It‘s a rumor that’s been circulating within the back channels and undertows of the internet for a couple of years now. Discussed and endlessly debated on message boards, argued back and forth by comic book fans, it’s caused so much distress and excitement within fan circles that you’d think they were arguing about a film that had already been shot and released into theaters. And the rumor is this: That Captain America, Marvel’s iconoclastic leader of the Avengers whose due for his own film in 2011 by director Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park 3, The Rocketeer) is going to be played by none other than Will Smith.
In some circles, Smith is believed to have been at least offered the title role in The First Avenger: Captain America. If true, it’d be one of the most bold and daring casting decisions undertaken by Hollywood in recent years. And also, by the sound of the voluminous fits being thrown by fan-boys all across the country, one of the most contentious.
And with the film set to go into production this summer, we can expect casting announcements any day now. While I have no idea about the veracity of this rumor, of whether there’s even a hint of truth to it or an entirely fabricated suggestion which curiously gained traction within the echo chamber of the internet, I do have an opinion about the matter. And the opinion is this: Will Smith would make an incredibly awesome Captain America. To find out why, read on after the jump.
So far, Marvel has played it incredibly safe in the casting of their super-hero franchises:
Robert Downing Jr. in Iron Man? Spot on casting to play the smug middle-aged billionaire.
Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk? While there was a mixed response to the Hulk’s first cinematic outing in Ang Lee’s Hulk, the second time around they definitely got it right. Norton’s slim physique and mild-mannered persona offered the necessary and precise counter-balance to the raging muscle-bound Hulk.
But in his own way, Will Smith would also be a perfect casting decision. There are three reasons for this:
The first is that while die-hard comic fans have been having apocalyptic fits about the mere idea of making Captain America black, the larger movie going public isn’t as concerned about playing fast and loose with the source material. Especially when the source material is a comic book. Having the Fresh Prince on-board could serve as a box office insurance policy towards a super-hero that doesn’t have a lot of cosmetic flash. While the film is sure to be endowed with a healthy budget and plenty of explosions, at the end of the day Captain America just doesn’t have Iron Man’s suit, Spider-Man’s ability to web sling his way in-between Manhattan skyscrapers, the visually interesting mutations of the X-Men, or the ability to transform into an angry green goliath when his feelings get hurt. Is mainstream America really going to want to shell out money to see a super-hero whose origin involves only the drinking of a super-soldier serum and whose sole power is seemingly the ability to throw a shield?
All of which is to say that, both aesthetically and visually, Captain America is one of Marvel’s least interesting characters. And not to mention, most boring. Spiderman’s Peter Parker struggled with getting dates and paying the rent. Iron Man’s Tony Stark got to play a womanizing alcoholic. The X-Men had to hide out from a world that hated and feared them. And the Hulk’s Bruce Banner was a man perpetually on the run from both society and himself.
Meanwhile, Captain America’s alter ego Steve Rogers was never portrayed as much else than an over the top patriotic boy scout with an unwavering belief in, to borrow a phrase from another overt morally absolute do-gooder, “Truth, justice, and the American way.” All of which, unless you’re a raging Bush-era neo-conservative, may be a hard sell to a cynical public which has undergone a decade of war and one of the longest recessions in national history.
Having Will Smith play the shield wielding Avenger changes everything simply because Will Smith is one of those actors who exudes a seemingly inexhaustible supply of both charm and charisma. A potentially very necessary attribute to have when playing an otherwise personality deprived super-hero. And the exclamatory change in skin hue could help to alleviate the lack of super-power dazzle. (It should also be noted that X-Men and Spider-Man aside, at least within the Avengers staple, only Iron Man has been a box-office success with both Hulk films under-performing. Without a dynamic casting choice, Captain America would seem more likely to follow the route of the Hulk than of Iron Man in regards to ticket sales.)
The second reason is that Marvel has already experimented with an African-American Captain America. Truth: Red, White, and Black was a six-part mini-series by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker where they envisioned one of Marvel’s many alternate Universe world’s where Captain America was African-American.
The third reason Will Smith would make a great Captain America is that his skin color could provide the film with a certain political and cultural gravitas that would otherwise be missing from more traditional bleached casting. This would be a resonance made all the more powerful if Marvel had both the imagination and the courage to set the film in the 1940s when Captain America was first created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby to fight the Axis powers in the pages of comic books. Captain America’s origin story involves drinking an un-tested super-soldier serum , and with some slight variation, this could be transformed to reflect real-life periods in some of America’s darker corridors of history. Places like Tuskegee, Alabama where the government used African-Americans in medical experiments. Having Captain America both, fight Nazis overseas, while also being discriminated against on the home front could add considerable dimensionality to what would otherwise likely be a flat action film.
However, knowing that Marvel is trying to roll-out all of the film adaptations for the individual characters before the 2012 expected The Avengers, it’s probably safe to assume that like Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, The First Avenger: Captain America will also be set within this modern era.
On a final note, it’s important to remember, that there’s nothing about Captain America’s character that is dependent upon him being portrayed as white. Captain America’s always been less a flesh and blood character than a representative avatar of the American ideals of liberty, equality, and freedom. Seems to me that having Captain America be played by an African-American symbolizes those ideals quite nicely. In an era when we’ve seen our first African-American President, why not also have our first African-American Avenger?
John Rico is the author of Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green and Border Crosser. You can follow him on Twitter at: Johnny_rico99. Agree or disagree with what he wrote or just want to leave a comment? Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org