It’s official. Chris Evans is Captain America. I’m sure the internet is on fire with people complaining and yelling and shouting – like they were when John Krasinski was the front runner. But I’m actually quite happy. He seems like a great fit for the role and – with a bit of luck – I can see the role doing for him what Tony Stark re-did for Robert Downey Jnr. It could be a star-making role. And I think he deserves that. But I also think there are other reasons he’s a great fit for the role.
Most superhero nerds will be familiar with Evans from the sub-par Fantastic Four films. Yes, we don’t actually remember them either – their most distinctive feature is only being reasonably below average. But I can understand why fans only familiar with Evans as “the Human Torch” are less than keen.
But Evans deserves better. For one thing there’s his solid leading man debut in Cellular (basically it’s Phone Booth… but mobile!), which really deserved more attention than it received. For another thing there’s Sunshine, the ugly stepchild of Danny Boyle’s career as a hip British film director (but my own favourite). Even Push (not the Oscar one, the other one) has somewhat unfairly been branded as “a poor man’s Heroes“ by people who haven’t even seen it and has slipped off the radar. All feature solid leading performances from Evans.
So he has the chops. He certainly has the look of a patriotic superhero about him.
And, truth be told, I’m glad he has a name that – while not universal well-known – is recognisable to film fans and cinema goers. I know a name should be the last thing that matters when casting an iconic character. Michael Keaton was a comedian before he was Batman; and nobody knew who Christopher Reeves was. Casting Ben Affleck as Daredevil, arguably the biggest star to wear latex, was perhaps the biggest flaw of the quite flawed Daredevil. I accept that in theory it doesn’t matter whether an actor is known or not, as long as they are right for the part.
However, the actor playing Captain America isn’t just headlining Captain America: The First Avenger. They will be joining an ensemble for The Avengers. An ensemble that – even excluding Edward Norton, which has been the line seemingly taken of late – will include Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Downey Jnr. However, like the actor playing Thor, the actor with the lead in Captain America will be asked to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these two veterans as an equal member of the ensemble rather than a supporting player. However, it’s very hard to create that impression of equality when one member of the ensemble is an Oscar-nominated box office giant with multiple on-going franchises and the other is an unknown who a two-second part in a widely-released film a few summers back. It doesn’t matter how talented the younger actor is, the focus of the movie (and the media attention around the movie) will shift towards the big star – whether consciously or not.
It defeats the purpose of The Avengers if it’s just a subtitle of Iron Man 3 (admittedly only in public consciousness). We saw this happen with the X-Men franchise. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were the biggest actors on the release of the first film, but as the series went on Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman became celebrities in their own right. It certainly didn’t help that Hugh Jackman was Wolverine, a notoriously over-saturated character to begin with. The focus of the series gradually began to gravitate around both stars at the expense of the ensemble, to the point where an adulterous affair became an example of true love (because the female character’s husband wasn’t a big enough star to be involved in the climax of the trilogy). If I want to watch a Wolverine movie, I’ll watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine or its inevitable sequels. Similarly, if I want an Iron Man movie, I’ll watch one of the Iron Man movies.
I won’t pretend that Evans is in the same league as Robert Downey Jnr, the franchise-juggling legend that he is, but I would suggest he’s somewhat closer to where Downey was when he took the role of Iron Man. Downey had had a promising career in the early nineties that had spiraled out of control. In the naughties he began to slowly piece it back together with a series of consistent under-the-radar performances in films like the superb Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. He became, like Evans, a face recognisable to film audiences again – but not quite a bona fides film star. Iron Man made him that movie star – much like The First Avenger likely will do for Evans.
Of course, evans won’t have the chance to establish himself before The Avengers in the same way that Downey has – having been cast in Sherlock Holmes and Tropic Thunder among others – but I’d argue it’s close enough. My biggest sense of unease about Branagh’s upcoming Thor is that Chris Hemsworth is a relative unknown – I was worried that Marvel, notoriously frugal as they are, were casting unknowns to save money and consciously avoiding named actors.
I still remain skeptical of the film itself, but I can certainly get behind the casting.
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