ROAD TO THE AVENGERS: Writing Captain America - Exclusive Retrospective Interview
With The Avengers coming to Blu-ray, we've decided to look back at some of the films leading up to its release with exclusive, never-posted interviews, beginning with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley, writers of Captain America: The First Avenger.
Interview conducted by and copyright Edward Gross
This interview with the screenwriters was conducted a few months before the film was released.
Although the fantasy and comic book genres are not their first love, writing partners Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely certainly seem to have made themselves comfortable there. For starters, the trio adapted the Chronicles Of Narnia film series from the works of C.S. Lewis, and they’re represented on screen with the adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Captain America.
In the following exclusive interview, the duo detail how the project came together from their point of view, the strengths of Captain America as a character and then postulate on Cap’s place in the modern world.
SCIFI MEDIA ZONE: How did you prepare for the project in terms of research?
STEPHEN: We went to the comic book store and read 70 years of comics.
CHRISTOPHER: And after that, you face the main first question, which is are you going to do this modern day or are you going to do this period? I think very early on period seemed advisable. [laughs]
SCIFI MEDIA ZONE: You laughed when you said that, and I’m just curious why you thought period was the way to go.
CHRISTOPHER: Some superheroes aren’t particularly identified with a nation, so it doesn’t matter when their creation is set. Batman can be set any time, because, you know, bats are timeless. Dressing up as an American flag? Well, you’ve got to be a little… tactical… when you decide to have a person do that. If you have a person do that in the middle of Vietnam, he’s one guy. If you have him do that in 2012, he’s a completely other guy, and if you have him do it in World War II, it’s almost the last time where it would be completely undeniably good.
STEPHEN: That’s a bit of a controversial statement.
CHRISTOPHER: America became sort of split from the Korean War on in terms of foreign policy. There were plenty of people who were not in favor of the various things we’ve done since then. World War II – “Greatest Generation” – was the pinnacle of everyone in the universe thinking we were awesome except, perhaps, for the Axis Powers [laughs]. And it fits in with his character in that you can’t just have a guy decide to be Captain America in 2012….
STEPHEN: Context is everything.
CHRISTOPHER:… because it would remove all of his distinguishing characteristics, which is man out of time. He has the morals and rules of another time, and if you just have that guy now, he becomes sort of an oddball as opposed to having any justification for the way he is.
SCIFI MEDIA ZONE: Doesn’t this guy have to be colored by what he experiences? Admittedly this is not Schindler’s List, but dealing with those enemies and the atrocities going on at that time, is there ever a struggle for this guy who’s trying to be a true-blue hero facing this pure evil all around him?
STEPHEN: The thing we struggled with a little bit is do you have to remind people why so many guys wanted to go to war in 1942. Right now, if war broke out it would really depend on the enemy, but we wouldn’t all get in line to get over there. But in ’42, we did! The movie tries to put that in some context so that he’s not crazy for really, really wanting to do his part and sign up for his country. And he’s not square for doing that; he’s much like everybody else in the States was at the time.
CHRISTOPHER: I think the key to him and the key to most heroic soldier figures is that they’re doing it because it needs to be done; they’re not doing it because they love fighting. The more he fights, the more I think, in his heart, he’s going, “It will be nice when this is over,” because this is not pleasant. I think at the end of the movie he’s certainly weathered; he’s certainly seen a lot more combat and a lot more leadership than I think he would have ever factored in at the beginning.
STEPHEN: Again, it’s not Schindler’s List and it is a summer movie. Looking into the heart of darkness there will be light touches [laughs].
SCIFI MEDIA ZONE: You mentioned earlier that Captain America would come across as a wacko in today’s world, but what’s the opposite of that? How would Captain America look at the cynicism of this world?
STEPHEN: You’re asking us to speculate completely. What we did was we said, “We spent two years making sure we got Cap in 1942-1945 right.” Joss Whedon is the one who gets the first crack out of what the man out of time thinks of 2012 in The Avengers.
SCIFI MEDIA ZONE: At the same time, you guys have “lived” with this character for the past few years, so you must have some thoughts on it.
CHRISTOPHER: I imagine that to a certain extent, if you’re just working on the surface, if you got jumped from 1945 to 2012 without knowing what happened in between, you might think you lost the war [laughs].
STEPHEN: Why do you say that?
CHRISTOPHER: Well, because that version of hometown America is so wholesome, clean, homogenized….
STEPHEN: Right, and we make fun of it now.
CHRISTOPHER: And to come here now, where it’s more polluted, noisier, it’s got 200 times more buildings and people…I don’t think you’d think the Nazis won, but you might think, “This isn’t what I was fighting for in someway.”
SCIFI MEDIA ZONE: So the attitude would be, “Something went wrong here”?
CHRISTOPHER: Not that something went wrong, but you would have to then go out and re-find what’s good.
STEPHEN: It’s also specific. The story of Steve will be the story of people and the very specific people that he lost; the relationships that will come back or he regrets or culpabilities or whatever. I can’t really speak for how Steve is going to feel at the mall, but I can speak about how Steve feels about his experiences with Bucky in World War II.
CHRISTOPHER: Even Captain America, who is completely consumed by symbolism, in a way, is like everybody else, fighting for specifics; for what is specifically important to them, which makes him a good character as opposed to a cartoon.
STEPHEN: That’s the approach that you have to take, I think. You can’t write Captain America, you have to write Steve Rogers.
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