CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR - the ABC's of a Battle Royale

Captain America: Civil War - movie posterIn the aftermath of this year’s May Day and Cinco de Mayo, even the ghosts of past revolutions will be clamoring to find seats at Marvel Studio's most ambitious movie yet: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. Capitalizing on the current political climate, it acts as a Dit Da Jiao for movie critics and comic book fans who are still nursing bruised sensibilities after the BATMAN V SUPERMAN split decision. Serving as Part Three to a nominal Captain America trilogy, the movie marks the beginning of MARVEL's "Phase Three" according to studio President Kevin Feige.  It also acts as an extended trailer for couple of other movies scheduled for the years to come.

The Russo brothers, Anthony and Joe, having earned the trust of the studio by adapting the post-Cold-War Captain America storyline WINTER SOLDIER (2014), have their pick of toys from the Marvel toy box. As a result, CIVIL WAR also acts as a subtle course correction and suitable sequel to the tepid AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015).  CIVIL WAR is fully aware of its status as Part 13 (+/-) of an ongoing meta-saga which officially began with IRON MAN (2008).  The success of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy (2002-2007) also have a role to play. 

A is for Arachnids 
After failing to generate similar success with a second reboot (or that not-so-FANTASTIC FOUR reboot), Sony Pictures decided to "cry uncle".  They reached an unprecedented deal with Marvel studios, redefining the concept of a cross-over. The result is a third big screen adaptation of Marvel's original troubled movie property Spider-Man. But before anyone gets dressed in brightly colored spandex, the Russos have an espionage thriller to revisit. 

The 2016 version of Spider-Man

Opening as a much less bloody CASINO ROYALE, Captain America's current line-up of Avengers are equal parts superheroes (Cap and Falcon) and plain clothes operatives (Scarlet Witch and Black Widow) looking to stop a super-powered arms sale. The resulting snafu drives the movie's plot, but also spotlights the value of Marvel studio's second most exposed character. Appearing now in her fifth movie, Black Widow fills the screen with her competence, the ‘proof of concept’ for a Black Widow movie someday.
One question that immediately comes to mind is whether or not she's continued the Wushu practice she began while filming THE AVENGERS (2012). Or is the weird science behind a disturbingly young Tony Stark also placing a Scarlett Johansson face onto the body of gymnast and stunt woman Heidi Moneymaker.  Vaulting into stunt work almost immediately after gymnastics-sponsored education, Moneymaker got her first taste of wire-fu on the set of CHARLIE’S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE (2003) under the tutelage of Hong Kong fight director and choreographer Yuen Cheung-yan. Since then, she's stunt-doubled in projects like STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI (2009) and the FAST & FURIOUS franchise. But her greatest work to date has been as the physical force behind every Black Widow fight scene. 

Black Widow


B is for Blunt Force Trauma
Among those returning from CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER is Captain America stunt double and now fight coordinator Sam Hargrave. Also returning is fight choreographer and WINTER SOLDIER stunt double James Young. Both martial-trained stuntmen were key in giving WINTER SOLDIER a grounded fight logic that made the occasional feats of super strength or skill a dramatic contrast to the over-the-top swords-and-hammers at the other end of the Marvel spectrum - THOR: THE DARK WORLD

Considering the amount of thought that was devoted to the fighting style of each principle character, the Russos were wise to let their crew expand on that thinking. When discussing the evolution of Captain America's fighting style, Thomas Robinson Harper, stunt coordinator for WINTER SOLDIER, described utilizing a combination of Parkour, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Karate, and boxing “…to show that he [Captain America] had done his homework since he thawed out.” Adding to that, Hargrave's work experience includes stunts in KAMEN RIDER: DRAGON KINGHT (2009) and work as assistant fight choreographer in the MMA-themed drama, WARRIOR (2011). Thus he's been able to incorporate MMA along with the Taekwondo, Judo and Jujitsu already on his extensive repertoire. 

