Since nearly inventing the category, the go-to facility for digital makeup in Hollywood is Lola VFX in Santa Monica. Using primarily Autodesk's Flame and a wealth of now highly specialized and experienced expert artists, Lola has carved out a lead position in anti-ageing, body trimming, face replacement and now with Captain America: wimp building.
In the Marvel film, Steve Rogers starts out as a small, short, underweight underdog, and then is transformed to the bulked up, real world shape of actor Chris Evans. This transformation was easy for Jack Kirby and Joe Simon when they first drew the character in February of 1939, but there was a real problem of how to have Evans play both the Nazi fighting All American Costumed Commando Avenger AND the pre-enhanced mild mannered wimp. While Timely Comics (later Marvel) could just publish drawings showing the same character with the same face, both buffed and wimpy, the studio's job would not be so easy.
Director Joe Johnston rejected notions of having a separate actor play the wimpy Steve Rogers, and Evans was keen to perform as directly as possible both sides of his character's persona, as we discovered when we spoke to Edson Williams, visual effects supervisor for Lola VFX.
Original plate with Chris Evans
For a long time Lola's work remained a secret, both in terms of how they produced such great work but also the very existence of their work. Rumor had it that big name stars, REALLY big name stars were a little less beautiful than they appeared, and that for some never-disclosed amount, you could get a digital tummy tuck, a set of crows feet removed or a second chin lost. But it was never more than rumor, Lola never discussed its work and no actor would promote that their bum wasn't really that small.
This changed with the third X-Men film - The Last Stand - when the two lead characters were required to appear in a flash back looking years younger. Suddenly, Lola's work could be discussed. fxguide's story on this film was one of the most popular we ever published (click here), and for good reason, the work was breathtaking and rather than the result of some newly published PhD, it was all down to artist skill combined with the keen observational skills of the Lola staff. Central to Lola's success is their understanding of how a body changes over time, and over the life of a human being, from the way ears and noses continue to grow in size relative to the rest of your face - to the way the lips and the top lip in particular turns under with age, giving the impression of thinner lips. Lola has become a master of human characteristics.
Lola does employ 3D but only for reference - central to their work is just 2D compositing. This fact is either a source of amazement or humiliation - amazement at the quality of the work, and humiliation that such work has been done with basically the same tools the rest of us use daily. It is easy to dismiss great work when it is the result of specialist in-house tools, but quite another when it is apparent that it is just great artistry.
For Captain America, Lola worked on over 300 shots, which were primarily the body transformation of Chris Evans, but also some work on the nose replacement of Red Skull (80 some shots). Neither of these were classic Lola anti-aging or beauty work, but like that work required Lola's vast understanding of human form and skilled compositing. Visual effects supervisor Edson Williams describes Captain America as "definitely the biggest job we have done to date and the most challenging, but it was a lot of fun to work with, as it was something different for us." Lola did not work on Rogers after the transformation - the actor Chris Evans really is that built - "most of the shots of him as a ripped guy - that's really him," says Williams.
Lola had three primary approaches to shrinking the 220 pound Evans to the 140 pound guy he needed to be, while maintaining Evans' performance as closely as possible.
1. Body double / actor doubling for the entire body. The body double was English Shakespearean trained stage actor Leander Deeny (who even dieted for the role).
2. Digital head replacement / face projection - similar to the technique Lola used in The Social Network, where the actor is filmed with multiple cameras and this digital file is object tracked onto a body double's (Deeny) body. For example, when Rogers was at the recruitment center - standing semi-naked in the queue, about to be rejected near the start of the film. This was only used in about 5% of Lola's shots.
3. Shrink and scale the actor in the principal photography (no greenscreen) - a 2D scale of the actor Chris Evans. This was used in the majority - about 85% of Lola's effects shots.
Shrinking Chris Evans
The third approach of digitally shrinking the actor is highly detailed. Evans did not have much body hair, but as the skin was shrunk, the granularity of any skin texture needed to be consistent. "It was more of a grain problem than anything else," says Williams. "The scaled down sections of his body would become sharper and have very little grain. We would shrink him in some parts by as much as 30%. We took a lot of mass off. This meant we would get the skin looking sharper and as if it had no grain so we had to do a de-grain and then an over all re-grain to get the skin to match the rest of his body."
Of course, the DOP and the director lit the actor dramatically, which meant that there was a lot of shadowing to deal with. A smaller frame literally does not bulge out as much at key muscle points, so the chest pectorals for example would cast shadows down towards the abdominals. In fact, it is this very shadowing that allows one to read muscle definition normally.
