Captain America: The First Avenger architects Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely explain how Chris Evans fundamentally changed original conception of Cap and alternate storylines that wound up being cut.
Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely were an established team with solid credits when they entered into the orbit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008. After meeting in a creative writing program in 1994, the respective Buffalo, N.Y., and Bay Area natives forged a partnership and subsequently collaborated on the HBO biopic The Life and Times of Peter Sellers (2004), the indie mobster drama You Kill Me (2007) and, most prominently, the Chronicles of Narnia trilogy (2005-10).
Joining Marvel, however, would change everything — and ultimately place them among the top three most successful screenwriters of all time thanks to their work on the saga-capping Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019).
But it all began with Captain America: The First Avenger, the first of three Cap movies they would co-write, and which opened in theaters 10 years ago, on July 22, 2011.
“It started with a theoretical conversation, before Marvel was even making movies, where we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat to make a comic book movie starring a superhero at the time when they were actually created?’” Markus told us in a recent joint interview with McFeely to commemorate the film’s anniversary (watch above).
Their agent later alerted them the Kevin Feige-led Marvel Studios was doing exactly that with its first Captain America movie. Directed by Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III, Jumanji, The Rocketeer), the film would trace the origin story of Steve Rogers as he transforms from a scrawny Brooklyn kid into a super soldier squaring off against Nazis in World War II.
“We then chased Cap all year,” McFeely says. “And remember, these are early days for that studio. There’s six people in the whole building, they’re above a car dealership, they’re not the Marvel we think of now.”
Markus and McFeely landed the gig, boarding Cap well before its eventual star, Chris Evans.
And they worked in a production office loaded with concept art featuring other actors in the role. “They would do sketches of the costumes and sometimes they’ll just pick an actor and put him in the costume,” McFeely remembers. “Maybe it’s a wish-fulfillment thing or something but I remember a lot of Jake Gyllenhaal-as-Cap pictures.”
They also watched Sebastian Stan audition for the title role before he was ultimately cast as Steve’s closest friend, Bucky Barnes, the future Winter Soldier.
“He carried some of what he carried into Bucky, which then carried into [the 2014 sequel] The Winter Soldier, which is he has a darkness to him,” Markus recalled about Stan’s take on Cap. “That’s a more troubled Steve Rogers than I was counting on. But we do have a guy who could be troubled right over there! His troubledness has played off in spades.”
Evans was initially reluctant to take on such an iconic role, especially after a pair of critically lambasted Fantastic Four movies. However, once he joined, he proved eager to help reshape Rogers.
“He was very conscious of not wanting snark,” Markus says. “It was a very good understanding of Captain America, which is that if this guy’s going to fly as a character and as an authority figure, eventually, he’s got to have the gravity right away, no matter what the situation. Which is what we all came to realize, that Steve Rogers was born Captain America, he just didn’t have the body for it. And Evans got that. I think he may have taken a joke or two out is what I remember.”
The script changed dramatically from the time Markus and McFeely came onboard in 2008 to its eventual release in 2011, with the writers saying the biggest difference involved a “huge Hydra robot.”
“A large chunk of the third act was Cap fighting this robot,” Markus reveals. It was a Nazi super robot under the control of the villainous Red Skull (Hugo Weaver) called Panzermax.
“I think eventually it was a budget and time thing,” Markus explains. “Where it was like, ‘We really can’t be spending that much time.’”
Cap never fought that huge Nazi super robot, but if you ask Markus and McFeely, the star-spangled hero did get into another type of entanglement offscreen.
The question of if and when Steve Rogers ever lost his virginity after being frozen in ice for 60-plus years has long been theorized and joked about by Marvel fans and pundits. One popular opinion is that Rogers didn’t have sex until he stayed in the past to grow old with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) following the time-hopping climax of Avengers: Endgame.
“I think he loses his virginity!” McFeely reacts emphatically. “Why do people think he’s a virgin?”
McFeely suggests that Steve might have been doing a little more than singing and dancing during his USO Tour across the nation to introduce him as Captain America and promote war bonds.
“If you look like that, and you’re going to city to city, and you’re signing autographs for the likes of the ladies that he’s signing the autographs for, I’ve got to imagine that [he lost his virginity],” McFeely explains.
“Yeah,” Markus agrees. “And the thing to remember is Steve Rogers isn’t a prude. He may be occasionally presented that way. He’s a guy that believes in right and wrong and all these things, but he’s not a choirboy. He’s a World War II veteran.”
Since wrapping up their work on Avengers: Endgame, the second-highest-grossing film of all time, Markus and McFeely have been plenty busy themselves. They’re now partners in AGBO, the production studio formed by Avengers directors Anthony and Joe Russo, and have several projects currently in the works. Among them: Cambridge Analytica, a drama about whistleblower Christopher Wylie; the Millie Bobby Brown-starring The Electric State; and a reunion with Evans in The Gray Man, which also stars Ryan Gosling.
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by Jimmie Rhee
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