'Captain America': First look at Red Skull! Plus, director Joe Johnston on why he prefers Cap to a certain man of steel -- EXCLUSIVE

Most superheroes are only as good as their villains are bad. In this summer’s Captain America: The First Avenger, Chris Evans plays a scrawny, sickly wannabe soldier during World War II who gets an injection that turns him into a super-warrior. A similar experiment was also established by the Nazis, but turned their test subject — the weapons developer Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) — into the ghastly Red Skull. EW has the exclusive first look at the full, nefarious character. Check it out below: 

Captain-America-Red-SkullImage Credit: Jay Maidment/Marvel Entertainment

The premise of the movie, out July 22, is that the serum only brings out the subject’s inner strength. Good guys, like Steve Rogers, remain good guys — only much tougher. Bad guys, like Schmidt, turn into living horrors. Director Joe Johnston (October Sky, The Wolfman) talked with EW about how Captain America may be the most human of the superheroes, and certainly the most humble — a little guy who remembers what it was like to be pushed around.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The strength of heroes is often found in their weaknesses. What vulnerabilities does Captain America have that make him interesting and relatable?
JOE JOHNSTON: What I like is he’s not a superhero in the true sense of the word. He becomes a superhero but doesn’t have any super powers. He is just the best possible, human specimen. Imagine the fastest, strongest Olympian athlete. Add 30 percent. That’s Steve Rogers.

The movie is set during World War II, when there was great pressure on men to fight, but Steve is physically frail at the beginning and the military doesn’t even want him.
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.

After he gets the super-soldier injection, that’s when he becomes the only hope of stopping the Nazis’ Red Skull. Is part of what makes him a hero that he remembers what it was like to be pushed around?
Yeah, for Steve Rogers it’s a very personal thing. At one point he says, “I don’t like bullies, I don’t care where they’re from.” He makes a complete physical transformation to a perfect human specimen. But inside he doesn’t change at all. It must be tempting to go back and say “I’m going to get that guy who beat me up in high school.” He does get revenge in the film, but on the Nazis — not on people who maybe picked on him. Before he gets the injection, the doctor tells him: “Whatever happens, stay who you are.”

The first issue of Captain America in the Marvel Comics featured him punching Hitler in the jaw. That was March 1941, well before the U.S. even entered the war. Is there still a political side to Cap?
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.

How do you feel about the title being changed to The First Avenger for release internationally?
There was some concern [the name] Captain America will not play in certain countries. 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.

Chris Evans was also in Marvel’s Fantastic Four movies as human flame Johnny Storm. Did that work for or against him in casting, since Cap is much more of a noble, upstanding good-guy?
The character is bigger than any actor. I always saw it as an advantage that Chris Evans wasn’t a household name. When you pick someone not so well known, he’s not bringing a lot of baggage to the role. I cast him in what I seen him do in other projects. He brought a whole other layer to what was on the page, and it’s been great watching him become that character.

Did you have to think much about the upcoming Avengers movie when working on Captain America?
I really didn’t. 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.

As a fan, and someone who is creating a critical ingredient, what do you expect from this clash of characters in The Avengers?
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.

Does working on a superhero movie deplete your interest in superheroes?
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. [Laughs] And you don’t even have to exercise or lift weights! It’s great!

How do you relate to someone who can fly, and is bulletproof, and can throw tanks around?
Movies like that are a lot harder to do, because how you make someone like that vulnerable? Someone like Superman. I don’t know if that’s the best example, but it’s certainly the one that comes to mind. How do you make a guy who is invincible seem real? Kryptonite, that is his one weakness, but I don’t know. It’s much easier with a guy like Steve Rogers who has all kinds of built in weaknesses, because of who he was and how he grew up.

There was a previous Captain America movie in 1990, starring Matt Salinger [coincidentally, the son of author J.D. Salinger]. Not many people have seen it, but did you take a look…?
No, no … It’s something they chose to not make a big deal about. The guys at Marvel said,”Nah don’t even bother. It’s so unlike anything we’re doing with the character now.”

Was it worth watching if only to see what not to do?
No, we’re perfectly capable of making our own mistakes!

For more film news, follow Anthony Breznican on Twitter @Breznican.

Read more:
‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ to be just ‘The First Avenger’ in Russia, South Korea, Ukraine
‘Captain America’ first look: Chris Evans in his full costume — EXCLUSIVE
‘Captain America’ Super Bowl trailer: How’s the Red Skull look?

Comments (159 total) Add your comment
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  • Brad

    Boss.

    • Brett

      Wow.

