*Last Update 8/5/2023
From 2008's Iron Man to 2023's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the Marvel Cinematic Universe now boasts thirty-two films in its canon. I might have missed a significant sequence here and there, but I think I got the majority of them in this 137 entry list of MCU action sequences. When I stand back and look at the sum of it all - Marvel has made an impressive achievement in action cinema. The diversity of sequences on this list means that although Marvel has become known for the "all-out fantasy battles" that define the Avengers films, they actually offer a little bit of every action genre throughout their portfolio. Their vision to give each of their film entries a slightly different genre feel has bled over into their action as well.
My personal favorite action sequences in the franchise are the epic finales of the original Avengers and the Infinity War and End Game twofer. This is where you see all that action diversity displayed on an epic glorious scale. Whether you like large scale sky battles (Star Wars), technological gadgetry (Batman), or hand to hand fights (Bourne/Bond) - it finds representation here.
There's just no other entertainment property (The Lord of the Rings did it with a smaller scale of main characters) who gave us the epic fantasy battle with a large cast of characters we care for, punctuated by jaw-dropping visuals, excellent visual effects (taking place during daytime thank you!), and memorable moments/lines that make audiences smile every time they see them. For better or worse, Marvel has given us some of the greatest action sequences of all-time and remains the modern day gold standard. That's not to say every sequence they make is gold, in fact, I'd say once you get past the "B" grades, the sequences can become somewhat pedestrian in the action genre. For fun, I've rated and ranked every MCU action sequence in my database. Let me know what you think!
All Marvel Action Sequences Graded & Ranked
*Commentary begins with the B+ sequences
*Commentary begins with the B+ sequences
Poor sequences that are either completely inept or offensive in some manner..
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
137. "Wakanda Outreach Facility Attack Prevented by the Dore Milaje" -Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
Mediocre sequences that have some flaw or issue I find somewhat insulting or offensive.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
136. "Finale: Hulk vs. Abomination" -The Incredible Hulk (2008)
135. “Skrull Ambush at a Foreign Temple” -Captain Marvel (2019)
134. “Captain & Iron Man Catch Loki in Germany” -The Avengers (2012)
133. “Small Town Fight: Destroyer vs. Thor and his Band” -Thor (2011)
Mediocre sequences that lack anything that makes them stand out. Decent, but forgettable.
132. "New Asgard Fight: Thor Meets Jane & Gorr" -Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
131. "Roundup: MODOK & Police Forces Arrive" -Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantummania (2023)
130. "Cassie Learns to Fight and Free's a Prisoner" -Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantummania (2023)
129. "Battle Arena: Shang-Chi vs. His Sister" -Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
128. "Space Battle: Guardians vs. the Hellspawn" -Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)
127. "Dinner Escape: Van Dyne's Outwit Lord Krylar" -Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantummania (2023)
126. “Finale: Fight in the Space Lab Spills Over to Earth” -Captain Marvel (2019)
125. "Spidey Finds Electro & Sandman" -Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
124. “Wakandan Finale: War, Rhinos, Planes, & Trains” -Black Panther (2018)
123. "Garage Chase: Escaping Mandarin's Compound" -Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
122. “Gamora and Nebula Battle It Out” -Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
121. “Thor Cleans Up a Battle in Vanaheim” -Thor: The Dark World (2013)
120. “Thor & Loki vs Kurse & Dark Elves” -Thor: The Dark World (2013)
119. “Deviant Street Attack in London” -Eternals (2021)
118. "Quick Strike: Black Panther & Crew Take out African Traffickers" -Black Panther (2018)
117. "Orgosphere Shootout & Fight" -Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)
116. "Escaping Skrull Custody & Landing on Earth" -Captain Marvel (2019)
115. "Mountain Finale: Multiversal Showdown with Scarlet Witch" -Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
114. "Arete Labs: Shootout & Escape" -Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)
113. “Opening: Loki Steals the Tesseract” -The Avengers (2012)
112. “Finale: Thor vs. Loki” -Thor (2011)
111. “Opening: Eternals Rescue Mesopotamians from Deviants” -Eternals (2021)
110. “Tent City: Thor Retrieves his Hammer” -Thor (2011)
109. "Opening: Escaping Ohio and SHIELD on a Plane" -Black Widow (2021)
108. “Ritual Combat: Black Panther vs. Killmonger” -Black Panther (2018)
107. “Sovereign Ships Chase the Guardians for Stealing Batteries” -Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
106. “Tony Escapes the Cave with the Mark 1 Suit” -Iron Man (2008)
105. "Red Guardian Escapes Prison and an Avalanche" -Black Widow (2021)
104. "Perimeter Patrol: Rocky Fights Ravagers in the Woods" -Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
103. "Knowhere Fight: Adam Warlock vs. the Guardians of the Galaxy" -Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)
102. “Captain Chases down Winter Soldier for the First Time” -Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
101. "Namor Attacks Wakanda & Takes Out the Queen" -Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
100. "Shadow Realm Fight with Gorr" -Thor: Love and Thunder
99. “Crashing in on a Train and Losing Bucky” -Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Largely mediocre sequences that have some redeeming or standout feature. This, to me, is where the average decent action sequence ranks.
98. "Taking Back a Sacred Temple: Thor vs. Booskans" -Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
97. "Challenge Day: T'Challa vs. M'Baku" -Black Panther (2018)
96. "Cambridge Chase: Shuri, Okoye, & Riri vs. the Feds & Tolokan" -Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
95. “Iron Man vs. Rhodes Drunk Battle” -Iron Man 2 (2010)
94. “Hela Arrives at Asgard and Takes Over” -Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
93. "Omipotence City: Killing Zeus & Grabbing Thunderbolt" -Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
92. "Entering Ta Lo Fight: The Mandarin Falls in Love" -Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
91. “Stark Tower Scuffle: Avengers vs. Ultron” -Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
90. "Hulk Battles the Military on a College Green" -The Incredible Hulk (2008)
89. “Opening: Thor vs. Surtur” -Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
88. "Finale" The Quantum Realm Rebels Against Kang" -Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantunmania (2023)
87. “Rescuing the 107th from a Hydra Facility” -Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
86. "Finale: Battle at Eternity" -Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)
85. “Yondu and Rocky Kill off the Ravages” -Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
84. "Budapest Fistfight: Sister vs Sister" -Black Widow (2021)
83. “Berlin Group Work - Elemental Attack” -Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
82. “Amazonian Attack: Deviant Horde vs. Eternals” -Eternals (2021)
81. "Music Fight: Doctor Strange vs. Sinister Strange" -Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
80. “Chasing the Skrull Through 1990's Los Angeles” -Captain Marvel (2019)
79. “Monaco Race: Iron Man vs. Whiplash” -Iron Man 2 (2010)
78. "Opening London Mirror World: Ancient One vs. Zealots" -Doctor Strange (2016)
77. “Thor and Loki Escape Asgard” -Thor: The Dark World (2013)
76. “Thor vs. Iron Man vs. Captain America” -The Avengers (2012)
75. “Asgard Prison Break & Dark Elf Sneak Attack” -Thor: The Dark World (2013)
74. "Chasing Banner in the Favelas and Getting Hulk in the Factory" -The Incredible Hulk (2008)
73. “Finale: Spider-Man vs. Vulture” -Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
72. “Tony Stark vs Bradt & Savin in a Small Town” -Iron Man 3 (2013)
71. “Finale: Iron Man vs. Iron Monger”-Iron Man (2008)
70. “Opening Beast Battle: Fighting to ELO” -Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
69. “Finale: Planet Showdown with Ego” -Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)
68. “Transformed Steve Rogers Chases Down Heinz Kruger” -Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
67. “Xandar Plaza Scuffle: Fighting Over the Orbs” -Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
66. "Finale: Wakanda vs. Talokan & Panther vs. Namor" -Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)
Good sequences that have some issue holding it back from being solid.
