Captain America: The First Avenger | 2011
- DIRECTOR |
- Joe Johnston
The production seems wilfully perverse – the most patriotically-named All-American Stars’n’stripes hero, filmed almost entirely in the UK, using state-of-the-art technology to convince us its buff star is a seven stone weakling.
For instance, the cinema where disturbingly skinny Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) confronts a loudmouth during the patriotic newsreel, is the famous Hackney Empire theatre in East London. It’s barely glimpsed, but we’ll see more of its red and gilt grandeur later. The ensuing back-alley punch-up was filmed on the Pinewood Studio backlot.
It’s back to green screen technology for the spectacular ‘New York’ Exposition, where Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) demonstrates the hovering car and Steve Rogers finally succeeds, with the help of Dr Erskine (Stanley Tucci), in enlisting.
The design, with its huge, hollow globe, is clearly based on the 1964-65 New York Worlds Fair site in Flushing Meadow – which you can see as the alien saucer park in the original Men In Black.
‘Camp Lehigh’, the army training camp, is Black Park, at Iver Heath in Buckinghamshire. Conveniently backing onto Pinewood Studios, the forest has seen plenty of screen service over the years, as the woods of ‘Transylvania’ in countless Hammer films, to the ‘Swiss’ car chase in Goldfinger.
Having successfully demonstrated his courage, Steve is whisked off to a mysterious address in ‘Brooklyn’. By now, you won’t be fooled by the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, which is added digitally. The street where ‘Brooklyn Antiques’ provides the front for a secret lab, is in the Northern Quarter of Manchester. The stretch of Dale Street between Port Street and Lena Street was dressed (and re-dressed) for the car chase after the treacherous Kruger (Richard Armitage) makes off with a sample of the body-enhancing formula. Pretty much the same area was used as Victorian London for Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes.
There’s the briefest of detours along the Universal Studios ‘New York Street’ in North Hollywood before Steve catches up with Kruger on the ‘Brooklyn’ waterfront – another location you might recognise from Sherlock Holmes. It’s Liverpool’s Stanley Dock. Another up-and-coming location, the Dock even appeared as itself in Julie Taymor’s Beatles-themed musical Across The Universe.
‘Captain America’ makes his awkward stage appearance alongside dancing girls on stage at Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, London E8. Opened as a music hall in 1901, its look was the work of the great theatre designer Frank Matcham. Both Stan Laurel and Charlie Chaplin appeared at the Empire before finding fame in Hollywood, and the theatre is indeed featured in two biopics – Richard Attenborough's Chaplin, with Robert Downey Jr as the silent legend, and Rupert Goold's Judy, with Renee Zellwgger as the great star. Its Edwardian splendour can also be seen in Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine, and FairyTale: A True Story, with Harvey Keitel as legendary escapologist Houdini.
The ‘Captain’s’ appearance in front of troops on the front line is less successful. The army camp, from which he launches his solo rescue mission, was built in another favourite location – Bourne Wood, at Farnham in Surrey. Director Joe Johnston had previously filmed scenes for The Wolfman here, though it's probably most famous from two Ridley Scott epics: Gladiator and Robin Hood.
Having bounded around England, it's off to South Wales, and the village of Caerwent, between Newport and Chepstow, where an old military base was transformed into the ‘Hydra’ compound where Bucky (Sebastian Stan) is held, and from which Johann Schmidt/ Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) escapes in his Triebflügeljäger (the proto-helicopter was apparently a real invention of the Nazis which never got past the prototype stage).
Back in London, the exterior of the Allied HQ is King Charles Street, running west from Whitehall in Westminster. The street, which runs parallel to Downing Street, was previously used in Robert de Niro's CIA drama The Good Shepherd, with Matt Damon. The Cabinet War Rooms, in which Winston Churchill planned the Allied campaign, really are beneath the streets here, and thy’re open to the public. The underground bunker seen in the film, though, is the sturdy interior of Longcross Studios, Chobham Lane, Chertsey, in Surrey, which fittingly began its life as a tank factory.
Captain America downs a pint with his English chums in one of London’s grandest Victorian boozers, which at the time lay closed and abandoned. Now reopened as a splendid gastropub/restaurant, it's Crocker's Folly, 24 Aberdeen Place in Maida Vale, NW8, comes with a great legend.
The former hotel, a riot of gilt and carved marble, was built in 1898 by businessman Frank Crocker. The story goes that Frank spent lavishly, on the assumption that a planned West Country railway line would terminate at Maida Vale. On discovering the terminus was to be built a couple of miles away at Marylebone, he threw himself from an upstairs window in a fit of despair.
Well, although Frank Crocker did die at the early age of 41, he passed quietly away from natural causes. Nevertheless, in 1987, the former Crown Hotel officially adopted its more colourful name.
The stunning interior is a screen natural, becoming the 'New York' writers' club in Warren Beatty's 1982 Oscar winner Reds, Victorian hangouts in two Oliver Parker-Oscar Wilde adaptations, The Importance Of Being Earnest and Dorian Gray, and an ‘Oxford’ pub in 2009’s Oscar-nominated An Education.