors chosen for most of the MCU’s original heroes has had more than a little impact on the way the characters have been written and portrayed on screen. There’s a meme floating around noting that the only difference between Tony Stark and RDJ is the sunglasses the one wears and the other doesn’t. The casting of Chris Hemsworth as Thor has certainly made the big screen’s Thor more of a joking, almost surfer dude character than the comic’s Thor. Bruce Banner with Mark Ruffalo in the role is so far removed from the Bruce of the comics it’s almost a completely different character, and certainly a huge change from the previous two big screen Banners. Even Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow feels more like Scarlett Johansson in action movie mode than the Black Widow of the comics. But in the most important moments of the stories they’re placed in on the big screen, the actors have all nailed the most important and/or essential aspects of the characters to still make them recognizable and familiar to longtime fans of the comics in more ways than just the visual.

And perhaps no one has done that better than Chris Evans as Captain America.

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From perfectly capturing the young Steve Rogers who wanted nothing more than to serve the greater good in a war that was terrifying the world and refusing to stop trying to do so despite his physical limitations to becoming the man who would give up being an agent of his country in order to continue representing the ideals of his country; Chris Evans became Captain America on film in a way that has made Captain America more popular than decades of comic book adventures and small screen appearances. What we’ve also seen with the performance Chris Evans has brought to the role is the creation of a Captain America that’s not only true to the character, but one that makes people understand why Captain America is important. The result seems to be a Captain America that has grown more and more popular over the ten years of MCU Phase 1 and continues to do so now.

The tricky thing with Captain America is how easily one could screw up such a role. To a very real degree, he is in fact Marvel’s Big Blue Boy Scout. It would be very easy to play that character in such a way as to come off- even if unintentionally -as a parody stereotype at best and as an annoying twit as worst. Played wrong, Captain America is the guy you don’t want to have around. He’s a killjoy who will always be the one telling you to mind your actions and watch your language. Played reasonably well, he’s the guy you put up with because you like him despite his being the guy that will occasionally be the stick in the mud that brings the party mood down by being the annoying cricket voice you want to swat over always telling you how and why you’re making the wrong choices.

Played by Chris Evans? His Captain America is the embodiment of what we think we should be at our very best, and a person we would gladly follow because we would know that the path he’s leading us down- no matter how dark or questionable it might feel in those first hesitant steps -is almost unquestionably the right one. And the annoying or cheesy traits? They actually come off as not so bad when played out by Chris Evans.

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Captain America, along with Iron Man, was one of the two major anchors for the MCU. As the world of the Marvel Universe grew around the original group of heroes introduced in the MCU’s first five films, Captain America became in a way the more important anchor for that universe. Tony Stark would become the impetus for major events in that universe as his sense of responsibility to his role in things grew but was tainted by his doubts and fears. Eventually, his actions would lead to the thing that splits up and destroys the Avengers.

But you needed a worthy Captain America to be there for that last bit to work. You needed a Captain America who could stand there and say to the world that now was the time when what was right was more important than what was legal or allowable and make it not only believable that others would follow him, but to also make us as viewers believe it was in fact the right thing to do. A hero who essentially says he’s above the law and will not obey the rules is a common (almost necessary) thing, but few have the ability to do it in such way that makes you feel that they’re doing it because they are truly right and the rest of the world has it wrong. Captain America can do that, and with Chris Evans portraying him he did that. Then, when we finally see him again in Infinity War, after he has had to live with the weight of that choice, we can clearly see both the resolve he still has as well as the regrets from it in the way Chris Evans plays him.

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Some of the very best Captain America stories have been the ones where they made you realize how important Steve Rogers was to Captain America. Captain America was a uniform. It was an outfit and a title; occasionally with an actual rank attached. Anybody could be given that uniform and that name and be Captain America, but very few could be Steve Rogers. When you took Steve Rogers away from Captain America, it diminished Captain America. Phase 1 of the MCU has shown us how important Chris Evans is to Captain America.

Occasionally, someone comes along and so perfectly fills the costume and soul of a four color fictional hero or villain that they become the standard by which all others are compared and judged. They become, even to generations that come after their time in the role, the version of the character. Christopher Reeve did it with Superman. Hugh Jackman did it with Wolverine. Mark Hamill did it with the Joker. A lot of people talk about how RDJ did it in the role of Iron Man.

Chris Evans has done it with Captain America. Chris Evans is going to be THE Captain America to several generation of MCU fans, and likely to quite a few yet to come. He took a role that, even as written in the films we’ve seen, could easily have been a second rate background character and made the character an inspiration. He gave the character a soul, and one that feels like it should be the soul of the character that is meant to be the best of us and this country.

By this time next year, we will very likely have seen the last time Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers on film. He will be gone from the role, and time will pass, and- as the best stories made us realize about Steve Rogers as Cap -more and more people will realize how much Chris Evans meant to Captain America and the MCU as a whole; especially the first time they go to cast a new live action Cap some years down the road.

Enjoy what we’ve got, and enjoy what will likely be a (hopefully powerful) swan song next year, because it will become fully clear what we had once he’s gone.

 

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