Bringing down the shield: Chris Evens is back in uniform to defend his country in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
In a world where superheroes and supervillains live among regular folks, things can get a little messy sometimes. Power struggles, displaced loyalties and dark secrets uncovered are just some of the problems that turn up in Marvel’s latest offering, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is the ninth instalment in the superhero film franchise.
In the movie, the seemingly impenetrable world of SHIELD – or Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division – is turned inside out, and all its major players are under threat of public scrutiny... and worse. The new villain is someone whom people claim “does not exist”, yet somehow always manages to leave a trail of dead bodies in his invincible wake.
The biggest worry, though, comes in the form of a doubtful Steve Rogers aka Captain America, who begins to question his existence, the work that he does and the people around him. He also still seems a little lost in the modern world, hanging on to memories of his very distant past in any way he could.
You feel a little sorry for the guy.
“Nobody he knows from his previous life is around anymore, so he’s in a very isolated place. The first half of the movie deals with the fact that he feels a sense of isolation and disconnect from everyone else,” said director Anthony Russo, who worked on The Winter Soldier with his brother, Joe. The duo was in Beijing this week to promote the film with its stars, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L Jackson.
The Russos insist that the movie isn't your typical superhero action flick. It’s a character-driven action-packed spy thriller with a bit of drama thrown in for good measure.
“That’s what we like to make. A thriller needs to have stakes and you can’t have stakes if you don’t have a character for the audience to care about. We wanted to make (Captain America) empathetic and relatable, and one way to do it was to show that he’s lost and isolated. People can identify with that,” Joe explained.
“It’s great that you get to see this side of Cap, and for me, it’s easy to do because once you’ve played the character, you sort of know what’s going on with him and how he’s going to react to certain things,” said Evans.
Fortunately, the directors managed to achieve all that they need to with Captain America without making him seem weak, or turning him into a completely different character from the original. The Russos also did a credible job of creating a Marvel movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the film.
“Marvel’s done so many good movies now that in order for the franchise to move forward, we really needed to work hard to find ways to push things into new territory. Cap doesn’t fly across the world like Iron Man, he doesn’t turn green like The Hulk, and he doesn’t come from another universe like Thor. He’s human, only slightly more so.
“We wanted to come up with a tonal and visual style that played to the fact that Cap is just a guy. This is why we shot some scenes with handheld cameras, to give it that cinema verite feel. We wanted to get into the character intimately not just via his fighting styles but emotionally too,” Joe described.
He also revealed that The Winter Soldier is just “part one” of this particular story, and that Captain America 3, which the brothers will also be directing, shall bind several puzzle pieces together as well as tie some loose ends. For now, however, nothing else can be said, which is pretty typical of a Marvel project.
Speaking of fight scenes, the film boasts numerous hand-to-hand combat sequences between Captain America and the villains, most notably with the Winter Soldier (played by Sebastian Stan) and Batroc the Leaper (Georges St Pierre).
Anthony shared that the actors, including Johansson (Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow), did a lot of the hand-to-hand combat sequences themselves.
Johansson, 30, said: “I don’t think it’s anymore of a challenge for me than any of the other guys just because I’m a girl. Making an action movie is hard,
I think for all of us, but I like the physical challenge of it. It helps me extend myself in ways I didn’t know I could."
“As far as being the only female superhero in the franchise so far, I just don’t think of it much. I surround myself with powerful women in my life, Chris Evans being one of them,” she added half-jokingly as Evans, 31, took a bow.
The actors were in very good spirits during the interviews and press conference, teasing one another, finishing off each other’s sentences and making jokes.
“Are you calling me fat?” said Evans, feigning a hurt and offended look when we asked him whether or not he ever had body image issues, having to star alongside so many other buff actors – Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor, being one of them. “We all get body image issues when Chris Hemsworth is around,” said Johansson.
The actors’ camaraderie that day proved Jackson’s description of what the Marvel Avengers universe is like: one big Halloween party.
“It’s like the biggest Halloween party ever. We’re like these kids in a neighbourhood and we all have our costumes and powers. Then we go on a vacation, or do other movies or something, and we come back to our neighbourhood when it’s time.
“Then someone comes around with a new game plan and says, ‘Hi kids! Here’s the new game, so now go play, OK?’ and we go ‘Yay!’,” said Jackson who, despite playing the ever-so-serious and commanding Nick Fury in the Avengers world, was very easy-going and approachable during our interview.
Jackson, 66, and Johansson have been part of the franchise for quite some time now, appearing in the same films together, while Evans joined the Marvel Avengers universe in 2011 as the “Golden Age” Captain America in the first film. New to the Avengers is Anthony Mackie, 35, who plays Sam Wilson aka The Falcon.
“Anthony’s the new kid on the block, and because of that he’s got a lot of enthusiasm in him which was really quite infectious. Scarlett, Chris and I have been part of so many of these movies that we’re starting to get a bit complacent. Anthony’s so enthusiastic that he kind of reminded us what was exciting about being in the Avengers world. We love him!” said Jackson of his co-star.
The other “newbie” in the film is Robert Redford, 78, who plays Fury’s boss in SHIELD. The directors claimed that when Redford’s name was first mentioned at early casting meetings, they immediately knew that he would be perfect for the role. Anthony shared: “When we went to his place to pitch this movie role to him, he said, ‘You know what, this looks great, but I honestly have no idea what these movies are about... But my grandson does’.”
In two weeks, Jackson, Johansson and Evans will join the rest of the Avengers gang – namely Robert Downey Jr, Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner – and director Joss Whedon for Avengers: Age of Ultron, set to be released next year. Guess it’s back to the ol’ neighbourhood, then.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens in cinemas nationwide today.
Samuel L. Jackson takes things in his stride