“I can do this all day.” The first time Chris Evans delivered that line, then in the form of stick-thin pre-Super Soldier Serum Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger, fans knew that Marvel had found its Cap. After live-action misfires that saw Reb Brown (best known as Roll Fizzlebeef, etc. from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 classic Space Mutiny) and Matt Salinger, son of Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger, throw Captain America‘s mighty shield, Evans proved that he could play the famously upright character without any cheesiness.
But Evans initially stalled taking the part after realizing he wouldn’t just be doing this all day. He’d be doing it as long as Marvel wanted him, which resulted in eleven film appearances (including a cameo in Thor: The Dark World) between 2011 and 2019.
In a recent breakdown of his most important roles, Evans told GQ that he knew about Marvel’s “big plans, that the goal was to create this tapestry and integrate these worlds in a way that really hadn’t been done prior.” Because of those plans, and the decades of comics that preceded the films, it gave Evans pause before accepting the part. “It wasn’t about where the character would end up,” he said of his hesitance. “It was more about the burden of trying to create this universe.”
Of course, Evans realized that it fell more on Kevin Feige and Robert Downey Jr. to create the MCU. Instead, he had to embody a character who had thousands of fans before the movie even hit theaters. To play a character like that, “You want to see him how the fans see him,” Evans explained. “So the first step [to playing that type of character] is to try to understand why other people like him and honor it as best you can.”
By the time Evans stepped away with Avengers: Endgame, most agreed that he had done just that. Where some creators have struggled to make fundamentally decent superheroes interesting, too often searching for a dark side that doesn’t quite fit and reducing the hero into a bully, Evans made Cap’s simplicity into a virtue. Instead of leaning into the jingoistic Captain America of the Ultimate Universe, the alternate Marvel continuity that heavily influenced Iron Man, Evans chose the traditional Cap. He honored the best Captain America stories of the past, while creating his own take, making a hero who fit inside of the MCU.
Thanks to that firm foundation, Marvel has been able to keep telling Captain America stories, even without Evans. As seen in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Sam Wilson now carries the shield, and will be the protagonist of the upcoming fourth Captain America film. None of that would have been possible if Evans didn’t find a way to understand the appeal of Captain America and place him in a cinematic universe that continues to expand. He didn’t do it all day, but he did it long enough.