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
65. “Apartment Showdown: The Villains Bust Out" -Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
64. "Alternate Sanctum Attacked by Scarlet Witch & Race to Book of Vishanti" -Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
63. "Iron Man vs. Hulmira Cell Ends In F-22 Raptor Encounter" -Iron Man (2008)
62. “Opening: Thor and his Band vs the Ice Giants” -Thor (2011)
61. “Spider-Man Makes a Washington Monument Rescue” -Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
60. "Ant-Man vs. Falcon" -Ant-Man (2015)
59. “Escaping the Planet in a Pleasure Ship” -Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
58. "Expo Final: Rhodes, Drones, Widow and Whiplash” -Iron Man 2 (2010)
57. “Escaping Mandarin's Compound One Suit Piece At a Time” -Iron Man 3 (2013)
56. "Finale: Taking Down the Red Room, Dreykov, and the Taskmaster" -Black Widow (2021)
55. "Octopus Creature Attack in New York" -Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
54. “Finale: Beach Warfare & Stopping Tiamat” -Eternals (2021)
53. “Venice Pandemonium - Elemental Attack” -Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
52. "Widow vs. Taskmaster: Opening Matchup on a Norwegian Bridge" -Black Widow (2021)
51. “Berlin Breakout: Baron Zemo Activates the Winter Soldier” -Captain America: Civil War (2016_
50. “Finale: Three Spidey's & the Sinister Five at the Statue of Liberty" -Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
49. "Chased in Budapest: From Apartment, to Motorcycle, to BMW" -Black Widow (2021)
48. “Scotland Surprise: Black Order vs. Vision & Scarlet Witch” -Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
47. "Battle of Kamar Taj: Scarlet Witch vs. Doctor Strange" -Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
46. “Interrupted Weapons Deal Leads to a Neighborhood Chase” -Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
45. “Finale: Infiltrating Hydra Base & Taking Down Skull's Plane” -Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
44. “Vulture vs. Spider-Man on the Ferry” -Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
43. “Ragnarok Finale: Thor, Loki, Hulk & the Revengers vs Hela” -Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
42. “Elevator Battle & HQ Escape” -Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
41. “Opening: Attack on Hydra Castle” -Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
40. “Opening: Star Lord Escapes Karath” -Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
39. “Finale: Hong Kong Time Loops” -Doctor Strange (2016)
Good action sequences with much to commend about them. They are a solid entry into their genre.
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
38. “Battle of Xander Finale: Ronan vs. Nova, Ravagers, & Guardians” -Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
37. “The Wasp Fights for Tech in the Lobby & Kitchen” -Ant-Man & the Wasp (2018)
36. "Battle on Knowhere: Ronan's Forces Retrieve the Orb" -Guardians of the Galaxy
35. “Bridge Mayhem: Spider-Man Meets Dock Ock and the Green Goblin" -Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
34. “Macau Skyscraper Scaffold Melee" -Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
33. “Nicky Fury Assassination Attempt” -Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
32. “Finale: Battle for Sokovia” -Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
31. “Attack on Stark's Oceanside Manor” -Iron Man 3 (2013)
30. “Doctor Strange vs. Kaecilius in the New York Sanctum” -Doctor Strange (2016)
29. “Busan Shootout & Chase: Tracking Down Klaue” -Black Panther (2018)
28. “Spider-Man vs. Doctor Strange" -Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
27. "Bus Bedlam: Shang Chi Shows Off Against Machete Man" -Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
26. “Korean Chase: Ultron vs. Captain, Black Widow, & Hawkeye” -Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
25. "Air Force One Fight & Sky Rescue” -Iron Man 3 (2013)
24. "Finale: Failed Pym Tech Heist Leads to Ant-Man vs. Yellow Jacket" -Ant-Man (2015)
23. “Helicarrier Finale: Bucky vs. Captain in the Skies” -Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
Very good action sequences with something holding them back from greatness. These sequences are typically best in their film and represent something above and beyond expectations.
22. “Illusion Overwhelm: Mysterio vs Spider-Man” -Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
- Commentary: This sequence rates so highly on its creativity alone. First, it accomplishes the basic work of helping us understand how the projection tech works in the middle of a battle - as it cuts back and forth from the real world to the projections. Second, it gives us somethign out of the usual. In general, outside of his fights with Doc Ock, I haven't been the biggest fan of Spider-Man fights - there's just something about his action style that doesn't really engage me on levels I want. This sequence however provides a completely different take on the usual action sequence. As long as you buy the conceit that Mysterio's drones can produce what the screen is showing, this sequence does a great job of showing what a mind attack this kind of stuff would be - especially if tuned to give us images of our deepest regrets in life. I like how the creatives here went really far in continually changing Peter's reality while always eventually giving us an object from the real world reminding the viewer of the genuine setting. By the time the sequence ends you get that feeling of, "Is this real? Is it over?" That means a job well done and it's a different type of action scene I wish they had developed a bit more in favor of the time and money they spent on the "elemental" attacks.
21. “Sakaar Arena: Thor vs. Hulk” -Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
- Commentary: This sequence is kind of a culmination of moments where Thor is being introduced to his new setting on the planet of Sakaar - from the scavengers, to the Grand Master, and now to his opponent in the arena, the Incredible Hulk. It's a nice payoff to the question of what happened to Banner at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Anyways, the basic premise here is that Banner is now Hulk all the time and because he keeps winning gladiator battles, people love him for it. The sequence goes through a swing of emotions as Thor begins with anticipation of his opponent, gets excited when he realizes its Banner, but gets worried when he realizes its unreasonable Hulk only. The fight kicks off and it's exactly what you want: big bruising moves causing big destruction. There's some comedic pauses, like a moment Thor tries to pull a Black Widow lullaby on Hulk only to lead to the iconic Loki pounding. In the end, it's a fun sequence that delivers something we all wanted - Hulk and Thor battling it out for a while. It's not rated higher because it doesn't really deliver much more than that.