      That’s friggin evil.

      Captain America is going to rock!

      • Lycra

        Like a sexy Skeletor. Very cool.

      • Orac

        Heh… he looks just like the Nazi aliens from Star Trek: Enterprise. Not that that’s a bad thing… it’s just a bit surprising.

    • LOL

      “I guess that’s pretty cool.” – Miley Cyrus

      • The Other Guy

        Damn straight.

      • Adrian

        Take a ceolsr look Rich. The panel was printed exactly as it appears in this post – complete with Obama posters – except for ONE poster ( the Wright poster in the middle part of the left side of the panel) that was replaced with a Colbert poster.Our colorist Frank D’Armata placed all of the posters in the panel and I think did a good job of balancing McCain and Obama, while showing the most support for Wright. I think maybe the word balloons and clapping sound effects may have hidden some of the Obama posters, but nothing was intended by this.Anyway, glad you enjoyed the issue!Steve

    • JT

      Totally agreed. Looks awesome. How in the world does Steve Rogers get to The Avengers without being 80 yrs old?

      • Mark

        the ending is going to tie in to the avengers movie.

        thor and captain america are movies i’m starting to really look for to.

      • Chris

        If you ve read the comics, which apparantly you havent, Captain America is frozen in time to meet up with the avengers

      • Michael

        In the comics Capt America got frozen in the North Atlantic. In the present The Avengers locate his frozen body and thaw him out in present day. Who knows how they’ll do it in the movie but i’d imagine it’ll be close to the comic.

      • Scott

        I’m sure they will thaw him out. It was in a Hulk movie, with Cap frozen uinder the ice

      • Damien

        He was frozen under ice.

  • Rob

    He’s a winner.

    • Mathieu

      He’s got tiger blood, that’s for sure.

      • Nathan

        Full on level 100 warlock assassin for sure!

    • Nicksta

      Sorta like Austin Powers hooking up with James Bond and Jason Bourne.

      • Nastya

        Maybe not a complete rip-off, but palorbby close. The Shield actually came about in January 1940 in Pep #1. Dusty, his sidekick, came about in issue #11 of Pep. The costumes were similar, but The Shield did not carry a shield like Cap. The Shield was a popular character for MLJ, but was ultimately pushed aside by their more popular personality, Archie Andrews who was first introduced in issue #22 (December 1941) and completely took over the covers in 1943. The Shield last appeared in issue #65 in 1947. I covered the Shield in in April, 2006. Of course, rip-off or not, Cap endured much longer as a popular super hero, and his superstar status was guaranteed by Marvel’s revival in the pages of Avengers #4.

  • KC

    I prefer the early 80′s version…NOT!

  • Hoboken Avenger

    So far, everything I have seen from Captain America: The First Avenger looks great. I really like the costume and Hugo Weaving as Red Skull looks AMAZING.

    This movie hinges on Chris Evans. His dubious casting could make or break this film. He looks the part, but can he act his way out of a paper bag?

    The visuals look fantastic though, which is most of what you can expect from a summer blockbuster.

    • KC

      Check out Chris in “Sunshine”. I think you’ll be surprised.

      • Janelle

        I agree. He is able to play a dynamic and serious character.

      • jk

        Agreed. He was good in Sunshine.

      • Lisa London

        I agree with this too. He was very good in Sunshine.

      • Teri

        I will check him out in anything!! YUM!

      • Josh

        he was good in push too

    • SlyMac

      I agree… the costume is amazing!!

      • ks

        The costume is pretty awesome, will be a fun movie

    • therealeverton

      I still don’t get why sso many people doubt Chris Evans’ acting. As others have said check out Sunshine and you’ll see what he can do. He’s going to make this character very real.

      • Brett

        I don’t doubt Evan’s acting. He owns the role.

      • reel_deal

        He was great in Sunshine and Scott Pilgrim and was probably the only actor who did well in Fantastic Four (well, Micheal Chiklis was good too) so I’m not worried.

      • Nicksta

        I don’t doubt his acting, it’s just that if he played as Johnny Storm(Human Torch) in Fantastic Four, how’s he gonna play Capt.America too. And what’ll happen if the Fantastic Four meet the Avengers in the future?

      • Mark

        To Nicksta:
        (1) Fantastic Four is going to be rebooted.
        (2) The only Marvel comics movies that techincally take place in the same universe are Thor, Incredible Hulk, and both Iron Man movies, so far. Because all the others were with other studios (X-Men, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Daredevil/Elektra, FF, Howard the Duck, Blade, Punisher, etc) none of them “exist” in this new Marvel Avengers timeline.

