Op/Ed: An Open Letter to Joe Johnston

At the end of last year, one of the things that I mentioned to be excited about 2010 for was the announcement of who was going to be playing Captain America in the Marvel films. Well, the time for that announcement is drawing near and as Ain't It Cool News reports, along with several other sites, it looks like the short list for actors to don the blue chainmail has been released. Chace Crawford (Gossip Girl), John Krasinski (The Office), Scott Porter (Friday Night Lights), Mike Vogel (Out of My League), Michael Cassidy (Smallville), Patrick Flueger (The 4400), and Garrett Hedlund (Tron Legacy) have all been invited to come in and do a screen test to be Cap, and Jansen Ackles (Supernatural) was invited to come in but couldn't due to schedule conflicts. What's my take on this bit of news? Hit the jump for my reactions.

The Casting of Captain America

To Joe Johnston,

I just want to start off by saying that I am not a director, either in film or anything else. I've worked in theater for years and while I directed two shows in college, I do not think of myself as a director in any way. With that said, you stand on the precipice of making a decision that directly effects a great deal of comic book and movie fans, as your decision will inevitably be a factor in potentially 9 other films stretching well into the next decade of film-making. This is a big responsibility so I urge you to not take it lightly and to truly consider what I have to say here: Do NOT hire any of these seven actors that you are bringing in for this screen test. I know that you are committed to casting a relative unknown for the part, and while I do not think that this is necessarily a bad idea in and of itself, there are many other factors to consider here. Also, I feel that it is important to outline exactly who Steve Rogers / Captain America really is at his core, as that will help to clarify the point that I am trying to make. Finally, I'll look at the best possible choices that we can come up with, and I'll even consider some of the actors that you've brought to the table.

The Importance of Captain America

To me personally, it's huge. I've been a fan of Steve Rogers since I was a little kid, as Cap and Hawkeye were the two reasons I ever started collecting the Avengers way back in the mid-90's. And I still buy at least one Avengers title a month to this day (and I'm a huge fan of Bucky Cap too). But to the greater tapestry of the Marvel Universe, Steve Rogers is in the top 5 of important figures, ranking just behind Spider-Man and Wolverine. And to the Avengers? He's the top. People don't think about the Avengers without a Captain America leading them into battle yelling Avengers Assemble, because at this point Captain America and the Avengers are synonymous. So this means that any and all Avengers movies (Cause you know they aren't going to make just one) have to star whoever you cast as Captain America, not to mention that Cap's friendship with Tony is sure to play a role in Iron Man 3. Also, according to reports, the plan is for whoever is cast as Cap to sign on for 9 additional films, a way to ensure that any sequels or other properties that would feature Captain America have him show up in their universe. Except for Sam Jackson's Nick Fury, this is the biggest commitment out of any of the Marvel actors so far. This basically ensures that if Captain America is a bust, than the Avengers will be a bust and he'll drag all of the other 7 films down too. This can not happen.

The Relative Unknown

When Marvel was launching their first self-produced film Iron Man they took a "risk" by casting Robert Downey Jr. to play Tony Stark in the film, a move that many fans and critics raised concerns about and decried at the time it was announced. I actually thought it was a brilliant move then, and I think that time has proven that to indeed be the case, because while Downey Jr wasn't the superstar that he is now (because of Iron Man) he was a great actor that just needed someone to take a chance on him. And even more than that, the man was capable of truly becoming Tony Stark, to the point that in the same way Christopher Reeves is who people see when they think of Superman so too is Downey and Stark. For example, I googled Tony Stark and the first page of images was primarily Robert Downey Jr. I think that this is the best possible route to go is to pick a proven actor who is just not a superstar and give them the chance to define Steve Rogers in the films in the same way that Downey did Stark.

What I'm saying is, this list of people includes mostly TV actors that I just don't feel have proven themselves capable of wielding the shield. Also, I notice that you are skewing younger with the casting choice, and in this case I think that this is a mistake. Downey Jr. is in his 40's, not old but also not the young ideal of action stars in Hollywood, yet he was perfect to play Tony Stark because he had that worldliness about him that was so crucial to that performance. For a believable Cap, I think you have to look at older actors, but maybe not actors that have carried a film franchise before, so no Brad Pitt. I think the field should be moved to hiring actors in their early 30's/late 20's in order to bring in the right amount of experience and still have the right look.