20. "Hallway Battle: Guardians vs. the Hellspawn" -Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)
- Commentary: Set to the tune of "No Sleep Until Brooklyn" - this sequence feels like James Gunn's "I'm gonna give the third film a Guardians fight sequence they'll never forget" moment - and for the most part he succeeds with flying colors. This fight takes place during the final act of the film with the Guardians working together to take down the High Evolutionist (the main villain) on his flying spaceship/lab. On their way to the High Evolutionist they must first pass through a hallway of - henchmen (normal guards mixed with experimental creatures known as the Hellspawn. The resulting fight is a several minute action sequence filmed to look like one take where the camera flies around the room highlighting different moments of the fight. Each character here gets their own moment to shine (usually with that classic Zach Snyder speed ramp down and up technique) with Groot doing his growing branch through the enemy thing, Mantis doing acrobatic flips, Rocket using Groot's branch to move around the room, Quill using his cleverness, Drax beating down bad guys, and Gamora slicing through key henchmen. It's all set to the tune of "No Sleep Until Brooklyn" and it's a real high "fight" watermark for the series as it represents the high quality of quirkiness, creativity, and character work through action choreography. It's also one of those scenes where even though they might be featuring Quill for the moment, you can watch in the background and always track what others are doing. All of those good things being said, there's a genuine ceiling here. While "No Sleep Until Brooklyn" is a great song and works perfectly, it's also like the millionth time the trilogy has done this kind of thematic thing with a song and the returns are diminishing. Likewise, this isn't the first one take slow motion shot, nor is it the first "hallway" fight scene that does something like this. Sure, it might all be an homage to the many one takes and hallway fight scenes out there, but it also means it's a little less novel and exciting for me. In some ways, this feels like Gunn trying to top the prison break sequence set piece from the first piece. While both of those scenes have technical polish and plenty of enjoyment - the prison scene remains much more ingrained in the context of the story and still more unique in the context of action sequences.
- Commentary: A bombing of an important political meeting leads to the framing of Bucky Barnes - the Winter Soldier. Everyone wants to bring him in. Captain America, his friend, gets a tip on his whereabouts and finds him in his apartment in Bucharest first but the German special forces are moving in to kill him. The forces breach and we get the first phase of the sequence: Steve and Bucky trying to fight off the forces without killing them and get out of the apartment complex. It's filled with quality action beats and stunts (especially around the stairs and door breaches) and a nice bit of humor is wringed out of Steve sometimes having to cover-up some of Bucky's neglect to save an officer. The next phase begins with Bucky taking a giant leap to the rooftop of a nearby building. He's met there by the Black Panther and they have a nice back and forth fight where we get to see the Panther is every bit Bucky's equal. The chase leads down the building and to the streets for the third and final phase. Steve chasing Black Panther chasing Bucky. The sequence plays out largely in a tunnel and the super speed of the three is quite a spectacle as they run past cars and over them. There's some nice car damage along the way here. The scene culminates with a nice stunt that sees Bucky blow up a bit of the tunnel, Black Panther make a leap to take Bucky off his bike, and Steve make a running jump from a truck to escape the crashing tunnel. This is a nice jolt of adrenaline with high production values that highlights well the unique capabilities of each hero.
18. “HeliCarrier Attack and the Group Splits” -The Avengers (2012)
- Commentary: This sequence came as a surprise - I'm not sure many viewers in 2012 had "Hawkeye attacks the Helicarrier & Loki gets imprisoned to stir psychological disunity among the group and ultimately get Banner to destroy SHIELD" on their Bingo card for this field. It makes some sense and it isn't surprising given how The Dark Knight's Joker made complicated "get yourself caught" plans into a trend (Skyfall did it with Silva later that year). I like that this sequence is one that slowly unveils. The Avengers group is in the lab and their discussion slowly turns into a pretty heated debate that ends with Banner holding Loki's scepter and everyone made. As hey are arguing, Barton blows up one of the major engine turbines for the helicarrier, causing it to list and needing to be patched. Captain America and Iron Man move to work on getting it back online, fighting off some henchmen in the process. The explosion drops Black Widow and Banner down a level and Banner turns into the Hulk. Thor ultimately makes the save for Widow and fights Hulk. Their back and forth isn't anywhere as good as their battle in Thor:Ragnarok, but it's pretty nice. Relief comes when a jet pulls up to the ship and fires on Hulk causing him to run and jump into the jet, causing it to crash and ripping the pilot out. Barton's team infiltrates the carrier and causes some chaos in the control rooms, including shutting down the other engines through a usb type arrow. Black Widow tracks him down and is able to stop Hawkeye, knocking him out of whatever control Loki had over him. Thor ultimately gets dropped in the glass cage, Loki escapes and kills (lol) Agent Coulson, and Iron Man and Cap get the helicarrier back up and running. Up until this moment, this is the biggest action sequence Marvel had ever produced and it shows. While it's strong and well written (the threads do all come together fairly well), the action itself is as smooth, efficient, and heavy hitting as we are accustomed to. If the team that made Civil War, Infinity War, and Endgame had a chance to redo this - we'd see more iconic pops of offense from Captain America (he shoots a gun in moments here), Thor, and Iron Man (who just fixes an engine the whole time). This is a good sequence that plays best as an unfolding mystery, but it is a bit rough around the edges compared to the later more experienced scenes that populate the upper echelons of this list.
17. "Attack on Greenwich Village: Black Order vs Strange, Spider-Man, & Iron Man” -Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
- Commentary: I think this sequence is largely forgotten, which is understandable for two reasons: First, it comes from a movie where other sequences completely overshadow it and second it functions as an introductory sequence rather than a culmination. By this film, Marvel has gotten really good at understanding "introduction action sequences" (see the previous two Captain America films) - the goal here is to introduce the viewers to the new status quo, the strengths of our new enemies, and the weaknesses of our heroes. With the arrival of Thanos into the storyline, we have a new lineup of henchmen known as the Black Order. In this scene we get to know Cull Obsidian (the big Hulk like bad guy) and Ebony Maw (The wizard Stark calls Squidward) as henchmen with serious strength and powers that need to be taken seriously. What surprises me about this sequence is that the creators really let it play out for a full five minutes of action beats without intercutting to other storylines. Strange and Wong remind us of how cool and unique in the action realm their mystical arts are, Iron Man introduces us to his nanotech, and Banner introduces a problem he's having getting Hulk to come out. Not much filler here - just heavy shots with big damage and big stunts or visual effects one after another. It has one of my personal favorite Iron man quips as well, "Wong, you're invited to me wedding!" after Wong takes out Cull Obsidian. It ends with Strange's capture and Iron-Man/Spider-Man on board for later as well.
