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Category: Captain America

'Captain America:' Falling back in love with WWII and the Cold War

July 25, 2011 | 10:07 am


The comic-book movie has had, to say the least, an up-and-down year. But with the success of "Captain America: The First Avenger," the mid-20th century couldn't be doing any better.

Among Hollywood's purveyors of action and adventure, World War II and the Cold War were settings supposedly best left to yesterday. Yet several times in 2011, we've not only accepted Nazi- and Soviet-era environments; we've embraced them.

The latest example came this weekend, when "Captain America"  and its 1940s flag-waving took in $65.8 million, the best opening for any non-sequel this year. In some foreign countries, marketing materials downplayed the context in which Chris Evans' super soldier was fighting.  But anyone seeing the movie couldn't miss the WWII flourishes -- the military ambitions of Evans' Steve Rogers, or Hugo Weaving's Wagner-listening Third Reich leader.

Other period American crucibles have been peeking out at the multiplex this summer: the Cuban missile crisis of "X-Men: First Class," where Americans and Soviets take turns being the bad guy (there's also an evil Nazi tossed in for good measure), and "Super 8," where Brezhnev-era paranoia hangs heavily over the proceedings. Like "Captain America," both of those movies performed solidly: "X-Men" sits in the top 10 among all releases this year, and "Super 8" has garnered $124 million to date, second only to "Bridesmaids" among live-action movies based on an original concept.

Two of these films, of course, are based on comic books, and most moviegoers are no more likely to see them because of their history lessons than they would for the Oscar bona fides of the third male lead. But it's notable if not even a little odd that the Cold War and World War II have proved a kind of safe haven for Hollywood. It wasn't long ago (Tom Cruise's "Valkyrie" eyepatch, anyone?) when the mere whiff of Nazism was considered lethal at the box office. Director Joe Johnston and Marvel executives themselves faced the skepticism of  box-office pundits when it was revealed that "Captain America" would remain in period.

The decision to use these throwback eras is hardly a matter of deep ideology. But then, that may be the point. Contemporary geopolitics are sufficiently fraught that if you're going to root villains in a national identity (and plenty of action movies, like the Jason Bourne series, largely avoid that, going to shadowy international groups instead), you better go pretty far back.

What's interesting is that, whereas the Cold War and WWII were once popular because they carried a certain aura of mystery and fear, the current vogue is driven by the opposite: by just how non-scary these periods are to 2011 eyes. In a lot of ways, these settings represent the reverse of the moviedom phenomenon of a few years ago, when Hollywood couldn't get enough of contemporary enemies. Then, big-budget movies such as "Body of Lies" and "The Kingdom" sought to put a decidedly more timely spin on the action movie and give villains an Islamofascist face. But filmgoers balked; apparently we want our movie enemies a little less familiar than our real life ones.

Even in this retro craze, there are still limitations, of course. The Russians can't be outright villains -- Moscow's box-office potential is too great. But when it comes to nemeses, Hollywood has figured out that giving us cinematic types a lot more common decades ago is perhaps the surest, and safest, way to make money today.


Captain America outmuscles Harry Potter

Captain America tries to win over the world

Critical Mass: Chris Evans saves Captain America

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Chris Evans as "Captain America." Credit: Paramount Pictures

Critical Mass: Chris Evans saves 'Captain America'

July 22, 2011 |  5:03 pm

Chris Evans in "Captain America"
In "Captain America: The First Avenger," Chris Evans is looking pretty darn studly.

That's only partly due to his shirtlessness in director Joe Johnston's film. What's more, the critics are generally enjoying his performance as a 98-pound weakling who wants to fight the Nazis and ends up in a super-secret program that pumps him up to Ahnold-like proportions -- even if they're slightly more mixed about the film.

This year, after all, has been filled with superhero films, including "Thor," "X-Men: First Class" and "Green Lantern." For some, the expectations surrounding "Captain America" were low or filled with ennui.

But, as The Times' Kenneth Turan writes, this film "does have something the others do not: Chris Evans in the title role.... As Steve Rogers, a weak young man who gets turned into the husky Captain America by a dose of Super-Soldier Serum, this part brings out an appealing earnestness and humility in the actor that is certainly not business as usual in the comic book superhero genre."

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'Captain America' begins to exact his revenge [trailer]

March 23, 2011 |  8:33 pm

The full "Captain America: The First Avenger" trailer hit the Web today. And while it only fleshes out a little more of the summer movie's backstory — Chris Evan's Steve Rogers is the puny victim who joins the army for reasons of toughness, before becoming the super soldier of the title — there's still enough to keep the buzz above the "Green Lantern" line.

