They say to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. But in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s getting harder for the superhero to tell the difference. In the latest installment from Marvel Studios’ interlocked franchise, Chris Evans’ unfrozen warrior from the Greatest Generation is still unsure of his place in the world after helping to save it twice: once in Captain America: The First Avenger and again in The Avengers. The Winter Soldier features a titular new villain — a bioengineered assassin with a mechanical arm — who is targeting the leadership of the global protection force S.H.I.E.L.D. The film, directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (Arrested Development), reteams Evans with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury as top operatives for the group. But Cap (alias Steve Rogers) is beginning to question whether he and S.H.I.E.L.D. are on the same side. The Winter Soldier is played by Sebastian Stan, and as anyone who saw the first film knows, his character’s history with Rogers runs deep. If there’s an overall theme in the movie, it’s this: Old friends make the worst enemies.
That was pretty damn evident when EW visited the set of The Winter Soldier last July, the day after Comic-Con ended. Footage screened for fans at the annual convention had lathered the geeky faithful into a froth, but no one’s celebrating on set. Instead of passing around high fives, the cast members are punching each other in the face.
The sun has just peeked through the morning mist, and Chris Evans is pummeling a pair of masked gunmen aboard a flying aircraft carrier. (Really, a vast shipyard parking lot in Carson, Calif.) It’s the middle of summer, and already blazing. Evans is feeling the pain. ”To make it look good, you gotta get hurt,” he says later. ”It’s gotta look a little messy.”
Even though this is his third major stint as Cap, the 32-year-old is sorta sweating his Comic-Con appearance. ”I wonder if people think I’m too skinny right now? Because literally in the past month, I’ve probably lost 15 pounds,” he says. ”Three months leading in, you get this training regimen — you try and get as big as you possibly can. Then they save the big action sequences for last, but you’re just shedding weight.” [ pagebreak
There’s another, less visible way he’s suffering. ”I mean, this thing just stinks,” he says with a laugh, tugging on his body armor. ”I put it on every morning and I’m like, ‘Oh my God…’ I’m just putting on a locker room every day.”
When you get up close, superhero movies are never quite as cool as they look on screen. To bring a comic book to life, as Marvel Studios has done nine times now (with Guardians of the Galaxy on the horizon), it takes work, patience, and a lot of imagination. Film sets like The Winter Soldier prove to be not so different from a summer in the suburbs, where intrepid kids scavenge materials to build makeshift superhero costumes before running off to save the neighborhood. The filmmakers just have a smidgen more resources — in this case, an estimated $170 million.
The weird part? That’s almost modest for a tentpole movie these days. Many of them run into the $250 million-plus range. Clever filmmaking techniques save money, but they can make for a bizarro on-set experience. That state-of-the-art helicarrier Cap is battling on? It’s made by what you might call the world’s biggest LEGO set: shipping containers, stacked in a half pyramid three stories tall and draped in a bright Kermit-green sheet.
Just off camera, Anthony Mackie (Real Steel), who joins the cast as Falcon, a combat veteran trained to control the prototype for a winged jet pack, watches as Evans does battle. He’s eager to get in the fight. ”Waiting in the wings!” he jokes as a member of the crew comes over with a drill and literally bolts him into his costume. In the movie, the character will have a sprawling, digitally created, 12-foot-6-inch wingspan, but on set Mackie’s stuck with just a tiny replica, making him look more hummingbird, less bird of prey.
”I’d been asking Marvel once a month for three years about playing Black Panther,” Mackie says. ”I just wanted to keep my name in the circle.” Black Panther, created in 1966, is revered as the first black superhero, but Falcon has his own historical significance. While Black Panther hailed from the fictional African nation of Wakanda, Falcon was actually the first African-American superhero. ”In the movie, it’s more about his tactical ability than his race,” Mackie says, though he still finds social significance in the character. ”It’s more about his relationship with Cap. In the 1930s and 1940s, there were no relationships like Cap and the Falcon. So Chris and I always joke, Cap woke up in the new millennium and got a cell phone and a black friend.”