Action scenes! Part of the parcel that comes with comic book films. Thanks to the rise of computers and new filming techniques we have seen some truly spectacular comic book battles, and to honour Avengers: Endgame let’s take a look at some of the finest brawls presented on the silver screen. To qualify for this list, two or more combatants must be physically battling each other and have somewhat equal strength. Excluded are chase scenes (with warm regards to The Dark Knight’s highway pursuit), one sided demolishing (Wonder Woman kind of thrashes the German Army with no effort in the iconic No Man’s Land scene, despite it being a magnificent sequence) and action scenes that have no actual battles between opponents (take Nightcrawler’s White House sequence or Quicksilver’s standout scene in Days of Future Past). With that aside, let’s look at how the comic book world’s finest slug it out-
10. Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Liz Sherman and Johann Kraus vs Nuada and the Golden Army- Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Guillermo del Toro’s magnificent sequel ends with a battle royale between the BPRD and the amassed forces of the Golden Army led by the maniacal Prince Nuada. Hellboy decides to face his opponent directly and engages in a fantastic duel with the Prince, whilst Johann Kraus starts to turn the Golden Army on itself. Del Toro refuses to let a shot go to waste as each second of this fantastically put together fight oozes style and attention to detail. I love how the floor itself starts to twist and turn and turns the battle into a video game level, with multiple challenges for our hero to overcome. Every character, who we’ve grown to love by this point, gets a moment in the spotlight and the battle is strong on both a physical and emotional level.
9. Wolverine vs the Yatsuka- The Wolverine
In hindsight The Wolverine was merely the appetiser before the main course we got four years later, but that doesn’t take away from this outstanding scene in the middle of the film that sees Logan brawl against the Yatsuka on top of a Japanese bullet train. Once again we have higher stakes than usual because our hero is weak from the adamantium poisoning and the literally high speed action creates an exhilarating experience. Whilst it is only the second best superhero train scene the sequence is still a masterful piece of directing by the always underrated James Mangold and is an expertly crafted sequence full of great details such as Wolverine being able to withstand the high speeds and take out his opponents despite being outnumbered. A very underappreciated sequence from an equally underappreciated film.
8. Doctor Strange vs Keacilius and his followers- Doctor Strange
This dynamic and unique battle occupies a significant portion of the film’s second act. What’s brilliant about this fight is the way Scott Derrickson structures it and ensures it keeps evolving visually. There’s fist fights and martial arts mixed with spells being flung everywhere, before Kaecilius literally turns the battle upside down and an extra level of difficulty is given to our hero, who is still trying to figure out the Mystic Arts. This isn’t even everything the battle does, as Strange’s cloak joins in as a combatant in its own right and the dimensional doors are used in a clever way. Finally, both the real world and the Astral Plane are incorporated as well, creating one of Marvel’s most dynamic and interesting battles.
7. Logan and Laura vs the Reavers- Logan
OK, this has two enhanced characters vs ordinary soldiers, but when one is slowly dying and the other is eleven years old the odds are evened slightly. In case you forgot this film was for adults Laura, aka X-23, begins the melee by throwing the decapitated head of a hapless Reavers before going to town on the massed forces who underestimated just how powerful she is. Logan joins the battle later and the tension is higher than usual due to the fact that he can be injured and hurt in this film. The two mutants are also trying to escape the compound and the elderly Xavier isn’t helping matters by being insane. The battle has a great score courtesy of Marco Beltrami and excellent choreography and tight camera movements by James Mangold that capture the kinetic energy of the action, before climaxing in a tense car chase which ends the sequence on a high.
6. Captain America and Black Widow vs the Winter Soldier- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
In Marvel’s masterpiece the computer effects and aliens are eschewed in favour of a fist fight that sees Steve Rogers battle a personal threat. In a masterfully executed jump scare the Winter Soldier begins the battle by overturning the car our heroes are in and then a whole platoon of soldiers appear, outnumbering Cap and setting up the most intense sequence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black Widow and the Falcoln join in the battle but as they are not super powered it’s a genuine moment of dread when Natasha is shot and wounded. Masterful choreography and fight coordination sees a gripping and realistic one-on-one between Cap and the Winter Soldier that is punctuated by incredible stunts and dramatic weight that ends with the revelation of who the Winter Soldier is and setting up the rest of the film brilliantly.
