[UPDATE: Check Out a Hi-Res Version of The Red Skull!]

From the earliest stages of development, Captain America: The First Avenger encountered a maelstrom of skepticism from devout fans of the source material. The two biggest points of contention seemed to be Marvel hiring Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, The Wolfman) to direct the film and the decision to cast Chris Evans in the titlular role.

Back in January, Johnston viewed a rough cut of Captain America and assured fans that they would be “pleasantly surprised” by it. Of course, many were quick to note how unusual it would be for a filmmaker to trash his own work. Alas, Johnston’s comments did little to ease any prevailing concerns.

Then we got our first look at Captain America: The First Avenger thanks to its impressive Super Bowl trailer. After its debut, even a few of the film’s most vocal detractors did an about-face and were forced to admit it had potential. Not long after, Evans described the difficulty of giving fans what they want while simultaneously putting your own stamp on the material – a factor which typically makes or breaks a comic book movie.

Evans had clearly done his homework, but it’s just as vital that the man behind the camera is similarly invested in the mythology. Only time will tell if Johnston’s film is as good as he says it is, but one thing’s for certain – he’s talking a good game. He recently spoke with Entertainment Weekly and made some pretty encouraging remarks about what drew him to the Captain America character:

The thing that appeals to me is he is everyman. He’s a 98-pound weakling. All he really wants to do is the right thing and serve his country and [at first] nobody wants him because he’s too weak. He’s been picked on all his life. But he’s a guy who never gives up. That’s his trademark … I’ve had other offers for movies like this and usually turned them down. To me there’s something less interesting about a guy who can fly, and throw tanks around, and stuff like that. The reason I wanted to do this one is he is so relatable. I can relate to him. Maybe it’s every kid’s dream to go into a pod and come out looking like Captain America.

Johnston goes on to discuss Captain America being marketed simply as The First Avenger internationally and also reveals how his film connects to The Avengers. But first – check out EW’s official image of Hugo Weaving as The Red Skull. The brief glimpse we caught of him in the Super Bowl spot was definitely one of the trailer’s standout moments – and now you can see the full costume.

CLICK FOR HI-RES VERSION

There will always be naysayers, but I think this looks pretty good. Weaving is an immensely talented actor and this role seems like it may allow him to really chew on the scenery.

As for Captain America‘s title change overseas, Johnston doesn’t agree with the decision and insists that the film is no danger of being perceived as political propaganda:

If it were up to me I wouldn’t thread the needle so carefully. I’d call it Captain America, since that’s what it is … He was created as propaganda tool, but he soon became much more than that. There are all these incarnations over the decades, but the film is not a flag waver. It’s about a guy who wants to do the right thing, and that transcends all nationalities and borders. He’s going to do the right thing no matter what flag is on his chest.

Marvel’s interconnected movie universe has obviously been building towards The Avengers and while fans are dying to see how that pays off, many are concerned that the constant foreshadowing might continue to compromise certain aspects of these characters’ solo outings. But let’s ignite the Iron Man 2 debate yet again – Johnston says that simply won’t be an issue with Captain America:

Because this was a period film, because this was the origin story, I didn’t have to worry about the Avengers which was a present day story. We have present-day bookends and bring Cap back at the end and then I basically hand him off. And The Avengers is its own thing.

He also says that he’s looking forward to The Avengers as much as anyone else and theorizes that the clash of all those different characters will make for an intriguing film:

The fact that they are all so different is what will make it exciting. You bring these elements together and they all have different outlooks and come from different worlds. I think there is an opportunity for conflict within the group. There’s gotta be. It’s not the Boy Scouts. [Laughs] There’s going to be rivalry and certain amount of infighting and conflict. Like I say I’m going to be there as an audience member like anybody else.

Check out the full interview over at EW – which includes a brief  (but amusing) explanation regarding Marvel’s thoughts on their previous attempt at a Captain America movie back in 1990.

Johnston’s resume includes more misses than hits, but it does sound like he has a fundamental understanding of the Captain America character and the universe he inhabits. However, I’ll admit that I’ve moved from being completely dismissive about the film to feeling cautiously optimistic. Here’s hoping we all enjoy Captain America as much as Johnston thinks we will.

Captain America: The First Avenger hits theaters on July 22, 2011.

Source: EW.