16. “Finale: Exposing Mysterio in London” -Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
- Commentary: I really like Mysterio as a villain and think that if you can buy the conceit of pulling off giant level illusions with a fleet of Stark tech level drones then you can really get into him as a villain. Mysterio's basic goal is to produce fake threats using these drones (love the conspiracy overtones here) that only his superhero can bring an end too - getting all the love and adulation of the world. I love how he has an entire tech and media team working for him and how the drones present a threat, but it's Myterio's ability to influence perception, individual and cultural, that is his biggest threat. It's the cultural threat that allows him to get a victory over Spider-Man even after his death. This is a fascinating idea and I'm glad they went as far (wish they went further) as they did with it. Yes, we still get all the swingy action stuff and it makes good sense here given the multitude of drones giving Spider-Man a lot of mini-henchmen to take out without a genuine body count. This is my favorite MCU Spider-Man sequence because I think the action beats make best sense here (fighting drones around a bridge structure really works well with his skill set) while still retaining the intellectual and emotional challenge that Mysterio presents to Peter in the final moments. I don't want to really talk about the "friends with Happy in London Tower" side stuff, it's necessary to up the stakes, but it's the worst part of the sequence and I wish they found another way to do it.
15. “Opening Hostage Operation Against Batroc on a Ship” -Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
- Commentary: It has taken me a while to appreciate this action sequence for what it is - but I think I'm able to see it more clearly now. I think when I first saw it, I was upset that it wasn't a bigger sequence/more grandiose. Of course, that's not the place this sequence has in the story does it? I now see it as a fantastic introduction action sequence getting us reacquainted with the status quo of the film while also giving us one slick, efficient, and (pound for pound) high quality special ops action sequence. This sequence establishes Fury as using Capt. America, Black Widow, and other special ops guys as a team to complete jobs that Capt. America is okay with but suspects isn't often above board. Action wise, we get to see Captain just be an efficient butt kicker, running round a ship knocking people into the water, leading a team, and then going one on one with the top bad guy in a good fight. We also reset Black Widow who is also kicking butt, but willing to be more sly and have unspoken motives. It's a mini-movie within itself and it's a heck of a little sequence.
14. “Kyln Prison: Guardians Break Out” -Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
- Commentary: The story has done an excellent job getting all of the pieces put into the right place: Star Lord wants money for the orb, Rocket & Groot want to score more money than their bounty on Star Lord, Gamora wants to score money and get away from Thanos, and Drax wants the chance to kill Ronan and Thanos. All the agendas come together in a Xander prison named called Kyln. Hilariously, the sequence wastes little time in getting going, as Rocket is explaining the plan, Groot ignorantly sets it into motion and the sequence kicks off. It's excellently edited and paced - it makes me feel like this was HEAVILY storyboarded - there's an economy of shot here where each moment builds perfectly into the next. Each member of the group gets a job, some action beats, and it all leads to Rocket executing a plan - getting the group into a guard tower, turning the gravity off, and rocketing out of there. This is less about technical and visceral action beats and more about a "plan coming together" in surprising ways that reveal character, bond the team, and so happen to feature some nice bursts of action. So many wonderful threads weaving our first look at how this team can operate together and it's infectiously fun.
13. "Battle of Greenwich Finale: Thor vs. Malekith” -Thor: The Dark World (2013)
- Commentary: The best part of this slow-moving and tough to enjoy MCU entry is easily the finale sequence as long as you can overlook a major conceit: that somehow Jane and Dr. Selvig and company can somehow get their equipment to actually control the gravitational/dimensional anomalies. Get past that and there's a really interesting and creative fight happening here. First, I love the Greenwich setting - not just how great it looks but given it's association with time-keeping - it's a great place for all the dimensions to be lining up. Second, in order to get away from just another traditional two powerful guys hitting each other, the dimensional/gravitational anomalies idea adds a spark of unpredictability that the creatives do a great job taking advantage of. For example, after a decent but traditional sequence of Thor and Malekith showing off their powers (hammer vs. aether) the anomalies kick in and they tumble into Malekith's planet, then to St. Paul's Cathedral, back to Malekith's planet where Thor throws his hammer but the hammer is sucked back to earth, and the two end up going back to London at the top of a skyscraper...and the hammer is having to change directions back and forth. As soon as the hammer gets close the two blip into a new dimension. It's not the first time this idea has been used (Liman's Jumper made interesting use of this idea as well), but it's a clever and satisfying execution of it. Bringing back the Ice Giant monster from the first film was a nice creative touch here as well. There's also a humorous moment where Thor is without hammer and gets stuck on a train in London by a blip. He is forced to ride the train like a normal person and it's pretty darn funny. Malekith isn't a great bad guy and his plan is really fuzzy and the rest of the film is tough to watch - but the effort and execution from this finale sequence keeps it from being one of, if not the worst, Marvel film produced.
12. “Finale: Shang-Chi vs. the Mandarin & his Monster Mash” -Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
- Commentary: I was quite impressed with this Marvel finale. Yes - it's a giant army showdown (yawn) that we've seen a lot and seen better of (thus it will have a ceiling to its rating), but there's some unique and really well done elements to enjoy here. First, it's largely in daytime and well lit giving a clarity to the scale and visual effects that aren't often the case in these types of sequences. Second, given that its a mystical realm that its taking place in, we get to see some novel things - dragon scale armor, unique weapons with monster defeating capabilities, and beyond the Mandarin and his troops, some evil tentacle/bat like creatures along with a couple other giant creatures challenging everyone. The essential premise here is that Ta Lo is a mystical realm and there is a place/barrier there that holds back a lot of evil creatures. The Mandarin has been convinced by a voice from one of these evil creatures that his wife is behind that barrier. It's his goal to use the titular ten rings power to unlock that barrier. The people of Ta Lo band together to stop the Mandarin's army and that comprises one large part of this fight. Marvel could produce this stuff in their sleep. The second part is dealing with the evil creatures that begin coming out of the cracks. The third is a multi-stage fight between Shang-Chi and the Mandarin- the best of which sees some well choreographed fighting beats with Shang-Chi essentially removing the rings slowly from the Mandarin throughout the beats of their fight. It's well crafted and I like the incorporation of Tai Chi (the spirit of his mother) to ultimately beat his father. Lastly, there's a giant Chinese dragon involved and animated in ways that are surprisingly fun and new. It's visually complex stuff that would be easy to really make indecipherable. In fact, the ways in which these creatures move and destroy things are so much more enjoyable than the standard template we get from most big creature vs big creature affairs like Godzilla vs. Kong, that it comes off coherent and easy to follow is quite a triumph. This finale sequence is an entire third act - a bit long and convoluted, but it's packed with a lot of exciting and novel features.
These are great action sequences with some minor issue(s) holding them back. They are typically best in their film and potentially best of the year.