As standard, one of the first things Lola does is remove and balance out shadows before adding them back in again, or, as Williams explains, "selectively removing them. It is one of the ongoing tricks we deploy. So for example, when he was sitting, his shoulder muscles would be casting a shadow down on his bicep and then at the bottom of his bicep, - near his elbow, it would also get very dark, so one of the first things we would do is go through and reduce all those shadow values, before we scaled him down. A skinny guy is not going to have shadows cast down to his belly button from his biceps, because he just doesn't have biceps."
Hands were particularly hard. While a man's body size may vary greatly with muscle mass, both hands and feet are not muscle bound, and so while an arm bicep would be reduced by say 60%, a hand may only be reduced 10% and most of the work would need to go into making the fingers more slender, and not just smaller.
Chris Evans' head needed to be adjusted proportionally as part of the shrink. While the face, like the hands, is not a direct re-scale, the face was never the less made to be thinner, more gaunt and the cheeks fallen.
Steve Rogers does not undergo an alter ego transformation akin to the Hulk. Central to the movie is that Steve Rogers was always brave. Hence Lola's job was made more difficult as they needed the small Rogers to still be a hero, and to still be masculine. In scaling down Chris Evans, Lola had to avoid him looking girlish or feminine. The audience needed to still think of Rogers pre-transformation as a man, not a child, not as feminine. Yet most of the masculine properties of his body were being systematically removed.
One aspect that could be used to help define his masculinity without fighting the size reduction mandate was facial hair - or a 5 o'clock shadow. "Initially we took off all the 5 o'clock shadow, because even when Chris Evans has just shaved, Chris still has some 5 o'clock shadow," notes Williams "In the end we brought it back to about 40% of the original 5 o'clock shadow. Without it he looked like a boy, like a 14 year old boy."
Originally the chin was digitally rounded but for the same reason of not wanting Rogers to look like a boy, the chin was re-flattened out to make his look older. But the eyes needed to be scaled less than the chin for example to make the audience feel sorry for Rogers. "So the whole head would be scaled," says Williams. "While the jaw was scaled down 23% the eyes were only scaled down 16%." The eyes actually don't grow in your head the way the rest of your face does - which is why children seem to have big eyes - when in reality it is that the rest of their faces are just smaller proportionally. "We also started scaling down the nose but then it did not look like Chris Evans," says Williams, "'cause, you know, Chris has a manly nose and so when we made the nose smaller it did not look like Chris."
As the process progressed the team would revise 'approved shots" as they learned more and more how to successfully slim Evans, as Williams explains: "I always thought we were moving forward, but shots we thought were great - we'd learn how to make them better." Williams also says that while adjusting the face the team had to be extremely careful, for example, "the corner of the eyes, if they tilt up a little you look feminine, if you tilt them down too much you look like Sylvester Stallone."
Plate 1 - Chris Evans
Plate 2 - Body double reference
Shooting Chris Evans
In addition to the central task of shrinking Chris Evans, all the surrounding action needed to be correct, including eye lines and props. Here a number of tricks that were done on set:
- Evans would walk with bent knees, Groucho Marx style, to be lower in shot (although if he was taking more than a couple of steps this was not done as his walk and posture would be wrong.
- Evans would take shorter steps. The character Steve Rogers needed to vary between 6 ft 4" and 5ft 4", so smaller Rogers would have a smaller pace naturally. If you tried to scale the walk in post, the feet would appear to slide relative to the ground. "He would seem to moonwalk," joked Williams. Note: even body double Leander Deeny was 5ft 7", a full 4 inches taller than 'Skinny Steve'.
- Seats, such as Evans' side of the taxi, would be lowered by several inches so his co-stars would naturally look down at him.
- Shirts and hats were oversized. For example, Evans wore the largest army helmet that could be found so that when he and the helmet were shrunk digitally - the helmet would look the same size as everyone else's but he would appear to barely fit it. Shirt collars were also oversized, so that when Evans was shrunk, the shirt would appear normal but too big for him, again making him look frail.
- Evans' co-stars would focus on his chin for shots where they was looking directly at him, so that when he was shrunk, their eyeline would line up with his lower positioned eyes. Evans in turn looked at the brow of his co-stars.
- If possible, production would remove things in front of Evans' face. So when Rogers is crawling through barb wire during basic training, the filmmakers would shoot the real Chris Evans pass without foreground barb wire, and then add it back later based on the reference pass filmed with it in on another pass. This clean pass would allow the slimming down process to happen without the wire being in the way and the new correct-looking, correct scale barb wire added back on top would just sell the illusion.