James Young has also professes a lifelong love of martial arts and goes so far as to list Jun Fan Gung Fu first on a lists of skills which include Chinese Boxing, Kickboxing, Jeet Kune Do, MMA, Boxing, Wing Chun Kung Fu, Karate, Aikido, Tricking, Stage Fights, Parkour and Fight Choreography before moving on to such things as Tennis, Soccer and Baseball and before returning to Japanese Sword, Staff, Knives. Beyond his work for Marvel, Young's other notable project is RAZE (2013) the horror/action vehicle for KILL BILL (2003 & 2004) stunt double and Quentin Tarantino muse Zoë Bell.  Think BLOODSPORT for women. Together they fill the screen with fast paced Super-fight sequences that include some of the most wish-fulfilling gun disarms caught on camera. Gun fu continues to figure prominently throughout Marvel's movies. It's certainly in keeping with the number of characters who are actually soldiers (Captain America, Falcon, War Machine and Winter Soldier) or spies (Black Widow and Hawkeye).  

While the Iron suits function as fighter jets one can wear, there's a fun spin on an aerial drone.  Plus there’s a riot shield that makes the Falcon an action contender while Anthony Mackie gets in a few choice punch lines. Surprisingly, there is another weapon the fight choreographers profess their love for throughout the movie.  Unlike the iconic shield, it's a weapon that comes in different forms and is wielded by different characters: the Baton. Return viewers may recall the Black Widow's super-charged Escrima Sticks. This time it's Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye who receives a weapons upgrade adding a short-lived Keibo to his quiver of trick arrows. There's another surprise instance of the hardest of Hard Whips, but do describe it further would spoil one of the movie's many gadget gags.  

Hawkeye's super archery in Captain America: Civil War


C is for combatants 
The Russo brothers play lightly on the schism inducing pathos, remembering to maintain interest with healthy doses of action peppered with humor. The international stops call to mind the Bourne and Bond movies, while a stop in Cleveland makes one wonder if the Russos or writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have copies of Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor in their collection. It is in this mix of drama and action where Marvel brings the long anticipated Black Panther to the big screen. 

With claws to rival Wolverine, and completely sealed in his costume, the Black Panther is made to look utterly badass. Ably acted by Chadwick Boseman (out of costume or minus headgear) credit is also due to stunt doubles Jason Chu and Gui DaSilva-Greene. The collection of skills between them include Cirque du Soleil acrobatics, Capoeira, Judo, Jujitsu, Parkour and Taekwondo. Various skills in Staff, Nunchaku and Katana were left unused.  But when the character has a completely bulletproof bodysuit and those killer claws, those weapons skills seem quaint. Thus the Black Panther bridges the gap in the power differential between Iron Men and Super Soldiers. With Ryan Coogler, writer/director of CREED (2015) in charge of the upcoming 2018 BLACK PANTHER movie, this promises to be a truly badass feature film. 

Black Panther action sequence


As more characters are introduced - or crossed over - the movie switches from superspy thriller to full on Lucha Libre. Masks are donned, sides are picked and a whole airport is evacuated to make way for the iconic Superhero on Superhero Battle Royale. As the ultimate in tag-team matches ratchets power levels up to gigantic proportions, the witty banter grows increasingly meta, yet remaining shy of DEADPOOL levels of raunchiness. Conspicuously shot in the full light of day, as much of the action is, the movie relishes in the absurdity of the epic battle and it's about time. Marvel has polished their formula for introducing heroes so thoroughly that their most glaring blemish continues to be an overreliance on faceless hordes for heroes to fend off, something this film’s premise sidesteps. In CIVIL WAR, the faceless hordes are of the gas-masked Special Forces variety who are dispensed with early on. In this way, fight matches can play out one-on-one, two-on-one, two-on-two, three, four and more. 

Behind the anarchy of the super-powered fisticuffs, there remains a shadowy bad spy, loosely borrowed from SKYFALL, but not as faceless as comic fans might hope. Thankfully William Hurt is on hand to offer gravitas and menace as the face of Marvel's Military-Prison-Bureaucracy, ostensibly the true villain of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. Check it out. 

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About Patrick Lugo :
Find us on facebook Patrick Lugo is Senior Designer at Kung Fu Tai Chi Magazine and has done design and illustration work for several martial art books. Most notably, he illustrated the award winning Little Monk & the Mantis. More can be found at

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