Captain America will finally throw his mighty shield on the big screen this weekend. And while Cap's journey from the comics to the megaplex wasn't quite as arduous as the hero's transition from World War II to present day (which involved being frozen in a block of ice), there were plenty of twists and turns before Chris Evans put on the costume that will allow him to lead the Avengers.
A "Captain America" movie actually appeared back in 1990, but to call it a "B-movie" would be generous. Albert Pyun, the director responsible for action romps like Jean Claude Van Damme's "Cyborg," cast actor Matt Salinger in the title role and took several liberties with established continuity. Cap was still named Steve Rogers, still given his abilities by a "super soldier serum" during World War II and still frozen in a block of ice, however, his arch-nemesis switched from German to Italian.
This summer's "Captain America: The First Avenger" returns the Red Skull to his nefarious Nazi origins. Hugo Weaving plays the megalomaniacal fellow experimental "super soldier" who leads Hitler's deep science division, HYDRA, which eventually breaks away from the Nazis due to the Skull's world-domination plans. Steve Rogers is a Brooklyn kid whose scrawny size and poor health cause him to be rejected continually as he tries to enlist for the war effort. A professor's serum gives him a muscular body and super-strength. Thanks to technology, Evans portrays both versions of the character.
Jon Favreau considered directing "Captain America" before ultimately choosing "Iron Man" instead. That film's success established Marvel as a Hollywood studio in its own right (with distribution help, of course), following previous Marvel character flicks like "X-Men," "Spider-Man" and "Daredevil," which were handled by other studios. Marvel decided to mix heroes onscreen as they always have in print (at least the ones they still own the rights to) with next summer's "Avengers" movie building on "Easter eggs" and story connections established across multiple films, like "Cap."
"The Incredible Hulk" director Louis Leterrier was considered for a time before the job ultimately went to Joe Johnston, who had proven his hero prowess and period-movie gloss with "The Rocketeer."
Garrett Hedlund ("Tron: Legacy"), John Krasinski ("The Office'") and Mike Vogel ("Cloverfield") were among the actors reportedly considered for the title role. Sebastian Stan ("Gossip Girl") was considered as well before ultimately being cast as Captain America's sidekick, "Bucky" Barnes.
Chris Evans actually turned the role down. He had played a Marvel hero before, appearing as the Human Torch in two "Fantastic Four" films. Evans and Weaving were the first cast announcements.
"I got a call, and they said they want me to audition, and I said, 'Great!' And then I thought about it and I said, 'No thanks,' " Evans told MTV News. "And then they called back and they said, 'Well, they want you to test,' and testing is basically they'll draw up a contract, and if you're testing then you're only testing with a couple other guys and the odds of walking away with it drastically increase. And again I just said, 'I think I'm good. This isn't really what I'm looking for.'
"It just seemed like the more I walked away, the more they pursued," he explained.
At Comic-Con last year, where he appeared onstage with the rest of the Avengers, Evans told us about all the research he did to bone up on Captain America lore after he accepted the role.
"Personally, when I was going through the comic books, the ones that were most intriguing were the origin stories. I just wanted to get as many different takes on how this guy started out."
Fans were thrilled to learn more information about the Captain America movie as it trickled out online: The Howling Commandos would appear; the Cosmic Cube figured into the story; Tony "Iron Man" Stark's father, Howard Stark, would be a central supporting character, and so forth.
But as it turned out, Evans was still questioning his decision to play the role even at Comic-Con.
"I remember the first time I went to a fitting and I put on the suit, and I just was so terrified, so focused on the negatives, still," he told us a few months later. "I bet when I was at that Comic-Con, I was probably still terrified, probably still apprehensive about whether or not this was right.
"I can't believe I almost didn't do it!" he told us emphatically. "For better or worse, no matter what happens with the film, whether it's a good film or not, it was the right thing to do and I'm glad I did it."
Audiences will have a chance to make up their own minds about "Captain America: The First Avenger" this weekend. Critics have been positive thus far. At press time, the film stood at 73 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which collects reviews from major critics. "It's paced and designed for people who won't shrivel up and die if two or three characters take 45 seconds between combat sequences to have a conversation about world domination, or a dame," wrote The Chicago Tribune.
Rolling Stone praised the film's star in particular. "Evans, who played the Human Torch in two less-than-fantastic Fantastic Four films, brings such humor, heart and vigor to virtuous Steve that our rooting interest holds even when the action gets to be standard-issue," Peter Travers wrote.
Check out everything we've got on "Captain America: The First Avenger."