The director behind Marvel's epic adventure takes us behind-the-scenes in creating one of this summer's funnest outings.
Its official. Captain America: The First Avenger is the best superhero movie of the summer. I sure hope you saved some money to see it. The film is a blast from top to bottom, and that exuberant energy is thanks to director Joe Johnston, who brings the character of Steve Rogers popping to brilliant life. We caught up with Joe early this morning to talk about Captain America: The First Avenger, and what it took to bring this Marvel WWII adventure to the big screen.
Here is our conversation.
Captain America is just a joy to watch. It certainly is the most enjoyable of the superhero movies we've seen this summer. It has this element of straight up 'fun' that seems to be missing from some of the others out there at the moment. Its almost as though you actually enjoyed making this...
Joe Johnston: I am glad you recognized that. It was all-important to me. The main reason is that the template I used for this picture was Raiders of the Lost Ark. For a few reasons, but mostly because that movie is just fun from beginning to end. It is a blast. I could watch Raiders twice a year and never get tired of it. I wanted this to have the same tone. I wanted you to walk out of the theater with a big smile on your face.
You certainly accomplished that. Now, in Raiders, there is a number of action sequences that, like you said, you can just watch over and over again. How did you reference that film, or become inspired by it, when creating some of the great set pieces we see in Captain America?
Joe Johnston: I worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark. I storyboarded a lot of those sequences. Working with Steven Spielberg and the guys that made that film...It was just a situation where we acted it out. We would get onto the set, and we would work through it, "What if this guy is standing here, and this guy comes up behind him, and then this guy came at him from over here, and we threw this guy in this direction..." Instead of doing it on paper, or writing out the stunt sequences, we would get into our environment and act it out. That is one thing that has really stuck with me from the Raiders of the Lost Ark days, and so we did that on this show too. We would get a bunch of guys together, not necessarily stunt guys, and we would walk through it, looking at what we could do to make this fun, and make it surprising...And make it something you haven't seen before. We had a lot of fun doing that. Hopefully it is as fun to watch as it was to make. (Laughs)
How does that process change when, back in the day, you were on a practical set, and now here, you are utilizing a lot of green screen?
Joe Johnston: Those guys always have something to react too. It may be a big stunt pad covered in green, that is supposed to be a tank, you know? But they always have something they can land on or bounce off, or get hit in the head with. There is always something physical there. The environment itself may be entirely green. They have elements that they can react to.
When we see Steve Rogers at the beginning of the movie, he is this short, skinny, wimpy man. Were you ever weary of offending those men in the audience who may look like skinny Steve? Cause you are basically saying, "Here is a good hearted man, but he is nothing without muscle?" It could magnify some diminutive dude's own problems with his self-image, and make him more self conscious in a theater full of people laughing at skinny Steve.
Joe Johnston: Oh, right. No! That is sort of a process of disbelief. Once you've paid your money, you are along for the ride. We created this world where we could make our own rules, and we play by them. Hopefully nobody is offended by it.
I don't think they will be when they sit down and watch the movie. But who knows. Some small dudes have a permanent chip on their shoulder...
Joe Johnston: (Laughs) Yeah, who knows? That certainly wasn't my intention.
Like Raiders, I know you've sat down and watched this movie many times yourself now. Having viewed it with a fan's eye, what are you most excited for audiences to see at this point?
Joe Johnston: For me, what I want audiences to see is a Steve Rogers that they didn't expect. The character, as played by Chris Evans, is so multilayered, and his performance is so subtle. Maybe that's not so different from the other Marvel films, as it is different from what you might see in any typical comic book movie. There is much more to the performance. There is much more to the character. He is just interesting to watch. It's not all about the visual effects, the stunts, and the action. You are incredibly invested in him as a character.
When you have a hand in building that character, and you help Chris Evans bring that idea to the screen, what are your feelings when he takes that character to another movie that you're not involved with?
Joe Johnston: He does that, and he plays a slightly different character in The Avengers. Which I think is good. I think he should be a different character, because he is in a different world. He is still Steve Rogers, and he retains those traits that make him the guy we all call Captain America, but at the same time, he should be different. Now? He is a man out of time. It should affect him. I really don't know anything about The Avengers, and I chose not to get involved in it. I haven't read the script, I haven't seen any footage. Because I didn't want it to influence me. I didn't want to think, "That is what they are doing in that one? Hmm? I better rethink this." I wanted this movie to stand-alone. As a period film. As the only Marvel film that is period. It is the only superhero movie of the summer that is period too. I think we are going to stand alone, and be different from the rest. Though, it is a busy summer. There are a lot of movies out there.
This is one of the better ones, that much is for sure. Now, having stayed away from The Avengers, how does that affect your approach to the sequel if you come back?
Joe Johnston: I would definitely look at it, and see what they've done. We have talked about a sequel to this film possibly staying in the 1940s. He had a lot of his interests, and he was Captain America for three years during WWII, so there are more stories there. We don't necessarily have to come back to the present day with it. Though, we could...
In comparing it to Raiders, you do have the Nazis as villains. You have WWII as the backdrop. I don't think audiences would respond to this material as well if it were set in present day. Plus it gets a little messy with our current political landscape when you set this character in present day...
Joe Johnston: Right. I agree. Look, you only get one chance to tell the origin story. It seemed that, if we were going to tell it, we needed to tell it first. Then we can bring him into the present day, or we can go back. It would have been weird to tell the contemporary story first, and then go back to his origins. We felt like we had to do that first.
We see so many origin stories with all of these comic book movies coming to life on screen. What kind of challenges were you faced with in making an origin story that was fresh and new, and wouldn't bore an audience?
Joe Johnston: It does help to put it in the period. It sets it apart. It gives you this rich environment. It gives you this whole world to play off of that is not something you will see in other movies of this type. What really sets it apart is the story. I wasn't worried about too many comparisons. I haven't seen too many of the films that are out right now, and I probably won't see them before the end of the summer. We stand-alone for reasons that are primarily about our story. Its just...Different.
When you listen to the audience, or the critics, they always seem in a rush to get past the origin story. They want to get into the meat of the super hero, and his adventures. Did you ever feel that urgency to get away from the origin aspects, or was that something that attracted you to this particular character?
Joe Johnston: I just really wanted this movie to stand on its own, and I wanted it to get it someplace. No, I wasn't eager to get past the origin story. We really have to love Steve Rogers as skinny Steve. We have to love him pre-transformation. We had a shorter version of that in the first act, and then we had a longer version in the first act. We felt like we have to establish him, and all of the other characters as well. Because of that, it may feel like a slightly more leisurely pace then some of the other films you are going to see. But I think it's all about investing the audience in the character. It all takes time. We had to build the character properly, and we had to make you care for him.
Skinny Steve is, perhaps, the best visual effect I have seen this summer.
Joe Johnston: Well, thank you. I think it was an amazing job. It was mostly the work of a company called Lola. In Los Angeles, that specializes in cosmetic enhancements. Mostly for commercials. They did an amazing job of making him short and skinny.