MANCHESTER, England — The trend in comic-book movies has been toward protagonists with a darker edge, a personal flaw or weakness, or maybe even a mean streak. Think Robert Downey Jr.'s charismatic narcissist in Iron Man, Hugh Jackman's scowling Wolverine, two tragic Hulks, and Christian Bale's morally dubious Batman.
On the Captain America set in this city in northwestern England, which stands in for 1940s Brooklyn, weakling wannabe soldier Steve Rogers gets an injection that turns him into a brawny, herculean fighting machine. It's the birth of Captain America, played by Chris Evans.
"Steve has been dealt kind of a lousy hand in life," Evans says. "He's 5-foot-nothing. He's 110 pounds. He's got a lot of ailments, but it hasn't made him bitter or jaded or anything. Even after he's given this great gift, he still continues to do the right thing, not to prove anything to anyone other than himself. He just has this great moral code."
The Marvel Comics character began in March 1941, before the USA entered World War II. "The first cover issue of Cap punching Hitler was definitely a political statement," says producer Stephen Broussard (The Incredible Hulk). "Like today, the country was divided and there were people who thought we should go over there and do the right thing, and there were others who said it was Europe's war and to stay out of it."
The new film, set for release July 22, remains faithful to that origin. Cap's first assignment from the U.S. government is to be the centerpiece in a traveling stage show, raising morale and money in the form of war bonds.
Eventually, he finds he has to break off on his own to fight the German menace — particularly a dangerous new foe played by The Matrix's Hugo Weaving, a Nazi technology officer known as the Red Skull, the guinea pig for a similar super-soldier experiment gone awry.
"Captain America was invented essentially for American propaganda. I mean, who was going to be like, 'Nah, the Nazis, they were OK. They had a few (good ideas)!' " Evans jokes.
"It's safe to say we can all agree it's pure evil, right there. So it's fantastic to create a character of pure good, pure honesty and true morality, and say this is ultimate bad against ultimate good."