The Marvel film has an unusual challenge: it has to satisfy the modern appetite for superhero movies while staying true to the 1940's setting and all we're conditioned to know about it.  So far it seems to be dancing the line.

The World War II vibe here is considerably more straight-laced than the last time we saw it in a summer movie, in "Inglourious Basterds." But the Joe Johnston film still manages to convey a sense of rise-of-Hitler importance without skimping on the flashy weaponry, origin story and mysterious villains now common to Marvel movies. (There's also a notable absence of American flags and other jingoism, no doubt a function of the movie's need to travel.)

Comics die-hards may parse each frame for details, but basically the trailer doesn't offer much more than a man becoming a soldier to fight Nazis and other enemies. It does provide the opportunity to watch Tommy Lee Jones bark orders to troops "Fugitive"-style. And the ever-versatile Stanley Tucci gets his Erskine on, even getting off perhaps the first antibiotics joke in the history of summer tent poles.

— Steven Zeitchik



Marvel makes Emily Blunt an offer for 'Captain America,' but British actress probably will say no - UPDATED

April 2, 2010 | 11:36 am

EXCLUSIVE: With Chris Evans now locked and loaded as Captain America, momentum is building to cast the property's female lead.

Marvel has been heavily courting Emily Blunt to play the main character's girlfriend, reported previously as Peggy Carter. The studio, sources say, has made an offer to Blunt and wants her for the part -- but expect someone else to wind up in the role in the end.

Blunt, the Golden Globe winner and star of this award season's "The Young Victoria," brings with her a British and European following -- key if you're trying to convince global audiences to see a patriotic hero named Captain America (if only Marion Cotillard was available). She's also seen as someone who can give the franchise a prestige gloss. Casting her would be a move not unlike Marvel's coup in setting Robert Downey Jr. in "Iron Man," lending some serious acting cachet to a superhero franchise (and lord knows Chris Evans isn't going to achieve that here).

But according to sources, Blunt is close to signing on to other projects and will turn down Marvel's offer. That leaves the studio to decide between several other people on its short list, including Keira Knightley and Alice Eve -- both of whom, not coincidentally given the film's global designs, also come with British bona fides. [UPDATED, 1:24 PM -- Sources now confirm that Blunt has officially passed. There will be no Victorian charm amid the dueling WWII-era superheroes.]

Casting a female lead in most superhero films is in many ways harder than nabbing the male one. You have the luxury (or necessity) of using the part to expand the prospective audience. But you also have the tough job of convincing the person who can provide the expansion that playing the girlfriend in an effects-heavy blockbuster is something that's worth their time.

It might be wiser to go the Bond Girl route and cast, say, a lesser-known but still rising star (Gemma Arterton, also British, comes to mind) and create a buzz that way, instead of going with a widely known quantity ... although we have to admit that watching an award-winning prestige actress play the part would  be interesting, to say the least.

-- Steven Zeitchik

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Photo: Emily Blunt in "The Young Victoria." Credit: Apparition

With Chris Evans as Captain America, Marvel goes the rubber-faced route

March 22, 2010 |  7:39 pm

After seeing more jockeying and machinations than the health-care debate, Marvel has all but sealed a deal for Chris Evans to play Captain America. Most bloggers and journos are writing up the casting of the Fantastic Four actor as " 'Human Torch' gets cast as leading man," which we suppose is a slightly more diplomatic version of what many really wanted to say: "At least he's not Channing Tatum."

The interesting subtext here is that Marvel seems to be taking a step away from the recent trend in superhero casting. For a good chunk of the current comic-book renaissance, casting a lead role was about taking a hunky young unknown and seeing if he can act (like Brandon Routh, who it turned out couldn't, or Hugh Jackman, who could).

But more recently it's been about taking actors and seeing if they can play superhero (an experiment that for the most past has worked -- see under: Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Christian Bale as Batman). Evans marks a return to the lesser-known-hottie approach (literally -- the guy is credited as "Harvard Hottie" in the big-screen version of "The Nanny Diaries"). In fact, almost every one of the actors on the studio's short list, save perhaps for John Krasinski, is the chiseled, stone-faced type (the type formerly known as evincing modest acting skills and facial expression).

That's an approach that brings in a certain kind of younger female fan. But Captain America is a role that requires acting and comedy chops. As envisioned in the script, at least according to what we've been hearing, the title character isn't the unvarnished hero of the original WWII comic; he's a more marginalized type who's dissed a bit for his ingenue patriotism. Evans has a few substantive roles under his belt, including the indie "Loss of a Teardrop Diamond." Let's hope his turn here doesn't make us cry.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Chris Evans with Dakota Fanning in "Push." Credit: Hirotake Okazaki / Summit Entertainment


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