11. “Lagos Opening: Captain's Crew vs. Crossbones” -Captain America: Civil War (2016)
- Commentary: Like the opening to Captain America: Winter Solder, we get a cold open special operations mission that sets the scene for the rest of the film. In this case, the team (Captain, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Falcon) are hunting Renlow - one of SHIELD's former special ops guys that turned out to be Hydra in the previous film and has turned himself into a mini-villain called Crossbones. Their intel has him hitting a chemical facility in Lagos, Africa and the team is in recon mode to start the sequence, giving the audience a nice rundown of the situation. The action kicks off when a loaded garbage truck rams the front gate of the facility and a truck with Crossbones and his squad get out and enter the facility with gas and guns firing. Captain America's team arrives and we get several nice action beats for each of them - giving us a reminder of their powers and a sweet stunt to boot. Marvel, at this time, really had its formula and team working so well. Wanda helps Captain to the floor with Crossbones and he begins taking out the hostiles one by one. Wanda uses her power to disperse the gas, Falcon fires away, and Black Widow takes out a few on the getaway team in some nice hand to hand combat beats. Crossbones gets in an armored truck, fires away at Cap, and makes it out of the facility and into the city. Crossbones and his team split up. Falcon takes a few of the team, Widow takes others, and Captain gets to fight Crossbones. Each player gets some nice beats - with Captain and Crossbones getting the highlight. Once taken down, Crossbones reveals he is willing to self-destruct and take Captain with him. Upon the explosion, Scarlet Witch uses her powers to contain it and throw it up into the sky where unfortunately it explodes and causes massive damage to multiple floors of an office building. What makes a sequence (and the similar one from Winter Soldier) so good and so much fun to watch and re-watch, is that it has all the production values of typical action film finale without any of the intercutting of 2-3 different storylines to add extra drama or conclusions. Seriously, this is a condensed finale, stripped of extraneous action (each hero gets an iconic move or stunt without a lot of filler), with multiple stages, and a genuine climax. It's a perfect way to re-introduce characters, their abilities, goals, and weaknesses THROUGH the action and not just in exposition outside of the action.
10. “New York Mirror Chase: Strange, Mordo, & the Ancient One vs. Kaecilius” -Doctor Strange (2016)
- Commentary: The ability to bend reality and shape shift the world makes for a grand visual, but can it be incorporated into an action scene? For instance, there's an opening fight in this film where the Ancient One fights a band of zealots in London and she morphs the architecture in cool ways, but it wasn't really obvious how it helped her in the battle. Is the reality bending stuff just visual gimmick, or can they creatively use it for actual action? This sequence answers the question with a resounding yes! Doctor Strange and Mordo need to stop Kaecilius and his zealots in the New York sanctum. They interrupt their spell and Strange puts them in the mirror world (they can bend reality, but it doesn't change the real world) then steals Kaecilius' sling ring. Here's the action setup then, if Strange and Mordo can use their sling ring to get out of the mirror world they can leave behind Kaecilius and his crew, trapping them there. However, Kaecilius is stronger in the mirror world so his goal is to bend reality as much as he can to prevent them from leaving and get his ring back. This is an excellent premise for a chase and they make great use of it: shifting gravity, running up skyscrapers, splitting Manhattan into quarters and flipping them, you name it. The visual splendor here is awesome and that it's being used to keep Strange and Mordo from escaping grounds it so well. At one point the city becomes so abstract that random city objects are just passing in every direction - this is when Kaecilius catches up, gets his ring, and almost kills Strange except the Ancient One makes an appearance to save the day. She makes an arena and battles Kaecilius in a fun sorcerer battle but she ultimately loses. A great chase that I've come to appreciate more and more over time.
9. “Highway Battle: Winter Soldier vs. Captain, Widow, & Falcon” -Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
- Commentary: This sequence has a surprise beginning with Cap, Falcon, Widow, and a Shield official driving along in a car when the Winter Soldier (he's a bad guy at this time remember?) grabs the Shield official and tosses him into oncoming traffic. Widow moves to the front seat as the Winter Soldier shoots through the ceiling. Falcon slams the breaks throwing the Winter Soldier forward in that iconic pose as he comes to a scraping stop on the highway. A Humvee slams them from behind and the Winter Soldier is back on the car which does multiples flips as the threesome inside slide out on Cap's shield. The Winter Soldier and his crew begin firing on the team, a grenade knocking Cap off the highway overpass, another sending Widow in a different direction. A nice little shootout follows, including a mini-gun shooting through a bus, which Cap takes on with his shield. Falcon helps perched from above with a gun. The Winer Soldier hunts down the Widow with his grenade launcher. The Widow plants a nice trap for him using a sound diversion, attacks him, but the tricks aren't enough. He is too strong. Thankfully Cap shows up to help and we get a nice back ad froth between them - Winter Soldier going through his weapons, taking the shield from Cap, and then brining out his knife in a quality back and forth with it. Dramatically, the scene concludes with the Cap's realization that the Winter Soldier is Bucky. My earlier assessment of this sequence was a much milder take on this one - as none of the aspects (car chase, shootout, fighting) were the best I'd ever seen and I'm always looking for the best ever. However, what I've come to appreciate is that while each aspect of the sequence isn't the "best" it's all very good and the combination of the very good car chase moment, then the very good shootout, then the very good fight - adds up to something much more than the parts. In the end, it's a non-stop action fest that never missteps and keeps the quality high. I'm not quite used to that and its taken me a while to allow sequences that don't fit neatly into "car chase" or "shootout" can still be graded highly.
8. “Finale: 'House Party' Protocol at the Docks” -Iron Man 3 (2013)
- Commentary: "The Docks" is normally a red flag for any action production. Why? Just like "Empty Warehouse" it's about as cheap and bland a setting you can get for your action film if you are not thinking creatively enough. This sequence, on the other hand, bucks the stereotype and makes great use of the setting. Guy Pearce's bad guy has the President of the US and Pepper Potts hostage at the docks. He wants a public execution (Mandarin has his ways!) of the President. Tony and Rhodes arrive at the docks and just when they could use some armor "House Party" protocol arrives - the arrival of nearly every suit of armor Tony has ever made vs the Extremis Super Soldiers. This is the key gimmick, an army of Iron Man's with suits that have unique specializations and paint jobs. We get some nice aerials and visual realizations of the fight - surprisingly, they are not shy about destroying a lot of these suits. Tony finds Pepper and is interrupted by Pearce and his hot hands that can melt through metal, especially Tony's suit. There's a wonderful comedic action beat here where Tony is trying to get a suit and each time he makes it to one it gets taken out. This culminates in Tony jumping off a ledge and being caught by a suit that doesn't get taken out. This is all to save Pepper Potts, who gets a dramatic moment where she essentially dies (Stark doesn't know she has extremis). I love the fight that follows between Pearce and Tony. Tony will begin the fight and Pearce during the battle rips piece after piece off forcing Tony to eject and get a new suit. It's a really cool idea and they pull it off easily here. Pearce feels the perfect match for Tony in this regard. The final beat to defeat Pearce is so clever and ruses a gimmick we've seen so many times in the film, but never thought to use until Tony does. It's great spectacle and comedy. This is the best action sequence from the first three Iron Man films - easy.
