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The films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, despite their varied tones and styles, are known for their action set pieces. Irrespective of which director is at the helm, the MCU’s mostly formulaic approach means its films usually open with one big fight sequence followed by a teaser fight in the middle and a climactic smash in the final act. While there may be criticisms of this style, there's plenty of excitement and anticipation for audiences.
Since we have a ways to go before the next #MCU film (Thor: Ragnarok hits our screens in November), it seems like a good time to reminisce about many of the franchise's best fight scenes. First up in the series is Bucky Barnes, Captain America’s best friend turned occasional bad guy. There is a redemption arc for this character, but hopefully that will not impact his incredible fighting techniques. Now (in chronological order) here is the best of Bucky Barnes in action. WARNING: Spoilers to follow!
1. Bucky Dies In The End
Bucky Barnes is a beloved character from the comics, having gone through an incredible transformation from being #CaptainAmerica’s teenage sidekick to a frightening, brainwashed assassin (and later taking on Cap’s mantle himself). The character’s introduction in Captain America: The First Avenger is that of an upstanding young man protective of his little "brother," Steve Rogers. He is instantly showcased as the ideal version of Steve — off to fight the war and help bring peace to the world in 1939. Since TFA has quite a prolonged introductory act, I originally found the film wanting, especially when it came to the action set pieces. Subsequent viewings have, of course, highlighted much of the film’s subtle brilliance; none more so than in Barnes' final scene of the film (but not the franchise, as you will see).
After an action-packed montage of Cap and the Howling Commandos taking down HYDRA bases all across Europe, the team learn that HYDRA’s chief scientist Arnim Zola is aboard a train. Cap and Barnes take the attack to Zola, zip-lining down to a moving train and fighting off masked HYDRA agents. It is a claustrophobic sequence set among crates of HYDRA weaponry onboard a speeding train. The agents are evenly matched with Cap, raising the stakes, but all seems to be going according to plan 'til a door closes, cutting Cap off from Barnes.
Aside from being well executed, what I love about this scene is how portentous it is. It is one of those quintessential action sequences that most of us grew up watching — the one where the sidekick appears to upstage the central protagonist and save their own skin. Barnes' every triumph in this scene edges him closer to danger, especially when he grabs Cap’s shield. Foreshadowing much?
2. Who The Hell Is Bucky?
Captain America: The Winter Soldier took the MCU to a whole new level by mixing genres and molding the storyline to be as relevant to the modern world as possible. The Russo brothers, new to Marvel films, incorporated practical effects and made the majority of their fight sequences coherent and tangible. No scene encapsulated the Russos’ approach more than the Act 2 showdown between the Winter Soldier and Captain America (with a brief cameo from Black Widow).
When Captain America, declared a fugitive by covert HYDRA agents in S.H.I.E.L.D., escapes Hydra’s clutches, the bad guys up their game and bring in "the asset." The asset is none other than the titular character, and he is given the mission to kill Cap within 36 hours. Just when Cap, Widow and Sam Wilson are getting a clearer picture of HYDRA's intentions, the Winter Soldier strikes.
There is a certain level of raw aggression on display from the Winter Soldier, whose main goal is to fulfil his mission, while Cap's is to somehow stay alive. The camera really gets in there, and the audience is privy to several close-ups and mid-shots of the two characters. What is also excellent with these tight shots is that you aren’t distracted by place, or a lack of understanding the location, which has become a mainstay thanks to choppy editing in films. This is one of those sequences you need to hit replay just to enjoy the nuances of the heart-pumping action again and again.
3. Bucky Vs. The Avengers
Cap's final chapter, Captain America: Civil War, brought to life a version of Marvel comics’ most significant event in recent history. While the film itself was mostly a successful reinterpretation of the comic story, it did put the title character’s journey on the back-burner in an attempt to introduce newer, exciting characters like Black Panther and Spider-Man. This led to several excellent action set pieces, which are likely to stay in popular memory for quite a while. Everyone especially talks about the airport scene and why wouldn’t they — it is iconic and a logistical masterpiece. With the exception of two Avengers, everyone is in this fight, plus Ant-Man and his hilarious shtick. As elegant as this entire sequence is, there is something tantalizing about Barnes’ fight against all the good guys several scenes earlier.
Up until CA:CW, Loki was the only character in the MCU to have had the pleasure of fighting all the Avengers. This film changed that by giving Barnes the opportunity to take on the majority of the crew. Cap never catches a break in this film; he has finally located Barnes after a two or three year-long search, but it doesn’t take long for them to become embroiled in not one, but two skirmishes. Once they’re captured by Tony Stark’s team, Barnes is sent for psychological evaluation. Unfortunately, this evaluation is hijacked by the film’s real bad guy, Helmut Zemo. A brainwashed Barnes then fights his way through all the Avengers, Agent 13 and Panther, mano-a-mano. What works in favor of this sequence is each character’s realization of the limitations of the Sokovia Accords: it renders them powerless in an unprovoked and unprecedented attack. Barnes may be a saint at heart, but once he becomes the Winter Soldier, he is scary as hell.
4. The Bucky Revelations
Including two sequences from Civil War seems almost unfair to the previous Cap installments, but there is a reason for this. Everything about CA:CW is grandiose — a bigger cast, a wider divide, a greater threat to the world and the grandest stand-off — and that is exactly the kind of formula Marvel likes to use for its finales. Which is why, when the climactic fight isn’t the highly publicized airport scene, you sit up and take notice.
Before we head to the scene I want to say that I understand why so many people took a dislike to the reinvention of Baron Zemo in the film: He is nothing like the deplorable villain of the comics who tormented and tortured the Winter Soldier. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a potential for Daniel Brühl’s Zemo to return and transform into a version of the comic villain; we simply didn’t see that in this film. This Zemo is a broken man, obsessed with plotting the end of the people who caused the deaths of his family. At the crux of CA:CW is the importance of family and an understanding of emotions. I feel that Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are particularly great at analyzing psychology and exploring it within the limitations of an action-oriented comic book film.
Now back to the film: Just when Tony has had a change of heart about Cap, Zemo throws a spanner in the works by revealing the real culprit behind the death of Tony’s parents. The film tries its level best to dodge the reality behind Zemo’s quest for a HYDRA mission report, but steely-eyed fans would have figured it out. Flanked by Cap and Barnes, Tony watches his parents’ car crash and flips out, attacking Barnes, which consequently enrages Cap. The most satisfying battle of the film is somehow fought between three friends. The enclosed, intimate nature of the fight makes it all the more tense — who do we root for when we’re on all of their sides? For the writers and directors to funnel all the film’s grandeur down to a personal war is genius and brings that all important humanism to a cinematic universe in danger of spiraling out of control. Also, kudos to the Russos for bringing everyone’s favorite comic book cover alive in the film.
Battles, big and small, are Marvel’s forte, and I intend to use this series to pick out some of its underrated or forgotten ones.