How to get a consistent Skinny Steve
One problem with this sort of detailed compositing work is consistency. Even in real life, the non-vfx shots of Chris Evans will have him looking slightly different shot to shot. So how do you make the artist's interpretation of Skinny Steve consistent? Lola VFX had a solution.
When the Log Genesis footage was turned over to Lola, it was normally object tracked in PFTrack, a program Williams really likes (Lola used the previous version to the new PFtrack). This fed to a scaled down 3D model of Chris Evans. The digital Evans was based on a cyberscan of the actor and then remodeled to the slimmed Evans target. Once the tracking was complete, the digital Chris Evans would be lit and rough comped into the scene. But this was only ever done as reference. By slap-comping a digital body in the shot the artists could consistently see how big the new Chris Evans should be - how big relatively each muscle would be and thus they would not be guessing or operating blindly.
For this consistency tool to work, Williams and the team had to constantly be updating their Maya Chris Evans model with the latest view of what a 'good' slimmed Evans should look like. "It was totally an iterative process," says Williams. "We kept evolving our model to keep track with what production liked." One of the hardest things about Lola's work is head turns and so while the pivot point was about an inch and a half in from the back of the neck, to align with the spline the digital reference was invaluable for what one would see frame by frame in a complex head turn.
All Lola's compositing is done on Autodesk Flame. "We have 24-25 flames and our sister company Hydraulx has another 25 flames," says Williams. "So when we want to ramp up, we can borrow even more of theirs. I don't think we could have done this shot list with anything but a Flame. Nuke's a great product, but it just doesn't have the bandwidth, horsepower and the tools set that Flame has." Scene reconstruction
Not only did the body of Chris Evans need to be reduced but the background revealed as this was done needed to be replaced. For each setup there would be three passes shot:
1. Chris Evans acting the scene
2. A body double acting the scene - often just for lighting
3. A clean pass (but not motion control)
The shots were filmed on the Panavision Genesis which only outputs 1920x1080 - but as the film was 2.35:1 not even all the vertical height was used. Williams is not a huge fan of the Genesis, preferring moving forward to explore using cameras such as the RED with its 5K resolution, since the Genesis files are not very high resolution. "The Genesis is not a good effects camera," Williams comments in declarative style.
Actually the production initially masked the video split with hard camera tape, so the director and crew would only see the active area of the frame that would be used in the final movie, the center cut or crop from the Genesis' fully recorded 1080 height. This would normally work in Lola's favor since Chris Evans would need to be scaled down. Having some image recorded, but off the top of the 'viewing screen', would normally provide Lola with some additional footage that could then be scaled down into the final frame. Unfortunately on the first few days of filming the footage was masked on the video splits in the 'video village'. No one saw that this valuable - but normally discarded - image real estate was being blocked with camera flags and matte boxes. As soon as Williams saw that their invaluable spare head material was being contaminated and lost, he let the DP know and for the rest of production this normally unused screen space was protected.
A final shot of 'Skinny Steve'
As mentioned above, in scenes where Evans was taking a few steps, the team would have the actor walk bent kneed, so that his hair was in the correct place in height, but then the team would need to bring his waist up and digitally straighten his legs as part of the process.
While there was always a clean pass, this was not motion control, so in a moving camera shot - such as Rogers in the army barracks - all that Lola got was what was jokingly referred to as 'poor man's motion control'. But in the environment of the barracks, the two plates only roughly lined up. With all the parallax and objects in the scene, background patching and replacement in this scene was some of the hardest that Lola had to do. "The plates were so dissimilar we ended up having to make a 3D background environment for that one," says Williams. "Overall we must have spent as much time cleaning up the back plates as we did slimming down Chris. Some of the clean plates were crazy. There were crowd scenes, for example at the World Expo registration center, we ended up with about four or five digital doubles." In this scene Chris Evans needed to walk down some stairs and have people pass him. Walking 'groucho-style' is not possible when walking down stairs, so "as people walking behind him started to get close to him they would merge into digi-doubles," says Williams. "They would then pass him and then fade back into the original performances again as they cleared him."
Another scene that had very complex background cleanup was the alley fight scene. Nearly all the shots in this fight were a scaled Chris Evans, with the exception of the actual face punch, which was a face projection shot, but the background replacement was so vast as the real Evans covered so much of the frame. Williams and his team digitally recreated the alley from the clean plate and then digitally projected it onto matching background geometry and composited it into the hero take, fixing about 25% of the alley.