- Commentary: The Ant-Man series is a bit unique in that it favors fewer action sequences in place of just a couple bigger ones. This is probably the biggest and is definitely the best action sequence this sub-franchise has produced. The basic premise is that Hank is in his lab and has gone to the quantum level to retrieve his wife. The entire lab building is then shrunken down (think a rolling suitcase size) and multiple parties begin a car chase over it. First, you have Hope and Scott in the van with the shrunken building. Second, you have arms dealer Walton Goggins chasing after Pym's tech. Third, you have police trying to catch Scott Lang violating parole. Finally, you have Ava looking to get the tech to cure her ailments. The chase takes them through San Francisco and gives the creatives a great chance to show off the shrinking and growing gimmick and how it can be applied to cars in a chase. Hope will shrink the van at at times to take sharper turns, or to get underneath the carriage of another car, only to re-size and toss that car up in the air. It's a pretty great spectacle. In another great beat, Hope shoots "shrinking" pellets at those following on motorcycles and in a reverse enlarges a Pez dispenser as a giant obstacle. There's a lot more great visual action beats (like Ava phasing in and out of cars) but the greatest the entire sequence produced has to be when Ant-Man's suit begins to malfunction and he cycles between normal, small, and large. His large state produces some great comedy and action moments - seeing him use a flatbed truck as a kind of skateboard is wonderful. The last act of this sequence (Scott in the water and trying to get Pym back) and that will always hold it back from getting a higher grade from me. I could go further, but you get the idea - this is a wonderful chase sequence that feels like it's throwing some new cool visual gimmick at you every other moment. Mixed with the usual lightness and humor of the series (Michael Pena's Luis again gets to steal scene after scene) and this is one of the most enjoyable and easy to watch sequences Marvel has ever produced.
Great action sequences that can compete for best of the year and best of all-time.
6. “Hulk vs. Hulk Buster” -Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
- Commentary: This is probably my favorite Marvel action sequence I just never saw coming. I didn't know I needed it until it happened. It begins with the Avengers flying out to Africa to check on an arms dealer they think is connected with Ultron. They do meet up with Ultron and have a short scuffle with his team, including the Maximoff's. This is really an opportunity for Wanda Maximoff to get inside the heads of the Avengers and tear them apart, keep them bickering and filled with fear so they can't team up. In particular, this works on Hulk who then makes his way to a city where his rage can hurt lots of innocent people. Stark turns to his emergency protocol named Veronica - a bigger and cooler version of his Iron Man suit he built to take on Hulk. After Hulk can't be reasoned with the fight is on. What follows is a mixture of a big time technical fight (Hulk and Iron Man punch, kick, strategize, and plan - a gigantic visual spectacle (the city, its buildings, and its surroundings are devastated in big ways) - and that quippy Iron Man humor (I particularly like a moment where Iron man has a repetitious punch followed by, 'Go to sleep' and a sequence that see's him swing an elevator car at Hulk). It's a potent combination. I think what sets this apart for me from other "rock 'em sock 'em" type fights is its happening in pure daylight, so everything is visible; the visuals and geography of the fight is shot fairly wide and clear; lastly there's a real intelligence. Hulk is just a beast and you can see Iron Man trying idea after idea to stop him. When Hulk busts out of containment, or tears parts of his suit off, Tony counters with more parts of his suit being flown in, or using something from the environment. It ends with the destruction of an entire skyscaper under construction. It's a big time fight and it ends up having big time consequences not just for the Avengers in this film, but it plays out in Captain America: Civil War where the Avengers are forced to give up some of their freedom given the damage they have caused. It's got the technical chops, the visual spectacle, the humor, and it even has dramatic stakes. It's easily the best part of Avengers: Age of Ultron and I think this is likely my favorite "Big Bad Monsters Fight" ever put on screen.
5. “Iron Man vs. Captain America & Bucky” -Captain America: Civil War (2016)
- Commentary: The ultimate plan for Baron Zemo in this film is to try and destrory the Avengers not with an outside threat like an army of warriors, but from the inside. The key to his plan is to separate Captain America and Iron Man. His biggest weapon here is to weaponize the Winter Soldier because Zemo knows that Bucky was responsible (under his brainwash orders) for killing Tony Stark's parents. Even with this information, Zemo knows that Rogers won't allow Tony to take revenge. This all comes to a head at a Hyrdra facility in Siberia (orchestrated by Zemo - it's a facility where Winter Soldiers were being created). After Tony learns the information, the fight begins and lasts for over seven minutes. The first half of the fight takes place inside what looks like a missile silo type opening in the facility - providing a nice vertical element to the fight as they ascend and descend the silo like opening. The fight largely consists of Bucky trying to get a grasp on any part of the Iron Man suit so he can use his mechanical arm to crush it and Tony using a nice array of his gadgets to stop Steve and kill Bucky. The major continual thread of strategy here between Steve and Bucky is disabling parts of the suit one by one. As they get near the opening, Tony uses a missile to close it. The three jump on one another and fall down the vertical shaft - Tony and Steve making it to a blast area below. There's a pause here before the last half of the fight continues. This second half is much more intense and largely features hand to hand fighting. This is the definitive section of the fight for me - featuring iconic shots (Bucky trying to crush Tony's heart, Steve and Tony coming together for a blast, Steve saying he could go all day) and action beats that popular culture will remember as long as they remember Luke shooting the key shot in the trench run of A New Hope. Is the fight a bit contrived - manipulated just to get an action sequence? Upon re-watches I don't think so. Tony is clearly an egotistical character and Steve is self-righteous/loyal to a fault - Zemo using this to tear them apart makes perfect sense. In a franchise that wants to cover a spectrum of threats you can't always just have outsiders threaten the group with force. Instead, this is a fantastic idea to make one of the best villains threaten the group from inside. I love it and the further I get away from it, the more iconic and impactful I think this sequence and the film is.
