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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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Zade Rosenthal

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They say to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. But in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s getting harder for the superhero to tell the difference. In the latest installment from Marvel Studios’ interlocked franchise, Chris Evans’ unfrozen warrior from the Greatest Generation is still unsure of his place in the world after helping to save it twice: once in Captain America: The First Avenger and again in The Avengers.

 

The Winter Soldier features a titular new villain — a bioengineered assassin with a mechanical arm — who is targeting the leadership of the global protection force S.H.I.E.L.D. The film, directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (Arrested Development), reteams Evans with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury as top operatives for the group. But Cap (alias Steve Rogers) is beginning to question whether he and S.H.I.E.L.D. are on the same side.

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They say to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. But in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it’s getting harder for the superhero to tell the difference. In the latest installment from Marvel Studios’ interlocked franchise, Chris Evans’ unfrozen warrior from the Greatest Generation is still unsure of his place in the world after helping to save it twice: once in Captain America: The First Avenger and again in The Avengers. The Winter Soldier features a titular new villain — a bioengineered assassin with a mechanical arm — who is targeting the leadership of the global protection force S.H.I.E.L.D. The film, directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (Arrested Development), reteams Evans with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury as top operatives for the group. But Cap (alias Steve Rogers) is beginning to question whether he and S.H.I.E.L.D. are on the same side. The Winter Soldier is played by Sebastian Stan, and as anyone who saw the first film knows, his character’s history with Rogers runs deep. If there’s an overall theme in the movie, it’s this: Old friends make the worst enemies.

That was pretty damn evident when EW visited the set of The Winter Soldier last July, the day after Comic-Con ended. Footage screened for fans at the annual convention had lathered the geeky faithful into a froth, but no one’s celebrating on set. Instead of passing around high fives, the cast members are punching each other in the face.

The sun has just peeked through the morning mist, and Chris Evans is pummeling a pair of masked gunmen aboard a flying aircraft carrier. (Really, a vast shipyard parking lot in Carson, Calif.) It’s the middle of summer, and already blazing. Evans is feeling the pain. ”To make it look good, you gotta get hurt,” he says later. ”It’s gotta look a little messy.”

Even though this is his third major stint as Cap, the 32-year-old is sorta sweating his Comic-Con appearance. ”I wonder if people think I’m too skinny right now? Because literally in the past month, I’ve probably lost 15 pounds,” he says. ”Three months leading in, you get this training regimen — you try and get as big as you possibly can. Then they save the big action sequences for last, but you’re just shedding weight.”

There’s another, less visible way he’s suffering. ”I mean, this thing just stinks,” he says with a laugh, tugging on his body armor. ”I put it on every morning and I’m like, ‘Oh my God…’ I’m just putting on a locker room every day.”

When you get up close, superhero movies are never quite as cool as they look on screen. To bring a comic book to life, as Marvel Studios has done nine times now (with Guardians of the Galaxy on the horizon), it takes work, patience, and a lot of imagination. Film sets like The Winter Soldier prove to be not so different from a summer in the suburbs, where intrepid kids scavenge materials to build makeshift superhero costumes before running off to save the neighborhood. The filmmakers just have a smidgen more resources — in this case, an estimated $170 million.

The weird part? That’s almost modest for a tentpole movie these days. Many of them run into the $250 million-plus range. Clever filmmaking techniques save money, but they can make for a bizarro on-set experience. That state-of-the-art helicarrier Cap is battling on? It’s made by what you might call the world’s biggest LEGO set: shipping containers, stacked in a half pyramid three stories tall and draped in a bright Kermit-green sheet.

Just off camera, Anthony Mackie (Real Steel), who joins the cast as Falcon, a combat veteran trained to control the prototype for a winged jet pack, watches as Evans does battle. He’s eager to get in the fight. ”Waiting in the wings!” he jokes as a member of the crew comes over with a drill and literally bolts him into his costume. In the movie, the character will have a sprawling, digitally created, 12-foot-6-inch wingspan, but on set Mackie’s stuck with just a tiny replica, making him look more hummingbird, less bird of prey.

”I’d been asking Marvel once a month for three years about playing Black Panther,” Mackie says. ”I just wanted to keep my name in the circle.” Black Panther, created in 1966, is revered as the first black superhero, but Falcon has his own historical significance. While Black Panther hailed from the fictional African nation of Wakanda, Falcon was actually the first African-American superhero. ”In the movie, it’s more about his tactical ability than his race,” Mackie says, though he still finds social significance in the character. ”It’s more about his relationship with Cap. In the 1930s and 1940s, there were no relationships like Cap and the Falcon. So Chris and I always joke, Cap woke up in the new millennium and got a cell phone and a black friend.”

Soon Mackie is in front of the cameras for a scene where he flies Captain America onto the deck of the hovering ship. ”You’re heavier than you look,” Falcon says as the duo drop to the asphalt. ”I had a big breakfast,” Cap deadpans. Then — POW! Cap is sacked by the Winter Soldier, who darts out from behind a crate to tackle him. As bad guys go, this cold warrior is no lightweight, and he has to take as much pain as he gives — not just from the guys, but from Black Widow.

Johansson says she was ”riding Sebastian Stan like a mechanical bull!” in their duel. ”I felt so bad for him — and me! They hoisted me up on poor Sebastian’s shoulders and I was holding on with my legs wrapped around. It was horrible!” Or, as Evans says, ”Sebastian’s best day at work.”

