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.