Captain America: The First Avenger is a 2011 American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics character Captain America. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Paramount Pictures, it is the fifth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film was directed by Joe Johnston, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and stars Chris Evans as Steve Rogers / Captain America alongside Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, and Stanley Tucci. During World War II, Steve Rogers, a frail man, is transformed into the super-soldier Captain America and must stop the Red Skull (Weaving) from using the Tesseract as an energy source for world domination.
The film began as a concept in 1997 and was scheduled for distribution by Artisan Entertainment. However, a lawsuit disrupted the project and was not settled until September 2003. In 2005, Marvel Studios received a loan from Merrill Lynch, and planned to finance and release the film through Paramount Pictures. Directors Jon Favreau and Louis Leterrier were interested in directing the project before Johnston was approached in 2008. The principal characters were cast between March and June 2010. Production began in June, and filming took place in London, Manchester, Caerwent, Liverpool, and Los Angeles. Several different techniques were used by the visual effects company Lola to create the physical appearance of the character before he becomes Captain America.
Captain America: The First Avenger premiered at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles on July 19, 2011, and was released in the United States on July 22, as part of Phase One of the MCU. The film was commercially successful, grossing over $370 million worldwide. Critics particularly praised Evans’ performance, the film’s depiction of its 1940s time period, and Johnston’s direction. Two sequels have been released: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) and Captain America: Civil War (2016).
In April 1997, Marvel Studios was in negotiations with Mark Gordon and Gary Levinsohn to produce Captain America, and Larry Wilson and Leslie Bohem were set to write a script. In May 2000, Marvel teamed with Artisan Entertainment to help finance the film. However, a lawsuit arose between Marvel Comics and Joe Simon over the ownership of Captain America copyrights, disrupting the development process of the film. The lawsuit was eventually settled in September 2003. Following the settlement, Marvel was preparing to license the film rights to Warner Bros. until producer David Maisel suggested that the company produce the film themselves. In 2005, Marvel received a $525 million investment from Merrill Lynch, allowing them to independently produce ten films, including Captain America. Paramount Pictures agreed to distribute the film. Originally, the film would stand alone; producer Kevin Feige said “about half” the movie would be set during World War II before moving into the modern day. Producer Avi Arad said, “The biggest opportunity with Captain America is as a man ‘out of time’, coming back today, looking at our world through the eyes of someone who thought the perfect world was small-town United States. Sixty years go by, and who are we today? Are we better?” He cited the Back to the Future trilogy as an influence, and claimed he had “someone in mind to be the star, and definitely someone in mind to be the director”. In February 2006, Arad hoped to have a summer 2008 theatrical release date. Jon Favreau approached Arad to direct the film as a comedy, but he chose to make Iron Man instead. In April 2006, David Self was hired to write the script. He explained that Captain America was his favorite superhero as a child because “my dad told me I could one day be Captain America”. Joe Johnston met with Marvel to discuss directing the film.
Captain America was put on hold during the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike. However, in January 2008, Marvel Entertainment reached an interim comprehensive agreement with the Writers Guild of America that would put writers immediately back to work on various projects that were under the company’s development. On May 5, 2008 (after the success of Iron Man), Marvel announced the film The First Avenger: Captain America (the working title) for release on May 6, 2011 (before being pushed back to July 22). Louis Leterrier, director of The Incredible Hulk, viewed some of the concept art being created for the film and was impressed enough to offer his services, but Marvel turned him down. Johnston finally signed on in November 2008, and he hired Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely to rewrite. Feige cited Johnston’s directorial work on October Sky and The Rocketeer and his special effects work on the original Star Wars trilogy to explain why he was an appropriate choice. Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which Johnston worked for the special effects, was an influence on the film, because they hoped the film would not feel like a period piece.
When asked whether anti-US sentiments would affect the film’s box office, Feige said, “Marvel is perceived pretty well around the world right now, and I think putting another uber-Marvel hero into the worldwide box office would be a good thing. … We have to deal with much the same way that Captain America, when thawed from the Arctic ice, entered a world that he didn’t recognize,” similar to the way Stan Lee and Jack Kirby reintroduced the character in the 1960s. Likewise, Arad noted, “Captain America stands for freedom for all democracies, for hope all around the world. He was created to stop tyranny and the idea of stopping tyranny is important today as it was then. So I think that we will have some interesting challenges but at the end of the day if the movie is terrific and the movie talks to the world, it’s not about one place, it’s about the world and I think that basis it will be very successful”. Later, after the election of US President Barack Obama, Feige commented, “The idea of change and hope has permeated the country, regardless of politics, and that includes Hollywood. Discussions in all our development meetings include the zeitgeist and how it’s changed in the last two weeks. Things are being adjusted”. The creative team opted to not push the title character to fight any members of the Nazi Party like in a usual World War II movie, as their goal was to depict the conflict through the Marvel Universe’s “prism”. Although they didn’t have problems to feature Nazis in the film, with Feige loving an iconic Captain America cover where the character punches Adolf Hitler out, the team felt that using HYDRA as the main antagonists would make them be “true” to the comic book’s many aspects. It was because of this that Markus and McFeely found sense in using the Cosmic Cube, already set up in Thor, as the film’s MacGuffin, while using a younger Howard Stark as a key ally for the protagonist would bring, according to Markus, “that Tony Starkness”.
