Man of War: Captain America hits screen

By Michele Manelis

The latest Marvel Comics superhero flick harks back to World War II but despite flying the stars and stripes its star insists Captain America isn't jingoistic.

Square jawed and unapologetically red-white-and-blue, superhero movie Captain America: The First Avenger is set against the realistic backdrop of World War II.

This makes him an old-timer compared to his recent Marvel screen cohorts, Iron Man and Thor, but that's when it all started for the guy with the invulnerable shield.

The original Marvel Comics character was published a year before the United States entered the war following the Pearl Harbor attack in late 1941. Creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby wanted to say something opposing the rise of Nazi Germany - their guy even got to punch Hitler - and he became a big seller throughout the war years. He lasted until 1950, but was revived as part of The Avengers, a superhero squad including Thor and Iron Man, in the mid-1960s.

The title character of the US$140 million ($161 million) movie is played by Chris Evans, who has portrayed a superhero before - he was the show-off Johnny Storm (aka The Human Torch) in two Fantastic Four movies. Like Storm, Captain America starts off without any powers. And, unlike many storylines of this ilk, our hero begins his journey as an underdog, in this case "scrawny kid from Brooklyn" Steve Rogers. This weakling, desperate to do his bit for the war effort, is injected with an experimental serum which turns him into a super-soldier, the original Rambo without the discipline issues.

But these days Captain America brings with it a perception problem, something director Joe Johnston recognises. In some parts of the world it's going out as The First Avenger, instead.

Says Evans: "Look, it's not pro-American. We're not all about 'this is the American way', that's not what it is. It could be Captain Anywhere.

"It's just about a good man who fights for what's right. He has morals, values, and believes in justice, and it happens to be set in the 40s when we were fighting Nazis."

Initially, Evans was reluctant in taking on the role despite its promise of probable sequels, as well as The Avengers movie due next year.

"I didn't want to do this movie and I said no three times, because it's making a decision for a huge chunk of your life. If these movies do well, I could be playing this guy until I'm 40. That's crazy," he says.

"What if I want to quit acting? What if I want to move to India, or get married, or have kids?" he says. "That's terrifying."

For his performance as the patriotic posterboy, instead of the snarky silliness Evans brought to the Fantastic Four movies, he instils Rogers with a subdued stoicism. In fact, Evans influenced the screenwriters to give the character less goofiness.

"We could dial back on the outright jokes in the script because he brings a likeability and warmth without having gag lines to punch it up," said screenwriter Christopher Markus.

"In the beginning, when we were writing in a vacuum, we felt the pressure that he was getting too stiff. Give him a joke. Chris very wisely even took out a few of the wisecracks."

Captain America marks director Johnston's second foray into comic books, following The Rocketeer in 1991.

As this was set in 1938 and featured a helmeted hero fighting the Nazis, it has quite a lot in common with Captain America.

Says Johnston: "It was not in my mind at all in making this film, but I went to see the 20th anniversary screening of The Rocketeer [and] was really surprised at how many very specific similarities there were that I had totally forgotten about. It must have been in the genes," he laughs.

Like The Rocketeer, Captain America has a refreshing throwback quality to it. Says Johnston, "It's a film about the 40s and I wanted it to look like that. We used Raiders of the Lost Ark as a template for the look and the tone."

Using minimal CGI presented some physical and practical challenges. To his credit, Evans insisted he undergo the transformation from "skinny Steve" to super-sized Captain America the hard way - with a trainer and a diet designed to bulk him up.

Also undergoing a marked physical transformation is Hugo Weaving as Nazi villain Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull. Also in the cast are Tommy Lee Jones who plays the captain's gruff commanding officer Colonel Chester Phillips, Stanley Tucci as the serum-creating scientist Dr Abraham Erskine, and Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, inventor and father of Tony Stark/Iron Man.

What: Captain America: The First Avenger
When and where: Opens at cinemas today

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