You'll notice that I did not bring up Thor despite that film relying on an unknown quantity to wield the hammer of Mjollnir. There are two reasons for this. First, Thor hasn't come out yet and I can't judge whether it was success or a flop. Secondly, and this is the big one, Branagh surrounded that film with talented, proven actors who could help carry the film along if there were stumbles on the part of Chris Hemsworth. While this may not help out the Avengers franchise, that film already has Robert Downey Jr, Sam Jackson, hopefully Edward Norton, and Don Cheadle attached to it so it is not short on quality actors either. The problem is, since the Avengers are essentially anchored by the Big 3: Thor, Iron Man and Cap: casting a completely unproven actor as Cap when Thor is already an unproven commodity puts all the pressure on Downey Jr.

Who is Steve Rogers?

Briefly though, I want to touch on who I think Steve Rogers is, as a way of making any more casting discussions easier. Mark Millar's the Ultimates seems to be a big inspiration for the Marvel Movie Universe, mostly because it's awesome, but also because it was able to distill these characters down to their essence so flawlessly. In the Ultimates, you see Rogers as this man who is lost, adrift even, in a time that is completely different from his own after being frozen for 60 years in the Atlantic Ocean. He wakes up, and gone are the social conventions of the 1930's and 40's and replaced by the way we live our lives now in the 2000's. Imagine that, going from a time when holding hands in public and kissing were almost obscene to the present day when casual sex isn't even frowned upon anymore but encouraged. Rogers is a modern day Rip Van Winkle, and the only time that he feels completely comfortable is on the battlefield, commanding superheroes into unimaginable scenarios against Gods, time-traveling despots, or a bunch of dudes that use construction equipment to rob banks. This is a man who gives orders to the God of Thunder and a billionare in a walking tank, and he never bats an eye while doing it because he is a born leader. Rogers wasn't allowed to join the Army because he was too small and weak, but he was determined to stand up against the Nazi's and volunteered for the Super Soldier serum out of pure patriotism and a strong desire to do what is right. That is Steve Rogers, in a nutshell.

Who Should be Steve Rogers?

This is the question of the hour, isn't it? Who should be Steve Rogers, Captain America? I think that if we lived in a perfect world that didn't have other things to consider, I'd say it should be Brad Pitt just because he's one of the only people I can see ordering Thor and Iron Man around on a battlefield. But, that ain't gonna happen because this isn't a perfect world and there are lots of different factors going on, like money and the 9 picture commitments. A good friend of mine suggested Aaron Eckhart which I also agree with, except again the money and time factor in again, since I consider Eckhart to be too big a star for consideration. I'm going to suggest one slightly lesser known actor than Eckhart, and someone that was previously in the running for the part.

First, I think the best choice for Captain America is Josh Duhamel (Transformers) because he's got the right look and he's played military tough guys facing off with fantastical creatures and managed to pull it off. Transformers 2 was absolute shit, but Duhamel's scenes were some of the best of that film and if anything the movie suffered because he was so underutilized. Again, he's not a mega-star yet, as evidenced by When in Rome, but he will be. I think you could get him to be Cap right now.

The other I recommend is Jensen Ackles (Supernatural), who was in the running but couldn't make it to the screen testing. Don't let him not making the screening stop you, this guy is another great choice for Cap as he has the looks and enough experience to pull off a convincing turn as Captain America. The big thing going against him is that he does have a sarcastic, smart alec-y streak about him sometimes which Rogers doesn't (Cap is almost like cardboard socially) but that doesn't mean he couldn't tone it down some for the role. Plus, he's got genre cred with a stint on Smallville and voicing the Red Hood in the next DC Animated film, and he's not a household name just yet so he could agree to the asking price.

Those are my choices, but let's look at yours shall we? CBR did a picture comparison of the actors with pics of Steve Rogers, which helps to kind of see what we're looking at here. First off, John Krasinski is out. Nope, not Captain America material. And this is coming from one of the biggest Jim Halpert fans you'll find (I even watched Leatherheads and enjoyed it) but I just do not see him playing Captain America as I don't think he could pull off the action scenes and he doesn't have the right attitude for Cap. He's too nice and charming, which Rogers is not. The two that I would pick are either Scott Porter or Mike Vogel. Porter is very good on a great show (Friday Night Lights) plus he is a self-professed comic book fan so you know he has respect for the source material. And Vogel has the right look definitely, and I'm probably one of the five people that liked Cloverfield so that helps him out with me too. Again, these are the two that I would pick if I had to from those seven actors, but I just don't see them having enough experience to carry an entire companies film franchise. And honestly, do you? Something to consider.

I'll try and see The Wolfman soon, I hear that it kicks ass.

Your pal,
Warwick S. Johnson

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