Even with a new villain in their midst, though, the costar everyone talks about is Robert Redford. The legendary actor-director is making his first foray into the superhero realm to play Alexander Pierce, a senior S.H.I.E.L.D. leader. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige is especially proud of landing him because he envisioned The Winter Soldier as an homage to paranoid 1970s thrillers such as Redford’s Three Days of the Condor. So how’d they talk the star into it? ”He has grandkids,” Anthony Russo jokes.

Still, if the cast felt intimidated by the icon, they seem to hide it well, including those who didn’t even share a scene with him. ”He’s scared to act against me,” Mackie says with comic bravado. ”He said, ‘I can’t be on screen against Chocolate Thunder!”’ Yeah. Those hummingbird wings are pretty scary.


Cold Warrior: Intelligence Brief On Sebastian Stan, A.K.A. The Winter Soldier

Name: Sebastian Stan
Age: 31
Origin: Born in Romania, moved to Rockland County, N.Y., at age 12.
Known Whereabouts: In addition to Captain America: The First Avenger, Stan has appeared on ABC’s Once Upon a Time and in the film Black Swan. Last winter he starred on Broadway in Picnic.
Alias: The Winter Soldier, a bioengineered assassin with a robotic arm, rumored to be the perpetrator of some of the 20th century’s most notorious political killings. In his previous life he was Bucky Barnes, an American soldier who served alongside Steve Rogers/Captain America, but went missing in action and was presumed dead.
Weapon Of Choice: That fearsome mechanical arm his character sports in Captain America: The Winter Soldier is often digitally enhanced. On set, Stan wore a chrome-painted rubber sheath marked with motion-capture dots. After several weeks of filming, it looked like the battered aluminum ventilation hose on a clothes dryer. ”It’s gotten more flexible over time,” Stan told EW during filming. ”It’s a lot like breaking in a shoe. Sometimes, by the end of the day, I forget I have it on.
Motivation: Real-life heroes, actually. ”There is a bionic arm that certain amputees can use if their nerve endings are still there,” Stan says. ”Most guys have the option of choosing an arm that looks like a human arm, and they all pick the robotic arm. It’s like ‘I am who I am.’ That grounded the character for me.”

Inside Marvel’s Top Secret Weapons Warehouse
Russell Bobbitt Is In Charge Of Making Objects That Destroy (And Save) The World

Odin’s Spear (Thor)
It’s called Gungnir. We used steel piping and actual gold plating, but I made a lightweight one for Anthony Hopkins. He felt it and said, ‘No, no, no. Give me the real one.’

Battering Ram (The Winter Soldier)
This breaks open Nick Fury’s bulletproof SUV. ”There’s sculpting, there’s machining, mold-making, paint, welding. So this encompasses everything I do in my life in one piece.”

Briefcase Handle (The Winter Soldier)
This handle is removable and becomes a magnetic handcuff. It actually clamps around your hand. The cooler the tech, the more likely it will make it into the movie.

Iron Man License Plate
Tony Stark’s license-plate numbers keep rising because people keep getting them in real life. ”If there’s an Iron Man 4, we’re looking at Stark 30 through 65.”

Captain America’s Vibranium Shield
We had to make 46 shields to portray Cap’s one. We use a metal or fiberglass shield, a soft rubber, and a hard rubber. They get scratched right away, so I have to have a new one to replace every time.

To-Go Armor (Iron Man 2)
We call it the suitcase suit. It builds the Iron Man suit right around Tony Stark’s body. I hand them the beginning and the computer world stitches it together.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Bio-Badges (The Winter Soldier)
These know all your information, how you’re classified, and what your level at S.H.I.E.L.D. is.

Winter Soldier’s Bomb Launcher
This is a pellet gun we manipulated. The magnetic disk attaches itself to the underside of cars. And of course, nothing is cool until you put lights in it. So we did.

Winter Soldier’s Grenades
We’ve been trying to get these in a movie since Iron Man. They’re nickel-plated to get that weight because you want them to roll down the road and not bounce.

Thor’s Hammer
The harder I make something, the cleaner the paint job, the shinier it is. We used this one for close-ups. When Thor has to throw the hammer, we use a lighter one so he appears to have even more power than he already does.

Captain America’s Backup Shields
For each scene we shoot, I ruin about two dozen shields and then redo them for the next time. Once you’ve made your mold and your prototype, you can bang them out at about $5,500 apiece.

Mandarin’s Rings (Iron Man 3)
If you put 10 rings on your fingers, there’s not enough room. So the pinkie had to be open on the side. We went through this whole process with Sir Ben [Kingsley”], putting the rings on. It was truly ceremonial.”

Potato Gun (Iron Man 3)
A little boy in the movie discovers Iron Man in his toolshed and he comes in like Rambo with this.

Iron Man’s Arc Reactors
This is not all of them, but a brief history of the ARC reactor. On the back is a cast so that it fits exactly into the cavity of Robert Downey Jr.’s chest. He also has to shave. I don’t do that part.

Hogun’s Mace (Thor)
A crazy weapon that I don’t want to get hit with. Lethal in itself, and with a flip of the wrist in our postproduction world, these spikes grow out of it.

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