    • Nelly

      He proved he can act in Sunshine & Fierce People. So I hope he brought his acting chops for this movie.

      • Nicksta

        So if his acting is good enough, are you gonna believe that Capt.America really exists?

  • blink

    WoW! Pretty Badass. Very exited about this movie!

  • ObiHave

    He’s red!

    • jerv

      Correct.

    • Michael

      Are you suprised with a name like The Red Skull i’d think it’d be a no brainer he’d be Red!

  • Ricky

    Hell yeah!

  • Kirsten

    Nice. I’m excited about this one.

  • Tucker

    Wow. Very impressed.

  • Roda

    What a load of crap aimed at 12 year olds who won’t grow up!

    • Uh…

      Oh oh! I know this… “Things A Troll Might Say!”

    • Reece

      Why are you wasting time commenting on this subject if your so grown up and mature go plant a garden or something

      • Kat

        LOL. “Go plant a garden” struck me as a totally hilarious dismissal. Nice.

    • majamababe

      Excuse me – but I am 60 and I am looking forward to this movie. If you don’t like it, don’t comment.

  • Kevin

    Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull character can really top his evil Matrix character.

    • Diddy

      How did they do that to his nose? Where did it go?

      • Calico

        I’m guessing post-production. They probably went through all his scenes and removed it digitally a la Voldemort.

      • therealeverton

        You never know, maybe they went all Lon Chaney and actually pulled his nose back with wire!

        Given how far out his eye ridges and cheek bones now come there’s a fair chance his nose is really just pshed back a bit. Whatever they did it looks great.

      • Nicksta

        It’s with Voldemorts.Oops, I wasn’t supposed to mention his name.

      • Tommaso

        Uh a whole section of hsiotry never happened is because this stuff is all fantasy in the first place. As in cartoons and comic books. It’s not real hsiotry. If kids need to learn about Nazis and the true hsiotry of WWII from cartoons or comics then it’s sad that our educational system has failed them so.Besides, nothing about the cartoon discounts that Steve Rogers didn’t become Cap because of the Nazis and a desire to join the war effort against them. The flashbacks show one sequence that is designed to help push the overall villain narrative forward to the modern day and Nazis aren’t the threat there.Also, the Nazis weren’t the only enemies we faced during WWII. What about the Japanese? Where does it stop?Again, fantasy, not real hsiotry.

      • Jeetender

        gummybrain on April 8, 2011 There are only two tnhigs I can’t stand in this world. People who are intolerant of other people’s cultures and the Dutch.

  • A-K87

    I usually think these things look silly but Hugo Weaving looks bad arse.

  • ST

    Wow, this is going to rock. Can’t wait!

  • Desmo

    Where’s the swastika? why does Hollywood continue to fear that insignia?!

    • Jason

      Because Hollywood is run by the Jews so they don’t want any reminder of the Nazi’s. But the insignia should be there as it is showing the evil and hideous of the 3rd Reich

      • Nick

        From what it looks like they’re gonna take the version of history where HYDRA, SHIELD’s evil twin, is actually the people running Germany at the time. So the swastika would be pointless if that’s the route they’re taking.

      • Michael

        I like Nicks theory that Hydra was actually in control of Nazi Germany. It’d be crazy if Hitler was just a figurehead and Skull was the real mastermind. Although in the comics Skull states emphatically that he is not a Nazi. Skull has his own agenda and he only uses the Nazis to further those goals. His goal being total world domination!!

    • Tucker

      Johann Schmidt is a Nazi in the film who becomes part of HYDRA. They aren’t ignoring the Nazis or the swastika.

      And since when has Hollywood feared that symbol?

      • therealeverton

        Nazis were the go to “safe” bad guys for decades. The only reason you see them less now is because WWII movies aren’t as common. Johnston’s Rocketeer had Nazis, Indiana Jones, X-Men, They’re all over the place.

        In the film there are both Nazis AND Hydra (a multinational terrorist / world domination organisation, possibly, POSSIBLY, Alien run / infiltrated) Red Skull is both a Nazi and a member of Hydra.

        I’m sure we’ll see plenty of Nazis and Swastikas, even if the film mirrors the book and has Captain America created before the American’s, slightly tardy, entry into WWII.

    • Alice

      I dont think they fear it…The swastika was all over the place in the 3rd Indiana Jones movie, which was also about Nazis. So I think they just havent shown it yet…and who cares if they dont put it in anyway

  • RydingSix

    One bad ass costume!

    • remo williams

      his expression is the epitome of badassery!

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