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Costume Drama

As is so often the case, Hero Complex has a great, nuanced take on the challenges Chris Evans will face in playing Captain America, and not just playing him, but portraying him in a period piece, which means something rather particular in comics:

I remember talking to Gabriel Macht, who portrayed the title role in “The Spirit,” rooted in another 1940s-era creation, and he moaned about the vintage dialogue and retro sensibility of a square-jawed hero who was plucked from the era of serials and dropped into a CG age. “You say it as honest as you can,” he said with a tight smile. Well, we all know how that turned out.

“Captain America” is being directed by Joe Johnston, and when I spoke to him a few weeks ago, he said one of the big challenges of the project was finding an actor who could present two physiques on screen — the “98-pound weakling” look of Steve Rogers and then the ripped-muscle frame of his heroic alter ego after receiving a dose of the ultimate performance-enhancing drug. Evans will be tested by that body-shaping, but also by the need to win the hearts and minds of 21st century movie-goers with an FDR-era champion; that will be especially interesting to watch as the movie ventures overseas, where the name of the film might smack of jingoism.

I must say, The Spirit was really one of the most transcendently awful movies I’ve ever seen in my entirely life. It was astonishingly bad. There was too much of everything: too much of Samuel L. Jackson in high camp mode (something it’s hard to imagine saying), too many women to keep straight (Jamie King’s character was most intriguing and least used), too much harsh lighting contrast. I suppose there’s an extent to which it was an interesting experiment in making a visual graphic novel, but I don’t think it was a success. That aside, the extent to which it was really a period piece was exceedingly limited. Which doesn’t mean superhero period pieces are a bad idea at all. They don’t need to be directly related to our history, though they can provide alternate metaphors for how we understand it, and the historical revisionism of Watchmen is wonderful, both in the comic itself and the details of the movie adaptation. There could be a pretty badass movie in the combination of Mad Men’s aesthetics and Wonder Woman’s adaptation to mainstream society as an adventurer beyond her closed society of Amazons. Joe Johnston’s weird directing history would suggest he’s not going to proceed along those lines. He did do a nice period piece in October Sky, so if he can restrain some of the impulses he had in Jumanji, etc., he might have the right touch.

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