Strip away the super-soldier serum and the star-spangled tights, and the story of Steve Rogers, as told in the comics and the recent Marvel films with Chris Evans, including this weekend's Avengers: Age of Ultron, is one about a man given an opportunity to change his life. It is a story about a man with gifts, both unrealized and undiscovered, who comes to actualize his potential and become something more. Something great.
This is not just the story of Steve Rogers. It is also the story of actor Chris Evans becoming Captain America.
Before Chris Evans picked up the super-soldier's shield, he was a talent with untapped potential of his own. With turns in The Perfect Score, Fantastic Four, The Losers, and The Nanny Diaries, there was undoubtedly something very watchable about Evans. His all-American, high-school-quarterback looks, his class-clown knack for smart-assery, and his sincere charm, made the actor immensely likable onscreen.
But while he had talent, Evans wasn't exactly exceptional. Part of that is that his given virtues made him somewhat indistinguishable from a particular class of actors: Ryan Reynolds-like hunky smart-alecks who tended to be defaulted to roles as rom-com love interests, or the wise-cracking comic relief in action movies. It didn't help that Evans' attempts at serious roles (London, Street Kings, Puncture, or Sunshine) tended to be dramatically unconvincing—and tended to go unwatched at the box office. His performances often felt more as if he was playing at emotions, not actually embodying them. You looked into his eyes—where so much of powerful acting is conveyed—and you could only see Evans trying to be someone. Not actually being them.
It's not that it wasn't possible Evans might show us more one day. It just seemed hard to tell when Evans would find a role, and a groove, that would realize whatever gifts we had yet to see. If, frankly, those gifts were there at all.
There's a great scene in The Winter Soldier where Captain America knows he's about to be attacked by 20 men in a moving elevator, and says, "Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?" Evans performs it convincingly with equal amounts of mild boyish glee, amused lightness, matter-of-fact resignation, chutzpah, and confident menace. It's a wonderful moment, in no small part because you realize just how much fun it's become to watch Chris Evans excel at playing (and growing with) this character. It's one of many moments in a Marvel movie that makes you realize there really was greatness in Chris Evans. Just like Steve Rogers, all it took was Captain America to draw it out.