Captain America: The First Avenger completes the 10 years of its release this month (July 22). Although it was the fifth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was also the official introduction of one of the founding members of the Avengers: Steve Rogers, better known as Captain America. The film was critical for the then developing MCU because, like other earlier movies in the franchise, it simply had to work.
A Captain America movie had been in development from the late 1990s, but the project stayed in development hell. Larry Wilson and Leslie Bohem were first hired to script the film, but it failed to take off.
After several delays, the film was greenlit. Paramount was set up as the film’s distributor. It was initially supposed to be a standalone story, but was then added to the budding MCU.
Joe Johnston, known for hits like Jumanji and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, was recruited by Marvel Studios. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who went on to write scripts for the remaining two Captain America movies as well as the last two Avengers movies, came on board.
But the trouble was just beginning for Marvel Studios. The role had to be cast, and cast perfectly. They needed an actor who could look good and embody, at least in appearance, the righteousness, moral quality and patriotism of the iconic superhero. Numerous actors were considered and John Krasinski almost signed up. He, perhaps jokingly, recalled being discouraged from taking up the role after witnessing Chris Hemsworth’s hulking body during a screen test.
Chris Evans, who eventually became Captain America, was not too taken by the idea. He has had a horrible experience while playing another Marvel superhero, Human Torch, in Fantastic Four movies. It was also about signing a six movie contract, which basically meant more than a decade with a single studio.
During an interview with We Got This Covered conducted around the release of Captain America: The First Avenger, Evans revealed he even went to therapy “because I was very apprehensive about taking the movie, I was nervous about the lifestyle change, about the commitment. You know, it’s six movies, that can last 10 years. I love making movies but I’m not dead set on being a gigantic movie star. I like to have the option to walk away if I want, with a six picture deal, you can’t walk away.”
Evans did eventually accept the role, and the rest, as they say, is history.
When production began, the biggest challenge for the technical team was to create a believable short and skinny Steve Rogers, before he was injected with the super soldier serum.
The complicated process involved a body double and proved too cumbersome.
Johnston explained the process thus: “Most of the shots were done by an L.A. company called LOLA that specializes in digital ‘plastic surgery.’ The technique involved shrinking Chris in all dimensions. We shot each skinny Steve scene at least four times; once like a normal scene with Chris and his fellow actors in the scene, once with Chris alone in front of a green screen so his element could be reduced digitally, again with everyone in the scene but with Chris absent so that the shrunken Steve could be re-inserted into the scene, and finally with a body double mimicking Chris’s actions in case the second technique were required. When Chris had to interact with other characters in the scene, we had to either lower Chris or raise the other actors on apple boxes or elevated walkways to make skinny Steve shorter in comparison. For close-ups, Chris’ fellow actors had to look at marks on his chin that represented where his eyes would be after the shrinking process, and Chris had to look at marks on the tops of the actor’s head to represent their eyes.”
Even after all that hard work, the result was less than ideal and the look was distracting.
But the film was still received well by both critics and audiences and paved way for the sequels. More than that, it avoided making its hero a self-righteous bore. Thanks to writing and Evans’ nuanced performance, Steve Rogers was given a sympathetic treatment that he rarely got in comics. He redefines masculinity by making it more warm and compassionate, and not a show of puffed-up biceps.
When MCU films are ranked these days, Captain America The First Avenger would probably not figure in top 10 for most people, and granted, it is not a perfect movie, but it was and remains very watchable and one of the most important films in the franchise.