In all shots Leander Deeny was a lighting and body reference, although as he was a stage actor and not a screen actor first and foremost, his style was a little different than Chris Evans. "He was very dramatic," notes Williams. "If the sun was coming up, he was like 'Look the Sun is coming UP' - so his moves were stagey - very dramatic." A lot of his moves Lola couldn't use as a reference - as a lot of Deeny's moves were very dramatic - more of a stage presence and Chris, by contrast, was more fluid. Says Williams: "Chris was more of a cinematic actor instead of a stage actor, but having Leander's body was always helpful as we could always see his proportions."
A final note
"The production was actually really good to work with," says Williams. "They would say wherever possible use Chris Evans but if you can't - do whatever you can to make it work and they were just really supportive." Chris Townsend, in particular "was terrific," says Williams, who clearly enjoyed working with the production VFX supervisor. Williams says that during their cineSync review sessions, Townsend was particularly useful as "his drawings were just amazing. He would be quick, fluid and he would nail it almost every time. He knows what fights to fight. He knows that if a shot is 98% he might say, 'OK, let's leave that and put our efforts into these other shots'. As he comes from a compositing background, he knows how much work it would take to move it any further. His notes are concise, timely and he has a great eye."
"It was one of the best working experiences I've had," Williams adds enthusiastically.
All images courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Marvel Studios.
A compilation of Pre-Serum Steve in The First Avenger
Captain America: The First Avenger Audio Commentary:
“What we also found, is that we had gymnasts come in to do things, and Chris could do the same stuff that they could do, but it would look like Chris Evans. When the body doubles or the gymnasts or the runners did it, it just didn’t look like him. He has such a unique way of moving, and he could pretty much do all of his own physical stuff that wasn’t dangerous. Like this shot right here, we had a gymnast do this, and Chris actually ended up doing it better. That’s Chris here. He hops up on a tank and over a 12-foot wall. It looks effortless but it’s not that easy!”
I’ve learnt the hard way to keep but not abuse a certain anonymity on the web but I’ll say apart from being a 3 metre tall, 200 year old unicorn I actually live in Manchester, UK (find map of world, find UK, go to the top of Wales, find Liverpool, move finger to the right!)
As an Evans fan this means that this film has a really special place in my heart. I mean really special. When it came out in the papers in 2010 that part of The First Avenger was going to be filmed here it was a bit hard to get my head round it. We occasionally get film crews here but just UK film crews and mostly TV film crews. Also I’ve seen famous actors in shops and cafes here but they’re mostly here doing theatre. So the idea that Hollywood was coming was exciting enough but that they were bringing The Evans with them was just bizarre. I was mildly excited. (British for pissing myself with excitement). I mean wtf? Evans here? Nah!!!
They chose a street called Dale St right in the centre of town just off Piccadilly Gardens. To be honest, it’s a run down, neglected hole. Pretty horrible really. We didn’t know what they were going to film but we knew they were going to try to re-create 1940s New York. Before the filming started I wandered down to have a look and they’d started to build false shop fronts. They had a little sign saying filming was going on but it hadn’t started as they were just building. I took these photos. I just checked the details of the pictures and it says 18th Sept 2010 but I don’t know if that’s the day I took them or the day I loaded them onto my computer. Anyway, here they are.
THERE IS ALSO A FLICKR GROUP DEDICATED TO CAP IN MANCHESTER WITH OVER 300 PHOTOSwww.flickr.com/groups/captain_manchester/pool/ Once they started filming, the road was blocked off but you could go up the side streets adjoining and could see the extras coming and going all dressed up in 1940s clothes and classic cars were being shipped in and out all the time. We now know of course that it was used for the scene with Chris and Hayley in the taxi going to the lab for the serum. It was also the road they used for when Chris came out of Brooklyn Antiques and chased after Erskine’s killer. Pictures were being leaked and picap posted some above. There were a few videos posted on Youtube too.