*A Member of My Top 25 Essential Fights List HERE
4. “Leipzig Airport: Superhero Showdown” -Captain America: Civil War (2016)
- Commentary: This is an awesome, finely balanced, fantasy fulfillment, superhero smackdown that works like gangbusters as long as you are willing to go along with its central conceit: the two superhero teams want to stop each other, but aren't willing to bring out the biggest of their guns to do so (think like going to war with tanks and stuff because you aren't willing to use your nukes). If you've ever wondered what it would look like to see earth's finest heroes battle it out with each other then you finally get your wish here. I'm so grateful the creatives made this decision and chose to give it the kind of production values usually reserved for the finale of an Avengers film. The two basic teams are headed by Captain American and Iron Man. Captain America's team consists of the Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, Faclon, Ant-Man, and Scarlet Witch. Iron Man's team consists of Spider-Man, Rhodey, Black Widow, Black Panther, and Vision. It begins when Captain America (Steve Rogers) is confronted by Iron Man and his team as he heads toward a helicopter on the tarmac. They try to persuade Steve to stop his course of action and we get the dramatic stakes here - is Steve willing to go against several of his friends in order to continue to do what he thinks is right. Second dramatic stakes, who will the rest of the Avengers follow - Tony or Steve? When it's clear Steve won't relent, Spider-Man arrives (his first appearance in the MCU) and webs Steve's shield away. It turns out, Ant-Man is on Steve's shield and once the fight begins, he resizes, kicks Spider-Man, and returns the shield. I'm not going through the whole plot of the fight but wanted to make it clear this wasn't a "hey let's have em fight" thought by the writers, they really tried to give this fight several layers and have each combatant come out looking like they knew the conceit going in and tried to minimize the actual consequential fighting as much as possible. Let me just overview the rest: the next fifteen minutes or so is just a delight for action and comic book fans. Seeing superheroes work together, team up, and go one on one in unique matchups won't ever stop being a treat. For example: Falcon, Winter Soldier and Spider-Man (with quips!) fighting, Hawkeye trying to compete with clearly more powered being, Rhodey & Black Panther fighting with Captain America, Spider-Man trying to take out Captain America (with some great interaction in-between), and seeing Ant-Man steal scene after scene - especially in humungous form. I could have included 10-15 gifs of memorable individual shots here. It's all clear, shot well, in full daylight, with a great effects budget, and never ceases to engage or surprise. It's one of those sequences where they do such a good job that you just don't want the possible matchups to end. The ending however, does pack a decent punch as Widow turns on Panther and Vision accidentally shoots down Rhodey leading to an injury. This is a fight that only Marvel could have pulled off - after establishing these characters for nearly a decade and developing stunt and visual effects teams that could make our imaginations possible.
An all-time great action sequence. This does not mean it is a technically perfect action sequence, just that it is "perfect" to me. This is one I can watch over and over and it doesn't lose its power.
3. “Finale: Thanos vs Avengers on Titan and the Wakandan Plains” -Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
- Commentary: This is a bit of a cheat in my opinion, but I don't think there's a better way to appropriately honor the last hour of action in Infinity War. Although it takes place in two distinct places and in several phases for each fight, it is clearly one well-integrated masterpiece of an action finale and every attempt I made at breaking it up into smaller pieces just lost sight of the whole. The last hour or so of the film takes place in two major places. At this point, Marvel set the standard for production quality. By 2018, there was no (for several years) doing large scale battles with settings, costumes, cinematography, direction, stunts, creative imagination, and storytelling quality like the teams at Marvel. The first place for the finale is on the planet Titan where one half of the Avengers are fighting Thanos and attempting to keep the time stone away from him. The other place is the Wakandan plains where the other half of the Avengers (along with the Wakandan army) are attempting to keep Thanos' army from acquiring the mind stone. The sequence on Titan is the first real time we get to see Thanos fight our beloved heroes. This fight can be broken into three major parts: first you have the action beats of different people taking shots at Thanos. There is a lot of creativity and fun here as we imagine how the strengths of our heroes could possibly take out such a bad guy and Thanos responds by absorbing the blow and giving some kind of counterattack (he literally throws a moon at one point). A note here on the creative use of the power stones and how the filmmakers did an excellent job making it clear how and when Thanos was using each stone. The visual clarity is much appreciated and only really noticed when a filmmaker gets it wrong. The second major portion of the fight is the major plan to subdue and hold down Thanos using every major character. This is of course famously undermined by Star Lord's ego. The final portion of the fight is Thanos taking down the members one by one as they try to give their final shot. The two standouts here are Doctor Strange who gets an extended imaginative sequence and Iron Man who is clearly giving it his all and coming short...with the filmmakers teasing the audience with his demise. This sequence is masterfully intercut with the war going on back in Wakanda where a forcefield is used temporarily to keep Thanos' army out. Eventually, his army breaks through and we get a full-on battle from each side. Everyone gets stand out moments here - Nakia, Okoye, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, Black Panther, and Rhodey all given memorable beats. The biggest crowd pleaser is easily the arrival of Thor with his new axe and the incredible damage he is able to do. It's a splendid moment. Of course, Thanos eventually wins on Titan and makes his arrival in Wakanda where we get the most memorable ending of the entire Marvel universe. I have to admit, I absolutely love the sequences on Titan (they are the epitome of fantasy action to me) and I really like the Wakandan war. I felt like every moment against Thanos was a surprise and I never knew what everyone was fully capable of, how they might work together, or what cool trick Thanos might respond with. The Dr. Strange/Thanos stuff just felt like they could do anything they wanted - while I always knew it was still going to be grounded in the logic of the stones that had been established. Glorious stuff. While I don't think this action sequence is the overall best Marvel ever produced, I think Infinity War is the best overall film Marvel has produced. A large part of that is the ability to keep so many characters and storylines balanced alongside of the action in this finale. The guts to end the finale as they did may not leave the audience with the emotional high of 2012's Avengers, but it certainly was remembered for the stomach punch instead.
