Jon Hamm as Captain America (thanks to Screen Rant reader “stpau1y”)

I really should re-title this post “Who CAN Play Captain America?” Because let’s face it – we here at Screen Rant have been running these speculative pieces for awhile now, fantasy casting our favorite upcoming comic book movies (See: Lobo, Batman 3 or Fantastic Four). And while it’s all in good fun to pretend that we have control over the movie universe, so far most of these castings have primarily been about picking actors we think best correspond to our particular mental images of our favorite heroes.

That is until we arrived at this point, trying to cast the titan, the legend, an American icon and symbol: Captain America, star of Marvel’s upcoming film The First Avenger which will serve as the lead-in to Marvel’s 2011 superhero team event, The Avengers.

Suddenly the issue has become bigger than the actors or what’s been inked into the comic book pages over the years – casting Captain America is like trying to cast someone to play (and represent) the American Flag itself. Taken like that, the decision process requires a whole new set of criteria – and (unfortunately), comes with the burden of a whole lot of politics.

So who is up to the task of playing Cap?

REAL AMERICAN HERO

Captain America cannot go the G.I. Joe route. There will be no scrubbing the word “America” from the title of this film like it’s some dirty word; the Captain will stay American, if for no other reason than the name “Captain World” or “Captain Continents” just sounds silly. While there have been early rumors that the WWII storyline for The First Avenger will feature an international band of heroes who cross paths with Cap (for obvious reasons of international appeal), it has been confirmed that the Star-Spangled Avenger himself will be portrayed just as we remember him on the page.

But who is Cap, really?

Captain America is indisputably a superhero who has transcended the page on which he was created – like Superman, like Batman. But unlike those other two heroes, Cap has achieved iconic status over the last half-Century largely without the aid of the mass media machine (no top-grossing toy lines, feature films, TV shows or video games). Even Cap’s ongoing comic book series was something of a dinosaur by the time I became a fanboy in the late 80s-90s.

No, Captain America has endured in a way that is all but extinct in this modern age where everything is YouTube archived: In people’s hearts and minds, as a symbol, more than a hero – as an ideal, more than a character. Americans who are reading this, I don’t have to tell you just how politically divided our nation has become in The New Millennium; that political civil war has raged so long and violently that at height of the upheaval (2007 leading into the 2008 election) Marvel decided to kill-off Captain America, arguably as a metaphorical declaration that American idealism (everything Cap was and stood for) was dead and gone. Of course soon after that – as is the standard in the comic book biz (and/or a sickly ironic example of the power of Hollywood) – Marvel brought Cap back (see video below). After all, who would want to see blockbuster film about a dead hero? (No disrespect to you, Deadman.)

Now, we could sit here and argue all day about the narrative tricks Marvel pulled to bring Cap back (the gun that assassinated him actually “froze him in time???”); we could debate over whether or not Cap was brought back as a symbolic gesture (Marvel Comics declaring that America has “found its way back to its “lost idealism”), or simply as a  fi$cal-minded move, designed to help build The First Avenger upon the strongest foundation possible.

But this ain’t a forum for political left-right-middle argument, my friend – this is where we geek-out over comic book stuff! Now that Cap IS back from the dead and the movie is in the pipeline, the question turns to which actor can possibly take on the monumental task of not only elevating Captain America above and beyond the wide divide of modern politics, but which leading man can make Cap a hero (and a star) to movie goers all over the world, while never losing that quintessential quality of being first and foremost one of the great American originals?

(See pg. 2 for our Captain America criteria)

RULES OF ELIGIBILITY

Let me ask you a couple of the questions right now, up front, which I think will be big subjects of debate later, once the official casting of Captain America comes to light:

Does Cap HAVE to be played by an American actor?

Does Cap have to be white?

Does the actor playing Cap have to be at least 6′ tall?

I’m not just pulling these questions out of thin air – they’ve all come up in some form or fashion in our past Captain America posts.

For example: when it was rumored last year that Will Smith might play Captain America, the issue of Cap’s race came to the forefront (it was coincidentally rumored at that same time during Cap’s “death” that Marvel could possibly introduce a black character to replace the late hero). When I read that Smith might be in the running, I immediately thought that the masses would be 98.9% against such a casting move (not because of race, so much as mucking with the source material). Low and behold MY surprise when that percentage turned out to be slightly more evenly divided. While people agreed that casting a black Cap would be a serious veer left from the source material, they also felt Smith had the quality of an American hero and movie star that was all too fitting for the role.

I also remember when Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt were rumored to be prime candidates for the part. The latter I think it’s hard to argue against (Pitt does have that movie star appeal) – however, poor Leo immediately got slammed for not having the proper leg extensions to play the part (by me for one, and I’m a shorter guy myself!). So you better believe that people care about height.