My own personal post scriptum to this story is the day I went along to the set to see what I could see. I met up with a few other fans I 'knew' from a fan site. I was standing in Tariff Street precisely HERE
There was a big screen across the road to the right of where I was standing so you couldn't get to the street where they were filming. I was a bit nearer than I was supposed to be but I'd got chatting to one of the security people who was very friendly and drifted up the road with him. As we were talking, a black car, a Mercedes I think, reversed up the road and stopped just by us. The driver got out and stood on the pavement. From behind the screen came Chris Evans. I didn't recognise him at first. Remember nobody had seen publicly the pictures of him in his big feet and his hair the way it was. It was also really cold and he had a big coat on. However, as he came to the car I guessed it must be someone important because it was a posh car with darkened windows so it wasn't going to be an extra, was it? After a couple of seconds it dawned on me that it was actually Chris. He came right up to where the security guy and me were standing and stopped. I honestly don't know how long we were actually stood next to each other but only as long as it took for him and the driver to exchange greetings, for the driver to open the door, for Chris to say 'thank you' and get it. I guess it was less than a minute really or actually much less than a minute. He was sat in the car right in front of me for long enough for the driver to walk round to his door, get in, start up and drive off. I didn't say a word when Chris was standing next to me and I certainly didn't tap on the window when he was in the car. I can't fully explain why. I've thought about it and the nearest I can get to a reason is this - I don't want a selfie, I don't want his picture and I don't need his autograph. I want to chat to him man to man as equals not fan to film star like a pudding. I just got this overwhelming feeling of how odd it was that I knew him but he didn't know me and also that there was no possible reason he would want to talk to me and that I would probably just say something boring or stupid and he would think I was a knob. When Chris has talked about not going over to talk to Brady because he didn't want him to think he wasn't cool I totally get it. That's the way I felt. I didn't say 'hi, Chris I'm a big fan' because I was too shy and it wasn't 'cool'. That's why I've never bothered to go to London or Scotland when he's been over just to see him or grab a selfie and unless our paths accidentally crossed in some weird way I'm pretty unlikely to ever talk to him. It's just the way it is.
These are excerpts from some of the reviews that came out at the time. I collected these in 2011 and have lost the original links but anyway ...
The London Evening Standard
The movie's real weapon is the creditable performance by Chris Evans as first Steve Rogers and then his alter ego Captain America. For the first hour he's a weakling, a special effect that makes his emaciated torso look both stiff and out of proportion with his head. Then, in part two, the muscles burst forth, looking easily capable of withstanding a round or two of golf. In both incarnations Evans is unprecedentedly touching and engaging for a superhero - and the rest of the cast help this adventure seem something close to character-driven instead of just being a bundle of stunts
The Birmingham Mail (UK)
TRADITIONAL Second World War thrillers meet the superhero era head on in Captain America – and the result is the first must-see blockbuster of the summer.
Hugo Weaving is pleasingly credible as the villain Johann Schmidt / Red Skull, while Chris Evans is a new breed of superstar.
Spared the stiffness of the younger Ben Affleck and a facial cross between Tom Cruise (minus the ego) and Richard Gere, he is very comfortable with both of his guises here.
Like Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker / Spider-Man, he is equally watchable as the slight Steve Rogers and the combative Captain.
I’m a bit late coming to this film—blame Comic-Con—but having heard good buzz I went to see it this morning with high hopes. For starters, a comic book story set during World War Two offers a perfect opportunity to banish irony, make use of Nazis as bad guys, and cheer on an all-American hero. Chris Evans is well cast in the leading role, as he not only embodies the physical character but embraces his patriotic attitude with complete conviction.
What’s more, the cast is full of expert players who (under Joe Johnston’s direction) bring color and life to their characters without overacting or resorting to kitsch. Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, Hugo Weaving, and Toby Jones add weight and resonance to every scene they’re in.
Add to that the imaginative production design by Rick Heinrichs, one of the most talented art directors of our time, and—
—rousing music by Alan Silvestri (not to mention a peppy new theme song written by David Zippel and Alan Menken).
Hugely enjoyable and superbly written, this is a thrilling action-adventure that gets everything right, thanks to a note perfect performance from Chris Evans, a great supporting cast, some terrific action sequences and some impressively inventive direction from Joe Johnston.
Chris Evans is perfectly cast, reining in his usual wise-cracking screen persona in favour of a more thoughtful, courageous and heartfelt performance that works brilliantly.
Atlantic City Weekly
While Captain America is in many ways a set-up movie for next summer’s multi-superhero Avengers film, it stands on its own as an enjoyable superhero flick with a great final showdown between hero and villain, characters we enjoy (both good and evil), some cool weapons and vehicles and a story that’s engrossing.
Chris Evans delivers the perfect superhero with heart and Weaving is just as convincing as the epitome of evil (not easy when you consider that Hitler also shows up in this movie in a cameo role).
Captain America seamlessly blends nostalgia with a classic superhero vibe and delivers an enjoyable popcorn summer entertainment.