2. “Finale: The Avengers vs. Thanos & his Army” -Avengers: End Game (2019)
- Commentary: Similar to Infinitity Way, the finale here comprises nearly the last hour of the film. The time heist was successful and Smart Hulk has just snapped the infinity gauntlet to bring back everyone who was lost in Thanos' snap. As the group wonders if it worked, missiles from a time jumping Thanos hit the Avengers compound and destroys nearly everything. There are two clear goals for finale - the Avengers must get the stones back to the timeline they came from and in order to do that they must band together and defeat Thanos and his army (who obviously want the stones themselves). This phase of the finale follows Hawkeye trying to keep the gauntlet away from Thanos's minions and the time traveling "evil" Gamora. However, it is primarily centered on Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man fighting against Thanos three versus one. We all wanted to see this and the fight doesn't fail to deliver. This younger Thanos has an intimidating double blade the the ensuing fight is a visual and action delight. There's some creative moves the stunt coordinators incorporate here but the biggest delight belongs to the writers who give us the moment everyone has wondered about - can Captain America pick up Thor's hammer? It's a great moment. The three try valiantly, but are felled by a incredibly formidable Thanos, with only Rogers left with enough energy to keep going on after his shield as been hacked away. Rogers re-tightens his shield, Thano's army builds, and Cap gives the look that says he is ready to die fighting when we hear a crackle in his ear, "Cap, it's Sam can you hear me?...On your left" My theater went in an uproar at this moment. Portal after portal begins to open up as the music swells and the side for the Avengers gets bigger and bigger with every possible superhero joining their forces. It all crescendos with Captain America giving his command for the first time, "Avengers!..Assemble!" and the two sides rush into battle. Incredible moment - perfect writing. This second phase of the fight is just epic fantasy warfare heaven guys. The creatives are at the height of their powers here, every frame is engaging, dynamic, and packed with details and characters you recognize and love. This initial rush of battle is filled with fan pleasing pops: Big Ant Man crushing everything, Iron Man and Pepper fighting back to back, Spider-Man returning, you name it. After that rush, we get to narrative - the need to keep the stones away from Thanos and into Scott's van (it's a possible second time machine). The sequence becomes one big hot potato who's who after this trying to keep the Stones safe: Hawkeye, Black Panther, Spider-Man, Pepper, Valkyrie and more. Eventually, after Scarlet Witch is kicking Thanos' butt, he calls for missiles to be fired on the battle field. It's clever and results in the big guns for the Avengers like Scarlet Witch and Doctor Strange getting used up to hold off other threats like rushing water onto the battlefield. Eventually, Captain Marvel arrives and destroys Thanos' ship and becomes the biggest challenge to him. The "end game" of the sequence is a beautiful dramatic beat where Doctor Strange motions to Tony with 1 finger in the air - calling back his argument that there is only one possible scenario where they win. Tony realizes it requires him to actually die. Tony takes the stones from Thanos and snaps the end of the fight - which turns out to be the end of his life. Both sequences are great and filled with quality stuff, but I favor this sequence over the sheer creativity and shock ending of Infinity War's finale due to the unparalleled single pop of emotion and adrenaline in the Avengers Assemble moment and the emotional climax of Strange/Iron Man/Thanos. Those two emotional highs - one joyous, one grieving - set this sequence apart for me.
1. “Finale: The Battle of New York” -The Avengers (2012)
- Commentary: It seems obvious now, but nobody quite knew just how big a superhero team up finale would go. The promise of all these famous heroes getting together seemed to suggest something we had never seen before, but could they really deliver? The simple answer (with slight hyperbole here) is this: no one who left the theater in 2012 walked in with any clue what they were about to see and no one left disappointed. Marvel absolutely OVER delivered with this sequence, giving audiences one of the most jaw-dropping, enjoyable, and satisfying finales they'd ever seen. Whether or not you favor this finale or the ones from Infinity War or End Game I think is going to be subjective - but I think this one wins for the sheer total enjoyment factor. End Game might have more overall polish and the emotional/dramatic weight of the franchise going for it - but I think this one wins on sheer stand and cheer 'what a moment' pops! The basic premise of the sequence is that Loki has placed the Tesseract on the top of Stark Tower and with the help of Dr. Selvig is opening up a portal for a space army to come through. Once the portal opens up, the Chitauri army begins pouring through. This kicks off a near-nonstop 25 minute finale that still holds up nearly a decade after release. The movie has done a great job bringing up three key questions for our main players, "Will Iron Man make the selfless play? Will Captain America become the natural leader for the team? Will Banner be able to channel his green man for good?" This sequence pays off those questions in spades!
The first phase of the sequence is about setting the premise and our heroes slowly showing up to fight it. Iron Man is first and his interaction with Loki is humorous but he's thrown out of his tower and is saved by an Iron Man suit at the last second. He attempts to shoot down the Chitauri coming through the portal (in a couple amazing action visual effect shots) but is overwhelmed. Thor is the next to arrive and take on Loki to only get turned on (surprise) and Loki escape on one of the hovercraft. The quinjet arrives with Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Captain America and they work with Stark to them out in aerial battle. Loki takes a shot at the quinjet and takes it down to right in front of Stark Tower/Grand Central Terminal. More Chitauri come through including gigantic flying worm like things that carry many of the Chitauri troops. Captain America, Hawkeye, and Black Widow begin helping out civilians nearby and trying to get them to safety. The board is now set, civilians are trapped and threatened by the Chitauri army and the portal is still open. The heroes have arrived and circled up together including Banner who has arrived on a motorcycle, but how will they respond?
The second phase of the sequence sees Captain America take natural charge of the group. He surveys the area and begins ordering the group to their jobs. Hawkeye goes up top for eyes on the situation, Thor and Iron Man funnel the army into a small area, Captain and Widow keep the fight on the ground, and Hulk gets to smash. This part of the battle is just one crowd pleasing gigantic special effect after another. Whether it's Thor using lightning to bottleneck the portal, Hawkeye with his bird's eye view and excellent aim, Iron Man with his dynamic flight pattern throughout the city, Widow taking great chances to get to the sceptor, or the scene stealing Hulk who gets to smash things in such fun ways - this is action bliss right here. The crown jewel of this incredible phase is a absolutely spectacular one-take that shows all of our heroes working together and showing off their strengths. It begins with Black Widow taking over a Chitauri hovercraft, then Iron Man comes into view and we follow him as he takes out enemies, lands in front of Grand Central Terminal and bounces his blasts off of Captain America's shield then takes off up a nearby skyscraper to take out more enemies as he passes by Hawkeye, the camera now follows him as he fires away taking out a Chitauri flyer that is hit by a great flying leviathan that reveals Hulk and Thor pounding away at Chitauri on top of it and taking it down. It is breathtaking and the moment is capped off by Hulk taking a friendly little hit on Thor. I remember the theater being giddy with enjoyment at this moment. Captain saves some hostages and we get a moment to breathe and think about the damage being done as we enter the third and final phase of the battle - stopping the portal.
Fury is told by the war council to send a jet and nuke the city and the Chitauri army - something he doesn't want to do. Black Widow finally makes her way to the roof of Stark Tower and is told by Selvig that Loki's sceptor can possibly stop it. Loki thankfully was just beaten to a pulp in another crowd pleasing scene by Hulk, the scepter is just a couple floors below. The rest of the group continues to fight (in many more awesome looking action beats), but they are running out of ammo and time. We sense the end is nearing. Despite Fury's attempt at stopping them, at least one nuclear armed jet has been launched. The jet fires the missile and Stark decides he is going to try and guide the nuke up into the portal and just as he does, Black Widow can close down the portal. It's a lovely decision that puts to the test Tony Stark's willingness to sacrifice for the good of others. I love the dramatic moment of Hulk catching Tony as he falls back down to earth and we get a moment to wonder if Tony is still alive or not. That moment turns into your typical Stark snark after Hulk yells him awake, "What just happened. Please tell me nobody kissed me." He later brings up the idea of getting shawarma together and this is beautifully paid off in the end credits - a sequence that isn't just funny but is a perfect amount of levity and fellowship for the moment. It's a beautiful addition. Folks, you run out of positive words for sequences like this one. I'm so grateful for the ambition of the creatives behind this film and the greater MCU franchise that is responsible for this cinematic delight. I hope they all went and got shawarma together afterwards!