5. Wolverine vs Lady Deathstrike- X2
You can always count on Wolverine for a good brawl. In X2, Wolverine goes through a personal journey and meets his physical match in Lady Deathstrike, and they proceed to duke it out in the very room Logan was transformed. This fight is simple but what elevates is the brutality and raw power of both combatants and the outstanding choreography. The stuntwork is seamless and the fight is the first hint towards the intense action of Logan over a decade later. With neither combatant getting hurt and both unstoppable forces the tension is high and the short but sweet one on one is rightly one of the most beloved sequences in the whole X-Men franchise. 16 years later it still holds up and it shows that less is more when it comes to exhilarating comic book action scenes.
4. The Battle of Wakanda- Avengers: Infinity War
Not since Return of the King was such a significant percentage of the film’s run time dedicated to a single battle. And this is a battle, and a brutal one at that. The whole nation of Wakanda becomes the warground for Thanos’s Black Order and their army of Outriders to try and capture the Mind Gem. The Avengers are not at their strongest and this helps create genuine stakes. The Russos pace the carnage expertly by structuring the battle into acts- before T’Challa lifts the shield, the head on conflict, the arrival of Black Order machines and Scarlet Witch joining the fray, Thor, Rocket and Groot joining the brawl and finally Thanos arriving to claim his prize. Every character gets a standout moment and it ends with the iconic moment where Thanos finally completes the Gauntlet and snaps his fingers. It’s an experience that simply has to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
3. Aquaman and Mera vs Black Manta and the Atlanteans- Aquaman
What happens when you let a comic book splash page come to life? You get the insane Sicily battle royale in Aquaman. As Arthur and Mera try to track down the lost trident of Atlantis, Atlanteans led by the vengeful Black Manta launch an attack on our heroes. What follows is one of the craziest sequences of last year, as the various sides tear the town apart trying to escape or capture each other. Black Manta proves to be a genuine danger to Arthur due to his technology and the future King of Atlantis must try and avoid physical combat yet also find a way to win. The Atlanteans meanwhile are trying to capture Mera and a high speed chase across the rooftops occurs at the same time. James Wan manages to juggle multiple combatants and multiple conflicts wonderfully through his dynamic direction and the sequence, whilst tense and exciting, is also just sheer fun and adrenaline filled. More like this please DC.
2. Team Cap vs Team Iron Man- Captain America: Civil War
Oh come on, of course this would be on the list. Twelve superheroes lock into battle against each other as former friends duel at an airport in an attempt to stop each other. On top of the obvious emotional and character weight it’s just so fun seeing superheroes beat each other up and the battle is ruled over by new arrival Spider-Man and the MVP himself Scott Lang, who easily steals the show by becoming Giant-Man. The Russos pull back and let the carnage fly off the screen by depicting various battles at once and the battle is the culmination of everything Marvel set out to do with their cinematic universe- spectacle, spectacle and spectacle. For sixteen glorious minutes Civil War becomes every fan’s dream come true. If there’s one nitpick I would offer I wish the most powerful players- Scarlet Witch and the Vision- got more to do and had their own duel. But that’s just a minor complaint against this masterful scene.
1. Spider-Man vs Doctor Octopus- Spider-Man 2
To date, this is still the best comic book action scene of all time. When Doc Oc captures Mary Jane as a means to bring Spider-Man to Harry Osborne, the webhead confronts his eight legged foe on a clock tower, before their scuffle takes them flying onto a train rooftop as they duel. Sam Raimi brings a comic book to life as the fight takes the combatants all across the train and thanks to a blend of CGI and practical effects the fight feels real and you feel every punch. Both sides have clear stakes in the conflict and because of the film taking the time to establish the characters this fight feels completely well earnt after an entire act of build up. I love how Raimi brings in his horror roots by using closeups and moments of light tension to build up to jump scares and take breaks in the action and Danny Elfman, always the genius that he is, punctuates the scene with one of his best scores (and that’s saying a lot). It’s simply perfection.
As the comic book movie boom shows no sign of fading, my only hope is many more dynamic battle scenes are brought to life on the big screen.