With cynics and extremists exploiting patriotism these days, the prospects for Captain America looked dim. But Joe Johnston's adaptation of the Marvel comic book exalts the virtues of optimism, decency, and perseverance in a rousing adventure of old-fashioned adolescent exuberance. Credit Chris Evans, who portrays Steve Rogers, the 4F shrimp transformed into a star-spangled superhero, with a rueful innocence and sneaky humor reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart. Likewise, Johnston, as in his underappreciated The Rocketeer (1991), shows a genius for creating an alternative past, a World War II fought with weapons combining retro quaintness and nightmarish futurism. Johnston is also smart enough to poke fun at the hero's hokiness — before fighting Germans in earnest, the Captain is socking Hitler in a stage show — but he finds a wickedly worthy opponent in the Red Skull, played with a Werner Herzog accent by Hugo Weaving.
Turns out Chris Evans was an inspired choice to play the star-spangled Captain America after all.
The Entertainment Spectrum
The chief strength of this production has to be the superb casting choices for the key roles. Evans has a screen charisma that goes beyond his ruggedly handsome frame and piercing blue eyes. He displays a sense of humor and a warm gentle decency.
Chris Evans had yet to really live up to the star power that his biceps promise…until now. He is so rock solid in this movie (both physically and in his acting) that I'm now thrilled about seeing him next year in the Avengers movie. It was starting to seem that in order to have another hit superhero flick, the character had to have the swagger of Tony Stark, but no--Chris Evans and Steve Rogers are pretty much the antithesis of Robert Downey Jr.'s character, and it worked just as well. He nailed this one. Nice work Chris, I sat through Push because I knew you were capable of great things
Hold on to your capes, comicbook fans. "Captain America: The First Avenger" is the best page-to-screen comicbook adaptation since "Batman Begins".
At the center of it all is Mr. Evans. Though he has played a superhero before (Johnny Storm, in the "Fantastic Four" franchise), he has never shown the depth of character on display here. Like the film, his Steve is patriotic without being pandering. He's not motivated by a blind love of country, but by a respect for those who give their lives in its service - specifically a boyhood friend (Sebastian Stan). Dr. Erskine's serum is said to amplify the recipient's character, "the good becomes great, the bad...worse". Mr. Evans makes you believe he's worthy of the responsibility, not just of the serum but of a legitimate superhero franchise. That's something to root for.
If you've seen more than one Marvel Entertainment film, survived the standard cameos by Stan Lee and the obligatory appearances by Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, you would be more than forgiven for feeling you've seen enough. "Captain America: The First Avenger" is not the film to change your mind, but it does have something the others do not: Chris Evans in the title role.
Evans has gone the Marvel route before, playing Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in a pair of "Fantastic Four" movies. But 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.
The perfect casting of Evans and some of the side characters as well as the original approach to the action ultimately makes up for some of the annoying changes from the source material
Captain America: The First Avenger" is one of the finest movies yet from Marvel Studios, and a big departure in tone and storytelling from most of the films they've made so far. It is a strong indicator that the more willing the studio is to experiment, the more exciting the payoffs can be. In this case, there's no clear precursor to this one in anything else Marvel's done, and it feels like branching out and trying something this different freed them up. It helps that director Joe Johnston shot the film like he had something to prove and Chris Evans appears to have been born for this role. Everything came together here in a way that I'm not sure anyone could have predicted, and that indefinable chemistry is one of the things that makes this feel so special.
It's about time that a 90-pound weakling got to kick sand in the face of the other heroes in the Marvel Comics universe. I'm talking Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), the Brooklyn kid who tries futilely to pass a World War II Army physical that will get him up in Hitler's face. Luckily, Steve meets Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), a doctor who thinks this good-natured wimp is a perfect fit for his supersoldier experiment. A few Vita-rays later, and Steve – digital miracles have turned Evans into a convincing beanpole – pumps up into the hard-bodied Captain America, a mega fighting and propaganda machine.
Here's the funny thing: Despite all the Captain America rah-rah in costume and indestructible shield, the movie is at its best when the story sticks with skinny Steve. Evans, who played the Human Torch in two less-than-fantastic Fantastic Four films, brings such humor, heart and vigor to virtuous Steve that our rooting interest holds even when the action gets to be standard-issue, as it did in director Joe Johnston's The Rocketeer. Hayley Atwell excels as the Captain's soldier crush. And Hugo Weaving huffs and puffs mightily as the Red Skull, the rogue Nazi freak who heads the Hydra plot for world takeover. But it's Evans, playing it old-school, who has us looking forward to The Avengers next year, when the pioneering Captain leads Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk on present-day adventures. Evans makes a hell of an MVP.
