It takes a certain kind of actor to successful play a variety of superhero characters, and not that many know the fan boy joy of playing multiple comic based characters in a career across many different genres and stories. Chris Evans knows, and aside from perhaps only Ryan Reynolds, he’s done more comic book movies than anyone. Evans will reprise his role as Captain America in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is being released in U.S. theaters this Friday before he heads off to fight bad robots in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but the actor’s been saving the world and doing other things for almost 10 years now. But before Evans suits up again for the red, white and blue, let’s recount his heroic journey, from happy space accidents, to regular guys with special skills, to the leader of the world’s biggest super-team.
Fantastic Four/Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Almost everyone agrees that the Tim Story Fantastic Four movies were pretty awful, but most everyone agrees that Chris Evans wasn’t the reason why. As the Human Torch, Evans is cocky and assured with a frat boy swagger and a nagging sense of self-doubt. His scenes with Michael Chiklis as The Thing were amongst the best examples of the team dynamic and the potential for a truly great Fantastic Four movie, or at least Evans and Chiklis were amongst the few who understood what kind of movie they were all supposed to be making. For his part, Evans proved that he had the charisma of a big screen hero, and the ability to play the human in super-human even as he was surrounded by visual effects. In other words, Evans was a standout in a movie that couldn’t really deliver on its own promise, and it was just a matter of time before someone would give him another chance to save the day.
Between bouts as the Human Torch, Chris Evan was cast as the voice of Casey Jones in the CG-animated TMNT, an attempt to capitalize on the dormant franchise. Picking up loosely on the threads left from New Line Cinema’s 1990 hit about the Turtles, Evans channeled a fair amount of Elias Koteas’ portrayal of Casey Jones, but really it was probably the lightest of all possible Casey Jones depictions from the comics to the cartoons to the movies. In the comics, Jones is a couple of rungs on the ladder above Paul Kersey, Charles Bronson’s character in the Death Wish film series, and in the original TMNT animated series he was a misanthropic nutcase who sounded like Dirty Harry, but acted like Judge Dredd and never went anywhere without his mask. By those standards Evans’ Casey is probably the most accessible, which kind of defeats the point of the character, but actually serves the purposes of this version of the Turtles well enough. Not Evans’ best work in a heroic mode, but you never really see his face so the actor can skate on any stake in this one.
Although this 2009 film wasn’t based on any particular comic book, it’s hard to deny the comic book influence or the fact that DC Comics imprint Wildstorm published a comics-based prequel to the movie’s plot. Coming off of successful superhero inspired efforts like TV’s Heroes, stories about ordinary people with extraordinary powers who are often hounded by nefarious government agents, Push featured Chris Evans as a “mover,” AKA: someone with the power of telekinesis. Evans’ Nick is pre-destined to bring down The Division, some evil government types who hunt down and experiment on people with superpowers. Although not exactly The Avengers, the group including “Watcher” Cassie, “Pusher” Kira, and “Sniffer” Emily, defeat Division with some fine out-of-the-box leadership courtesy of Nick. It’s not quite defeating an alien invasion of New York, but Evans proved he could rally a group of dysfunctional heroes to save the day.
Chris Evans next joined another comic book team but in a subordinate role and in an admittedly less super-powered outfit. On “The Losers,” a black ops unit betrayed and abandoned by the government, Evans plays Jensen, an intelligence agent and computer specialist. The role required Evans to tap more into the personality type that informed the Human Torch as opposed to the one that ended up informing Captain America, in other words Jensen is kind of the joker of the group (although obviously not The Joker in the full comic book context). Evans’ star moment is when he’s cornered in office building, his back up against a window in a highrise. Facing off against security, he threatens them to back off by making guns with his fingers, and although there’s laughing in the beginning, the laughs quickly stop when it looks like Jensen is actually shooting people with his fingers. Of course, it was The Losers’ resident sniper Cougar, but Evans made you believe for a second there that a finger could kill you. And you thought he was talented with a shield…
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
Okay, so technically Chris Evans didn’t play a hero in this one, he played a villain. As Lucas Lee, one of the seven evil exes that Scott Pilgrim must overcome to win the heart of Ramona Flowers, Evans’ Lucas is everything you want to be, and not just because he’s a pretty good actor who used to be a pretty good skater. Of course, Lucas is only a villain in the “real” world, in the movies he’s the hero in action movie pablum where he says irascible tough guys lines like, “You listen close and you listen hard, bucko: The first click you hear is gonna be me hanging up. The second is me pulling the trigger.” Of course, being a Hollywood jerk and hugely egocentric, Lucas was pretty easy for Scott Pilgrim to defeat, and he was just the second evil ex to begin with. Still, Lucas Lee represented perhaps the furthest that Evans could get from his next comic book role, what is arguably the center of the Marvel Cinematic Universe…
Captain America: The First Avenger/The Avengers
Sam Worthington, Garrett Hedlund, Jensen Ackles, and Channing Tatum were all on the short list to play the Sentinel of Liberty, but it was Chris Evans who got the call. Three times. It took three times for the actor to accept, and thank goodness for Marvel’s perseverance because it’s hard to imagine who else might have pulled off that combination of earnestness boy scout and battle-hardened warrior. In other words, you can laugh along with Cap’s fish-out-water predicament, but when the $#!% hits the fan you still salute and follow orders. Evans turned down the smarm and turned up the sincerity, convincingly playing the tough but scrawny Steve Rogers and the commanding but thoughtful Captain America. A famous comic book writer once said it was hard to write for Captain America because he sounded like your dad, and kids don’t think their dad is cool. Well guess what fans, Evans made sounding like your dad cool. Bring on the Winter Soldier!