But regarding this question of nationality…

It’s hard to say that an actor like True Blood‘s Alexander Skarsgård wouldn’t make a strong Cap – tall, blond, square-jaw handsome (no jokes please), good actor with older AND younger appeal, who has already put it DOWN as an example of American military finesse, starring as Sgt. Brad “Iceman” Colbert in HBO’s acclaimed miniseries, Generation Kill (see below). But Skarsgård was born in Stockholm Sweden, the land of neutrality – should that fact effect his candidacy to play an American icon and symbol, who is out there fighting for freedom?

I gotta be honest with you: I’ve been a big Alex Skar fan for awhile now…but yes, IMHO, Captain America should probably be just that…an American. And before you go getting the tar and feathers ready for me to be dipped in, remember two things:

  1. Casting almost ANY Hollywood role is a pretty exclusionary affair (often they’re looking for something specific).
  2. How do you make a movie about the embodiment of American Patriotism with a foreign actor in the lead?

And no, I’m not an idiot: I realize that the POINT of acting is slipping into a new skin and portraying somebody that you’re not. Duh. So why do I think an American actor should be playing Cap? Because I believe that doing otherwise would likely cause so much of a stir that it would distract (and perhaps detract) from the enjoyment of the movie. I can already see people  sitting in the theater, marking off boxes on their crazy checklist of “Americanisms” that the foreign actor “got wrong” or “couldn’t POSSIBLY understand.”

Then again, a foreign actor playing Captain America might also lure MORE people from all over the world (and America) to the theater, if only to witness the spectacle (and possible train wreck) of a foreign actor playing an American icon. Maybe Disney/Marvel wants to stir that hornet$ nest after all?

If they do, I say take a hard look at Skarsgård. The guy is in his prime and ready for a big breakout role like this.

But why outsource the role? Whatever happened to the good-old-fashioned American leading man?

(Find out on pg. 3)

MADE IN AMERICA

People always wax fondly about the “All-American Hollywood Leading Man.” This mythical figure used to represent all that was good, strong and pure about American life, and has been extinct now some 4-5 decades, depending on whether it’s your grandpa or dad telling the tale. Right now, even as they read this, somebody who buys Senior Citizen tickets at the box office is probably grumbling about how it’s a shame that John Wayne isn’t still around to bestow honor upon the role of Captain America…

So we’re short one John Wayne, but who DO we have in terms of strong leading men who were made in the U.S.A.?

Well, I for one came to a realization the other night while watching the Primetime Emmy Awards – and apparently I wasn’t the only one. As comic book guru Rob Liefeld (Youngblood) tweeted to the world:

“Jon Hamm should play Captain America, IMHO.”

Truly, this is a good casting call. Mad Men star Jon Hamm is the epitome of old-school Hollywood – in fact, that very aura about him is what helped snag him the role of creative advertising genius Don Draper on Mad Men – tall, chiseled featured, could be a 50s football star or a WWII hero, easy. Hamm is also a great actor, often letting us (barely and briefly) glimpse the tormented interior of Don Draper through the tensing of his jaw, or a moment where his carved brow falls darkly over his flash-freeze blue eyes – but nothing more. No big breakdowns or weeping confessions (at least not yet) – Draper is a “man’s man” and Hamm carries himself just that way, without making the role overly misogynistic or off-putting.

That old-school breed of leading man is indeed rare in the era of Tony Soprano, where even the hardest guys seem to get reduced to sobbing messes of mommy issues. IMO, Hamm can deliver a Cap who feels the burden of war and death and loss and sacrifice, but somehow manages to carry that massive weight on his shoulders. And though it might bend him in his darkest moments, we somehow know from the way he clenches his jaw and faces bravely forward that the burden will never break him.

That’s America, baby, F-yeah!

More importantly, if you’ve ever watched Mad Men and seen Hamm interacting with the subordinates at his ad agency, you know he possess that universal big brother quality that is so subtle, yet crucial, to the character of Cap. Combine that all-American good guy nature with Hamm’s aforementioned ability to portray manly torment, and we have the makings of a Captain America who will come across as truly human – a good man trying to rise to a nation’s (and world’s) need for a hero in its darkest hour – rather than some hollow allegory or cheesy “American cowboy” stereotype.

So, as far as American actors playing Cap, I’m going with Hamm. But It’s always good to have a Plan B, so here are some runners up for the part:

Fringe and Human Target star Mark Valley.

Supernatural star Jensen Ackles (if you want a younger Cap).

Not to be unfair to our foreign readers, here are some other actors foreign actors who might be good for the role:

The Mentalist star Simon Baker.

Eureka star Colin Ferguson (who we nominated back when).

Underworld star Scott Speedman.

That does it for our Captain America picks – Do you agree? Or do you see somebody else representing Marvel (and America) as The First Avenger: Captain America?

[poll id=”22″]

The film is slated to hit theaters on July 22, 2011 – although, with the recent shakeups at Disney, and the impending lawsuit against Marvel by the estate of Captain America creator Jack Kirby, Is The First Avenger in danger of never making it to the screen at all?