A hero is born in Captain America: The First Avenger, and not just the one in the title: Chris Evans, with an emotionally authentic performance as World War II 4F Steve Rogers, who becomes Marvel Comics' super-solider Captain America, vaults to the top ranks of leading-man actors who can act. After having inhabited a completely different superhero in the role of party-boy Human Torch in the Fantastic Four movies, Evans wheels around to convincingly play a character who's a zealous straight-arrow even by Greatest Generation standards. Even in scenes in which his seamlessly computer-composited head appears on a puny body, Evans makes the man believable, sincere and self-aware.
Evans -- and the CGI team behind the curtain -- carry off this transition without so much as a smirk. It's not a showy performance but in its way, it's a very fine piece of screen acting -- sharp and focused, and always fun to watch.
As the titular comic book character, Chris Evans has an appealing, earnest quality, whether he's playing the digitally enhanced (reduced?) scrawny Steve Rogers or the well-muscled super-soldier dubbed Captain America. Evans provides just the right human anchor to the flash and dazzle of director Joe Johnstons's production. The movie wouldn't work without Evans' likability and the sense of integrity he projects, as well as his all-American good looks.
"Captain America" is enlivened by smart dialogue, engaging characters and Chris Evans himself. What makes him so convincing? As with Christopher Reeve's Superman, you somehow just know he's the good guy. That's a quality that never goes out of fashion.
.... and some more ... "I can do this all day."
New York Daily News
Anchoring it all is Evans, striking the right balance between old-fashioned corniness and retro-style integrity. Jones is enjoyably gruff, Tucci adds a twinkling, kindly conscience, and Weaving would be deliciously loathsome even if he didn't look like a sunburned Valdemort.
Though the action scenes are rousing, an impressive last battle is regrettably missing. But hang in there: A head-spinningly cool finale will have you seeing more stars than there are on Cap's iconic costume.
Chris Evans plays Rogers with a sort of earnestly serious, gee-whiz determination before his transformation, and the really interesting thing about his performance is how much Steve remains that same man even after he’s pumped up and put in his costume. First Avenger keeps Steve’s road rocky, no matter that he’s given power beyond that of normal men, life remains a struggle. Inside he’s still the little guy who keeps getting knocked down but refuses to stay down. Captain America’s real strength isn’t in his arms or in his ability to throw his shield, it’s in his ability to keep getting back up, to keep going, no matter the cost.
Weaving’s Schmidt/Red Skull is the best villain of the Marvel universe yet, and whereas the final action sequences fell flat in Iron Man and Thor, this one indeed feels both epic and earned. None of it, however, would work without Evans’ easy charm. His appeal is different to his aforementioned Marvel stable mates; he is modest, kind and, ahem, a virgin (this is certainly not the persona Evans has given off in other films).
The picture draws a clear line between good and bad, and our scrappy, virginal protagonist is well and truly a beacon of valour. He may not be as morally complex as Batman, but Captain America is a good man, and he means well, and sometimes it’s just nice to rally behind a hero with a heart of gold.
In Chris Evans audiences have a worthy Captain America. In addition to physically fitting the bill he has a nice mixture of qualities that allows him to sell the earnest and breathlessly patriotic Steve Rogers without making him boring. That’s a feat, as for many long runs of the comic book’s history the character was completely defined by the sidekick he was carrying or the villains he was fighting. Captain America at his best is a lot like chicken stock, a great base and conductor but hard to enjoy on its own. Evans is a very gifted comedic actor and stripped of many of those tools it was a concern if he’s be able to function in the appropriately bland persona of “The First Avenger”. Thanks to a great first act with Evans playing the scrawny and headstrong version of the character and interacting with the excellent Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones, the film gets a nice injection of personality before Captain America is born and becomes an action lead.
And finally this review which was always my favourite.
I should confess upfront, although I like Chris Evans and thought he was great as Johnny Storm in The Fantastic Four, I wasn’t sure how to feel about his casting as Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, in the new Marvel film Captain America: The First Avenger…
Used to seeing a youthful Evans joke around and portray loveable smart alecks, my fear was that he might not radiate the immediate credibility and gravitas that define a “born leader.” This is a character who will be giving orders to an Iron Man portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr., and a Thor portrayed by Chris Hemsworth. So Captain America needed to be someone we could all believe Robert Downey, Jr. would respect and defer to, and someone the God of Thunder would prefer to follow rather than lead.
It wasn’t a knock on Evans, it was simply that the cast of Captain America was key to making the entire Marvel Universe work on film, and the upcoming 2012 release The Avengers might rise or fall on the credibility of the portrayal of Captain America. Marvel films so far have a perfect batting average in casting, and even in recasting, with Mark Ruffalo stepping into the role of Bruce Banner (aka the Hulk) following Edward Norton‘s great turn in The Incredible Hulk and Eric Bana‘s superb, underrated portrayal in Hulk. So it was imperative that the casting for Captain America maintain that perfect trend.
