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Captain America will be a USO performer in the movie, director says

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SPOILER ALERT: THIS POST REVEALS SEVERAL PLOT POINTS IN THE CAPTAIN AMERICA FILM

It’s one thing to take Batman off the comic-book page and make his costume still look good in a live-action feature, but Captain America presents a far bigger challenge — the hero is essentially a walking flag, which might leave many average moviegoers giggling instead of saluting.

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But director Joe Johnston and the team at Marvel Studios have a plan for ‘The First Avenger: Captain America,’ which is due in Summer 2011: They’ve added a new wrinkle to the classic mythology to explain why a scientifically enhanced super-soldier would venture out in the WWII battlefields in a costume that leans a bit heavy on the old Betsy Ross imagery.

‘The costume is a flag, but the way we’re getting around that is we have Steve Rogers forced into the USO circuit. After he’s made into this super-soldier, they decide they can’t send him into combat and risk him getting killed. He’s the only one and they can’t make more. So they say, ‘You’re going to be in this USO show’ and they give him a flag suit. He can’t wait to get out of it.’

That’s a whole new concept and it’s one that sounds pretty promising. ‘It was never in the comics,’ Johnston said, ‘because they didn’t really need it. In comics, he puts on the costume and the reader just justifies because of the nature of the medium.’

Johnston told me all this when we sat down for lunch today at the Four Seasons Hotel. For an hour we chatted about his new film, ‘The Wolfman’ (which you can read about next week right here at the Hero Complex) but I had to ask him a bit about the Captain America production. Filming starts in London at the end of June. ‘There’s a lot of work we have to do on it,’ the 59-year-old director said.

And who will wear the costume and carry the shield? ‘Well, we’re testing five or six guys,’ Johnston said. ‘The youngest is 23, the oldest is 32. Most of the guys in the war are just kids, 18 or 19, but we want to go a little bit older. We have to have somebody locked in before I leave March 1 for London.’

A challenge, he said, is finding an actor that can play scenes as ’98-pound-weakling’ Steve Rogers and also pull off the brawny hero scenes, although some visual effects wizardry will come into play. Johnson has plenty of experience on that front as the director of ‘Jumanji,’ ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids’ and ‘Jurassic Park III’ He also had art director credits on major Lucasfilm projects, including ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’

Johnston also directed ‘The Rocketeer,’ an underrated 1991 film based on the retro-hero created by the late great Dave Stevens. I asked Johnston if he thought the vintage flair of that film might have caught the eye of the Marvel brain trust as they looked around for a filmmaker to handle a 1940s action movie.

‘I think it’s probably possible that it was an influence,’ he said. ‘I think they were looking for somebody that could handle the visual effects. I think that was a big part of it. And with visual effects, all you really need to know is what is possible. And these days, actually, that’s almost anything. Not everything is affordable, but almost everything is approachable.’

I wanted to come back to the idea of Steve Rogers as a reluctant performer with United Services Organizations, which famously brought Bob Hope and other entertainers to morale-boosting events for troops overseas.

‘So he’s up on stage doing songs and dances with chorus girls and he can’t wait to get out and really fight. When he does go AWOL, he covers up the suit but then, after a few things happen, he realizes that this uniform allows him to lead. By then, he’s become a star in the public mind and a symbol. The guys get behind him because he embodies something special.’

There will be more than one costume in the film, too.

In the first USO sequences, the frustrated patriot will be wearing a version that is closer to the classic Jack Kirby-designed costume, but then later as the super-soldier hits the war zone he will be wearing a sturdier, more muted version that he makes himself that is more like battle togs. The stripes across his mid-section, for instance, will be straps, not colored fabric.

‘He realizes the value of the uniform symbols but he modifies his suit and adds some armor, it will be closer to the Cpa costume in some of the comics in more recent years . . . this approach, it’s the only way we could justify ever seeing him on a screen in tights, with the funny boots and everything. The government essentially puts him up there as a living comic-book character and he rips it off and then reclaims some of its imagery after he recognizes the value of it. We think it’s the best way to keep the costume and explain it at the same time.’

— Geoff Boucher

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ART: Marvel Comics


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