Chris Evans is squirming. It’s a brisk October morning on the London set of Captain America: The First Avenger, and the 29-year-old actor is decked head to toe in the red, white, and blue threads of the titular Marvel Comics super-soldier, hanging from wires as a massive fan hammers him with wind. On ”action,” Evans drops onto a black train car. At ”cut,” the star hops up with a wince and wiggles his caboose. It seems the wire harness hidden in his trousers isn’t being kind to him. ”There was a lot of business getting choked down there,” Evans later says with a smile, during a break in filming. His wirework appeared flawless, but a stumble on the first take has left him feeling self-conscious. ”I almost fell off the train! That would have been a disaster,” says Evans. ”Did everything else look good?”
He’s being a bit hard on himself, although Marvel Studios is surely grateful for Evans’ dedication to getting it right. Captain America — due July 22, about three months after the company’s other major 2011 release, Thor — isn’t just another new-model masked marvel from the superhero-movie factory that gave us Iron Man, X-Men, and Spider-Man. According to Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige, Captain America is ”the last jewel in the Marvel crown that hasn’t gotten its own movie franchise.” The estimated $140 million action-adventure must also creatively pave the way for the company’s most ambitious opus yet: The Avengers, a team-up of Marvel’s various movie icons slated for 2012. To paraphrase the Avengers’ fabled motto: Corporate Synergy Assemble!
But first, there’s The First Avenger. Created in 1941 by the fabled comic-book creative team of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Captain America was a military man with a shield made of indestructible ”vibranium” who began his comic-book career battling Axis-aligned supervillains — and, on the cover of Cap’s first comic, Hitler himself. In 1964, Marvel Comics brought the character into modern times using a frozen-in-ice conceit, and since then, he has been at the forefront of the Marvel universe, compelling to readers for his Rip Van Winkle angst and provocative to comic-book writers prone to use him as a prism to explore changing attitudes about America and patriotism.
The movie hews closely to Captain America’s WWII-era origins. The year is 1942, and Steve Rogers is a scrawny young man of sterling character burning to fight Nazis but unable to because he’s been deemed physically unfit. His fate — and his physique — is radically transformed when he signs up for Project: Rebirth, a secret military operation that turns wimps into studs using drugs and assorted sci-fi hoo-ha. There’s a love interest (Major Peggy Carter, played by Hayley Atwell), a sidekick (Bucky Barnes, played by Sebastian Stan), and the villain: the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), Hitler’s treacherous head of advanced weaponry. The Red Skull’s plan for world domination involves a magical object known as the Tesseract (comic fans know it better as the Cosmic Cube), a criminal organization known as HYDRA, and the bombing of New York City. No, this is not a fact-based period piece. ”It’s very much the Marvel Comics version of World War II,” says co-producer Stephen Broussard.