Well, whatever concerns or doubts I had, my humblest apologies to Mr. Evans, because he hit another home run for Marvel.
Let me make explain something at this point. I’m not just speaking as an overall comic book fan now. I started reading Captain America comics during the terrific 1980-1981 run by Roger Stern and John Byrne (and seriously, check out that link to Byrne’s official site!), when my older brothers were reading the books and encouraged me to read them, too. After that, I collected Captain America comics every single month for more than a decade, until I was kind of forced to stop in 1989 (college and food took all of my money at the time). I’d read an occasional copy here and there in the subsequent years, but eventually I stopped altogether for more than ten years. Then came Ed Brubaker‘s stunning, award-winning run in the 2000s, and I was once again eagerly consuming one Captain America comic after another (if you’re a comic book fan and haven’t had the pleasure of reading this multi-year run, it’s collected in a hardcover Omnibus Edition of Brubaker’s brilliant first five years on the Captain America comic).
My point is, I’m not merely a “fan” of Captain America. He is in a small collection of character for whom I have a special connection and affinity, and I half expected to come away from any Captain America film thinking it’s simply impossible to ever hope to do Steve Rogers justice in real life. The performer would not only have to live up to the character in the books, but more importantly would also have to live up to the character in my mind.
Chris Evans did the impossible. He became Steve Rogers, inside and out. I could not have asked for a more perfect portrayal of not only the hero in uniform, but more importantly the man behind the mask. Every single moment he was on screen, Evans blew my mind with how much he embodied the essence of the character — not just from the pages of the comics, but the essence I felt in my heart from the time I was a young boy. Watching this film, I felt a joy and a return to that childhood excitement, while my adult demands for strong storytelling and character development were likewise treated to an unexpected but very welcome fulfillment as well.
Captain America: The First Avenger isn’t dominated by a costume, or by special effects, or by action scenes. It’s dominated by a great performance in a strong characterization of Steve Rogers, a young man who spent his life refusing to back down no matter how beaten and outnumbered he was in life. It is the best superhero film of the year (and I say that as someone who walked out of Thor grinning ear-to-ear, in awe, and shouting, “I need a horse!” at anyone who would listen), but is also one of the best all-around films of the year regardless of genre.
Marvel continues to put out one great film after another, bringing their universe to life and building up to an Avengers film that increasingly looks like it’s going to easily be one of the greatest comics-to-film moments in history. And their success in the future just got a huge boost with the addition of Chris Evans, who rose above my every expectation and hope, and brought my boyhood memories to life again. Thanks for that, Mr. Evans and Marvel.
The 30 Best Performances In The Marvel Cinematic Universe
Oliver Lyttelton November 3, 2016
This week, “Doctor Strange” (it’s pretty good! Read our review) becomes the 14th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an expansive, pop-culture behemoth that’s also expanded to television. From the very beginning, these movies have attracted a high calibre of talent — Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges in the first “Iron Man,” for instance — but they’ve only become more and more magnetic to big stars as they’ve become better and better (and, presumably, paid their actors more and more), arguably culminating in “Doctor Strange,” which with a cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Mads Mikkelsen and Benedict Wong, could put many awards movies to shame.
With this movie particularly in mind, it felt like a good time to focus on one of the things that have made the Marvel movies so popular: the performances. That might sound like a ridiculous statement, given the amount of CGI and explosions in these films, but people keep coming back to the MCU because they love the characters and love seeing them bounce off each other, and they love the characters because of the performances.
So, to celebrate the entry of Cumberbatch, Ejiofor, Swinton and co. into the MCU, we’ve picked out our 30 favorite performances from the Marvel movies and shows, and ranked them below. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments.
1. Chris Evans as Steve Rogers in “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011 )
Chris Evans reportedly turned down the role of Captain America when he was first offered it, and it’s not hard to see why: In a cynical modern era, the idea of a literal representation of great American values could have seemed doomed to looking sort of lame. But thank God he didn’t, because if Downey Jr. is the brains and wit of the MCU, Evans is its heart and soul. The kind of heart-on-sleeve, all-American sincerity that he has to do here is unbelievably tough to pull off, but since the very beginning (especially in the beginning), as a surprisingly not off-putting digitally shrunk Steve Rogers, Evans has managed it: clear-eyed but not finger-wagging, amused by his friends but not necessarily funny himself, driven above all by a love for his fellow man. That Evans can make him not a fusty bore, but a real hero and role model, is a hell of a feat.