Why Ex-Captain America Chris Evans Is the Next Harrison Ford
With his Mossad agent turn in geopolitical thriller “The Red Sea Diving Resort,” the man formerly known as Captain America has kicked off a thrilling new chapter in his career.
Superhero duty has been very good to Chris Evans, who made a splash as the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch and then skyrocketed to superstardom as the Avengers’ Captain America. However, with his Marvel tenure now at an apparent end following Avengers: Endgame—which saw his patriotic warrior return from a time-traveling assignment as an elderly man content to hand over his shield to Anthony Mackie’s Falcon—the question is, where does the 38-year-old actor go from here?
The immediate answer is to The Red Sea Diving Resort, a Netflix-exclusive feature debuting this Wednesday, July 31. Directed by Gideon Raff, the creator of Israel’s Prisoners of War (i.e. the basis for Showtime’s Homeland), it’s an inspired-by-true-events affair about Mossad agents who in the early 1980s rescued Jewish Ethiopian refugees from their civil war-wracked homeland. They did this via a truly crazy plan: sneaking them to a ramshackle hotel in Sudan known as the Red Sea Diving Resort, which the Israeli government leased from the Sudanese government, and from which they smuggled them across the sea to Israel by Navy SEAL-manned motorboats. Considering this took place in a crime-infested Muslim region, it was, per Mossad boss Ethan Levin (Ben Kingsley), a thoroughly “reckless” mission. But as envisioned by Raff’s film, it wasn’t impossible, thanks to a crackerjack team led by Ari Levinson, here embodied by Evans with his trademark noble, roguish charm.
I’m not saying that, in The Red Sea Diving Resort, he’s playing Captain Israel. But I’m also not saying he’s NOT playing him either.
With his latest, Evans reconfirms that, no matter his Tom Cruise-caliber heartthrob looks, he’s the heir apparent to Harrison Ford’s marquee mantle. Like his predecessor, he has a rugged, morally upright, charismatic persona that’s equally appealing to men and women, and one that he’s confident and talented enough to play against—such as in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, in which he pointedly subverted his superhero badassery, or in this fall’s Knives Out, Rian Johnson’s original murder-mystery, whose trailer he’s already stolen. Whether clean-cut or shaggy (in The Red Sea Diving Resort, he’s still sporting Avengers: Infinity War’s scruffy beard), Evans boasts macho muscle, ladies’ man sex appeal and a jovial sense of humor (see, if you haven’t, 2001’s Not Another Teen Movie), all of it wrapped up in an ethical He-Man package bolstered by his real-world social media pronouncements against President Trump and in favor of sensible liberal causes.
In that regard, The Red Sea Diving Resort is the prototypical venture for Evans at this particular moment in time, capitalizing on both his Captain America national-hero stoutness and his personal support of principled political policy. Introduced doing push-ups and pull-ups, and then saving a young boy from gunmen, his Ari is an upstanding doesn’t-play-by-the-rules stud in a bomber jacket and aviators, and he carries the brunt of the espionage action, which finds the Mossad squad trying to complete its covert task while simultaneously running the hotel for unexpected busloads of tourists. There’s no doubt that this is traditional white-savior territory, and yet Evans has an irresistible good-guy charisma that obscures any clichés on display, including an upbeat getting-work-done montage set, amusingly, to Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf.”
Despite the familiarity of Evans’ rah-rah performance in The Red Sea Diving Resort, the film nonetheless serves as a departure for its headliner, insofar as it casts him in more decidedly adult terms. That process began with 2015’s romantic comedies Playing it Cool and Before We Go (the latter of which he directed), as well as his 2018 Broadway run as a shady cop opposite Michael Cera and Brian Tyree Henry in Kenneth Lonergan’s Lobby Hero. He’ll continue down that path with his upcoming Apple+ series Defending Jacob, an adaptation of William Landay’s 2012 bestseller about an assistant district attorney whose teenage son becomes the prime suspect in the grisly murder of a classmate. That project appears primed to further capitalize on his aura of sensitive, decent heroism, even as it allows him to plumb grown-up depths of doubt, regret and loyalty.
Not that one should expect Evans to turn his back on the larger-than-life blockbusters that have transformed him into an international star; the upcoming Antoine Fuqua-directed Inspire, a sci-fi epic about people who can access memories of their past lives, will likely require him to switch back into disaster-averting mode. But Evans’ recent non-Marvel track record suggests that he’s more interested in investigating new avenues than retracing his footsteps. Knives Out, in which he’ll play a possibly homicidal member of a star-studded ensemble, is evidence of that fact, as is The Devil All the Time, an upcoming Netflix film from Antonio Campos (The Sinner) that concerns a serial killer couple, a corrupt sheriff and a less-than-stalwart priest, and which will pair Evans with his old web-slinging friend, Tom Holland, alongside Robert Pattinson, Bill Skarsgård and Mia Wasikowska. That earlier talk of post-Cap retirement, it’s clear, wasn’t to be believed.
Evans is currently in a position similar to Ford’s in the aftermath of Star Wars and Indiana Jones—namely, one where he can do whatever he wants and, therefore, wholly shape and control his big-screen image. Though he hasn’t, to date, gravitated toward the likes of a Peter Weir or Roman Polanski (as Ford did with 1985’s Witness and 1988’s Frantic), there’s significant reason to believe that a turn into auteurist country may be right around the corner, given the upcoming Knives Out and The Devil All the Time, as well as his past collaborations with Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim) and Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer).
All of which is to say that Evans seems poised for an even bigger, brighter and more diverse future, especially when his current situation is viewed in the context of a 2019 Hollywood that’s woefully short on established movie-star draws at the box office (and on streaming services). With its timely subject matter and rousing if conventional action, The Red Sea Diving Resort is thus a canny bridge-straddling effort, delivering enough of Evans’ bread-and-butter appeal to please longtime fans, while simultaneously letting him prove, via some breakneck geopolitical drama, that he’s more than just a fortunate beneficiary of the Marvel hit-making machine.
Not to mention that, in light of Endgame’s time travel shenanigans, any bets against him once more donning those stars-and-stripes tights are probably premature.