- Chris Evans as Steve Rogers / Captain America:
A frail young man who is enhanced to the peak of human ability by an experimental serum in order to aid the United States war effort. Evans, who previously worked with Marvel as the Human Torch in the Fantastic Four film series, said he declined the part three times before signing a six-picture deal with Marvel, explaining that, “At the time, I remember telling a buddy of mine, ‘If the movie bombs, I’m f—-ed [sic]. If the movie hits, I’m f—-ed!’ I was just scared. I realized my whole decision-making process was fear-based, and you never want to make a decision out of fear. I can’t believe I was almost too chicken to play Captain America.” Evans ultimately agreed to the role, saying, “I think Marvel is doing a lot of good things right now, and it’s a fun character. … I think the story of Steve Rogers is great. He’s a great guy. Even if it [were] just a script about anybody, I would probably want to do it. So it wasn’t necessarily about the comic itself.” Regarding the extent of the character’s abilities Evans remarked, “He would crush the Olympics. Any Olympic sport he’s gonna dominate. He can jump higher, run faster, lift stronger weight, but he can be injured. He could roll an ankle and be out for the season. He’s not perfect, he’s not untouchable. So a lot of the effects, if I’m going to punch someone they’re not going to put them on a cable and fly them back 50 feet, but he’s going to go down, probably not getting back up, which I think humanizes it. It makes it something that, again, I think everyone can relate to a little bit more, which I really like.” Theater actor Leander Deeny was Evans’ body double in some shots for Steve Rogers’ pre-transformation physique, and also appears as a bartender.
- Tommy Lee Jones as Chester Phillips:
A colonel in the United States Army and member of the Strategic Scientific Reserve who heads the project to create super soldiers. The character was updated from the comics, where Phillips was the one to recruit Rogers to join Project Rebirth that made him Captain America. Jones described the character as “the one you’ve seen in a thousand movies: the gruff, skeptical officer overseeing a team of talented, slightly sarcastic, specially talented soldiers”.
- Hugo Weaving as Johann Schmidt / Red Skull:
Adolf Hitler’s head of advanced weaponry and commander of the terrorist organization Hydra whose own plan for world domination involves harnessing the power of the magical object known as the Tesseract. Weaving stated that he patterned Red Skull’s accent on those of Werner Herzog and Klaus Maria Brandauer. About the character, Weaving remarked, “I think the major difference between Skull and Cap, they’ve both had the serum, and the serum seems to augment certain qualities that each of them have. Cap is much more in tune with other people I think. Schmidt is in tune with himself, and his own needs, and his own ego, so I suppose it augments that. From that point of view, they’re quite opposite.”
- Hayley Atwell as Margaret “Peggy” Carter:
An officer with the Strategic Scientific Reserve who works with Phillips on the super soldier project. Regarding her preparation for the role, she said, “I’m training at the moment six days a week to make her a bit more military and make it convincing that I could kick butt.” About the character, Atwell stated, “I likened her character to that famous Ginger Rogers quote. She can do everything Captain America can do, but backwards and in high heels. She’s an English soldier through and through, although she always looks fabulous. She might stand there with a machine-gun shooting Nazis, but she’s obviously gone to the loo beforehand and applied a bit of lipstick. She doesn’t need to be rescued. That’s exciting to me – her strength.” She added, “I think she’s quite stubborn, a slightly frustrated woman who struggles with being a woman in that time. But more importantly she’s a modern woman and she sees something in Captain America that she relates to, and becomes kindred spirits. He treats her very differently to how she’s been treated by lots of men, in this kind of dominated world she lives in. So she’s very much a fighter.”
- Sebastian Stan as James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes:
A sergeant in the United States Army, Rogers’ best friend, and member of his squad of commandos. Stan has signed on for “five or six pictures”. He revealed that he did not know anything about the comic books, but watched a lot of documentaries and films about World War II in preparation for the role, calling Band of Brothers “very helpful”. About the role, Stan stated, “Steve Rogers and Bucky are both orphans and kind of like brothers. They kind of grow up together and look after each other. It’s a very human, relatable thing… I also wanted to look out for how their relationship changes once Steve Rogers becomes Captain America. There’s always a competition and they’re always one-upping each other. I paid attention to how Bucky is affected by Steve’s change and suddenly Steve is this leader”.
- Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark:
The father of Tony Stark who worked on various government projects dating back to the World War II era. About the role, Cooper stated, “It’s an opportunity where you can see his future because I know the guy who becomes my son and I see myself as an older version in Iron Man 2 which is great for an actor to have those tools. All I know of him is that he’s a fantastic engineer and inventor and a very slick Howard Hughes type that’s into aviation and women!”
- Toby Jones as Arnim Zola: A biochemist for the Nazi party.
- Neal McDonough as Timothy “Dum Dum” Dugan:
A member of Rogers’ squad of commandos. McDonough wore the character’s signature bowler hat and said he grew Dugan’s trademark mustache. About his role in the film he remarked, “Oh, I’m going to see a lot of action. [I’m] the go-to guy, so I’m very happy with that.” McDonough was signed on to appear in multiple projects for Marvel, not limited to films.
- Derek Luke as Gabe Jones:
A member of Rogers’ squad of commandos. Luke said he was cast without a script or much of a description of the character. As to why he took the part, “I just believed that Marvel was doing some really great work, great messages in films. The good versus evil and I was just like, ‘How can I be down?'”
- Stanley Tucci as Abraham Erskine:
The scientist who created the Super Soldier Serum. Tucci said that what drew him to the role was the opportunity to do a German accent, which was something he always wanted to try.
July 19, 2011
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