This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
This feature contains MAJOR spoilers for the ending of Avengers: Endgame.
When it comes to comic book movies, Captain America: The First Avenger was far from Chris Evans’ first rodeo. Having previously appeared in films like the Fantastic Four movies, The Losers, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and Push, he may have played more comic characters than any other actor working today. And yet, his turn as Steve Rogers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is unquestionably his best work.
But to look back on his eight years in the part is to ask not what Captain America has done for the actor, but what Chris Evans has done for the character. Marvel Studios essentially embarked on its initial five-year plan to make The Avengers because they held the rights to those characters. If Kevin Feige had X-Men or Spider-Man to play with when Marvel set up their independent production company, it’s doubtful that Cap would have been first on the production slate.
In previous screen portrayals, Reb Brown hurled his frisbee-like plastic shield around in defense of the red, white, and er… transparent, while Matt Salinger fronted the universally panned 1990 film, which began development as a Cannon picture. It’s not only that the character didn’t have much cultural stock but also that he literally has “America” in his name, in the midst of the continuing shift towards making blockbusters that travel worldwide.
Still, Evans more than makes it work. Beating other contenders John Krasinski and Ryan Phillipe to the part, the actor is a revelation in The First Avenger. Sure, he looks the part, but it’s the completely uncynical way that he plays it which makes his take on Cap so integral to Marvel Studios’ ongoing success.
Nothing in any of Evans’ other roles at the time suggested that he’d be such an ideal fit for this kind of character, but he’s successfully overwritten any other impression we may have had. Among the less uniform Phase One movies, it’s the force of personality that he brings to the role that sets The First Avenger apart. While most people (rightly) praise Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, Evans has proven to be just as iconic and impressive as the universe has grown around him.
It’s all the more remarkable because we first get to know that character as “Lil’ Steve”, battling uncanny CGI as hard as he battles the bigger guys around him. And yet, from the moment Evans shows that he can miraculously nail a line as sincere as “I don’t want to kill anybody – I just don’t like bullies,” we understand that character perfectly.
Giving credit where it’s due, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely write their star-spangled man as an incorruptible force for good, dispelling all preconceptions of flag-waving bravado. Starting with Steve being press-ganged into USO service to the tune of Alan Menken’s propaganda anthem, neither Evans nor the filmmakers are afraid to let him come across as goofy in his patriotism, because we’re all assured that he’s able to back it up.
All else aside, his first film sets him up for what’s to come better than any of his fellow Avengers. As well as the poignant post-script in modern-day New York, the chemistry between Evans’ humble hero and his co-stars Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, and especially Sebastian Stan immediately bodes well for the big ensemble crossovers that followed.
While some criticized the first Avengers movie for not tracking Cap’s transition to the modern day as well as some of the other contemporary characters’ arcs, Evans’ performance does a lot of heavy lifting, playing it somewhat disoriented (“I understood that reference!”) but no less determined.
The odd couple
From their first meeting, Steve and Tony’s arcs are linked throughout the films. Most notably in Captain America: Civil War, the series charts these two central characters swapping places with each other, with Steve’s journey as an Avenger starting from a place of selfless nobility and ending with a measure of self-fulfilment, while Mr. Stark’s arc travels in the opposite direction.
The chemistry between Downey Jr. and Evans has to be this strong for that to work, particularly with the way in which Tony winds up transferring some of his unresolved daddy issues onto a character who is ostensibly younger than he is. Again, you never once question that Evans is able to live up to that.
This makes it all the more compelling when Civil War wrangles a situation in which they’re both right and both wrong in their respective convictions. Zemo remains one of the series’ most effective villains precisely because he turns Cap’s greatest strength – his sense of right and wrong – into his biggest weakness.
Neatly debunking the fallacy that Superman is somehow “too perfect” to be faithfully portrayed in a modern comic-book movie, Markus and McFeely’s scripts consistently bring forth conflicts between a good man and the less-than-squeaky-clean world he happens to inhabit. In the absence of more inspiring movies about the Man of Steel, Captain America has arguably stepped into the breach.
It’s not like Steve is a perfect character, but his uncomplicated nature makes him surprisingly versatile. You can turn his general good-heartedness to all kinds of purposes, from the moving showdown with Bucky at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier to the pitch-perfect, everything-we-wanted-and-more meeting with Groot in Avengers: Infinity War (“I am Steve Rogers”).
On a similar note, we haven’t yet mentioned Evans’ delightful side-gig in comedic cameos in other solo movies. First, there’s the chirpily righteous impersonation that Loki does in Thor: The Dark World, a gag that comes back and pays off brilliantly during the New York sequence in Avengers: Endgame.
Then he’s cast as the reluctant star of the meme-worthy PSA videos they watch at Midtown High in Spider-Man: Homecoming, calling back to his government using him as a performing monkey all the way back in The First Avenger. All of the other Avengers get way more opportunities to show off their comic timing, but the relative scarcity of his funny bits makes them all the more hilarious when they do come.
Beyond the movies, Evans has been entertaining to watch on the press circuit too, reclining into various stages of hysterical laughter over successive junkets and acting as a ringer in the Marvel TV Agent Dubsmash war of 2016. Agent Carter‘s Atwell and her co-star James D’Arcy managed to decisively crush that Agents of SHIELD crew, thanks to Evans appearing in their “Another One Bites The Dust” and “Time Of My Life” lip-syncs. Never mind that SHIELD is still on the air, eh?
End of an era
With all of this in mind, we’ve spent most of this year scared that Cap was going to die in Endgame. Thanks to Evans tweeting a farewell after completing reshoots, we knew for some time before the film’s release that the fourth Avengers film would bring an end to the actor’s current contract, but the nature of his departure was as closely guarded as the film’s other secrets.
Taking over writing duties, Markus and McFeely bring Tony and Steve’s intertwined arcs to a close but end with a more positive outlook for their man out of time. The film is packed with bucket list moments for Cap, including a fast-paced and funny fight with his past self and the moment he’s finally deemed worthy of wielding Mjolnir.
But if Endgame is Marvel’s victory lap, it falls to Evans to power it across the finish line, in the postscript that many Peggy Carter fans hoped for but hadn’t expected to come true. To the strains of “It’s Been A Long, Long Time,” a love song about a soldier coming home from war, the final shot of the whole epic Infinity Saga is of Steve and Peggy, together again, sharing a kiss.
Where a heroic death may have been the more obvious ending to this character’s tale, it wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying. The fact that this reunion is the very last shot of the movie underlines Captain America’s role as the emotional backbone of the entire MCU to date and gives him a well-earned send-off.
Granted, old man Steve returns to hand his mighty shield over to Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson. Whether the Falcon becomes the next Captain America on-screen in the next few Marvel movies remains to be seen (there’s that TV show to deal with first), but it’s the only conceivable way you might see a Captain America movie without Evans for the foreseeable future.
The character has never been B- or C-list in Marvel’s comics, but there’s no overstating how instrumental Chris Evans’ performance has been in transforming Captain America into many people’s favorite superhero. In another, less cynical era, Evans might have been a pretty good Superman, but all things considered, we’d rather have his definitive Steve Rogers.