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1 | 100.00%
When you have all of your major heroes clash and the word “war” in the title of your movie, you better deliver. Thankfully, the big set piece of Captain America: Civil War is everything fans could have hoped for. It’s big, perfectly paced, and features great moment after great moment. What gives the scene it’s levity is that the heroes aren’t trying to kill each other; it’s just one side trying to get around the other, but the way it all plays out is fantastic. It’s a set piece where you can have a joyous moment like Spider-Man wrapping up Giant-Man and then switch to something heavy like War Machine plummeting to the ground. This scene has it all, and it’s going to be tough for the Russo Brothers to top themselves with the Avengers sequels.
2 | 0.00%
Most of Marvel’s films end with an aerial battle of some sort and Iron Man 3 is no different, but boy is it a blast to watch. With each successive Iron Man film, fans clamored to see more and more suits from the comics onscreen. They got their wish and then some with Iron Man 3, in which a bevy of drone-like suits come to Stark’s rescue during the climactic battle. It’s a fun showcase of the many, many different types of armor that Tony’s been working on, and director Shane Black stages it well by offering up a number of different twists on a typical fight scene; suits break apart and come back together as Tony switches from one to the next in a series of quick changes. This dynamic set piece serves to both highlight each suit’s individual merit and underline the fact that Tony’s PTSD has kept him very busy.
3 | 0.00%
The superpowers of the Ant-Man suit provided director Peyton Reed with plenty of opportunities to craft some visually spectacular set pieces, but the coup de gras is actually a holdover from when Edgar Wright was attached to helm. The genius of the climactic battle between Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man and Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket atop a Thomas the Train Engine isn’t simply that it’s taking place on a toy, but that at the moment of the big derailment, Reed snaps back into real-size view as we watch the toy fall apart in anticlimactic fashion. It’s a tremendous punchline, but the buildup is solid as well, with visually dynamic fisticuffs all playing out within a child’s bedroom.
4 | 0.00%
As far as the stakes go–Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) running from a dull villain (Mads Mikkelsen) and his acolytes–are fairly low, but visually this is one of the most impressive things Marvel has ever done. While the visuals rely heavily on kaleidoscopic imagery mixed with some of Christopher Nolan‘s Inception, it’s hard not to get sucked into the vibrancy on display. This is the kind of reality bending that few other movies can offer, and it’s the kind of set piece that feels unique to a Doctor Strange movie. It’s thrilling while it’s going on, and it’s a shame that the rest of the movie isn’t up to par.
5 | 0.00%
While The Winter Soldier boasts its fair share of memorable action sequences, it’s the close-quarters ones that really end up making an impression. The attack on Nick Fury’s vehicle comes out of nowhere and never lets up, as Samuel L. Jackson’s character finds himself cornered with no escape. The S.H.I.E.L.D. tech and bulletproof glass puts a nice spin on the “vehicle attacked” action cliché, but the brilliance of the sequence is how adeptly the tension is balanced. At this point in the film, the audience isn’t quite sure who the bad guy is and why Fury is being ambushed, and as the sequence begins to stack the cards against Fury’s favor, we slowly grow to realize the S.H.I.E.L.D. director may not make it out of here unscathed.
6 | 0.00%
The Thor sequel is probably not one of the most memorable of Marvel’s efforts, but it does feature the best third act action sequence of them all. Yes there’s an aerial battle quality to it, but director Alan Taylor uses the somewhat silly Convergence plot to his advantage by having the London-set final showdown fall in and out of the various dimensions. Characters disappear into places unknown, creatures are mistakenly transported to the streets of London, and even jet fighters find themselves lost in another world; it’s not your typical “Boss Battle,” and that’s what makes it so refreshing. Throw in a heavy and healthy dose of humor thanks to Jane and Selvig’s attempts to control the Convergence, as well as Kat Dennings’ scene-stealing Darcy shouting “Meow-Meow!”, and the final action sequence of Thor: The Dark World is one hell of a delightful surprise.
7 | 0.00%
It’s hard to forget your first time. Iron Man set the stage for all that came afterwards, and director Jon Favreau smartly structured the film as a bit of a mystery so that audiences wouldn’t be looking at their watch waiting for “Iron Man” to finally appear. When the suited character finally appears onscreen, he makes the grandest of entrances as Tony busts out of the cave in the Mark I armor, immediately following an incredibly tense buildup while the suit powers on. It works so well not only because it looks really cool, but also because we as viewers have become emotionally invested in Tony’s survival through Favreau’s fractured structure. We desperately want Tony to make it out of that cave, so when he finally does, it’s an absolutely joy. But then Favreau caps the sequence off with a note of sadness in the death of Yinsen, whose sacrifice serves to inform Tony’s actions throughout the rest of the film. Thrills, character, and emotion all coalesce perfectly in Marvel’s first—and second-best—action sequence.
8 | 0.00%
The crown jewel of The Winter Soldier is the most claustrophobic action sequence in Marvel’s history: the elevator fight. Again, the sequence’s brilliance lies in how well the tension is managed, with character after character filing into the elevator before Cap’s clever verbal warning brings things to a halt and prepares the audience for a serious throwdown. The scene is beautifully staged and executed with pinpoint precision, but more importantly it presents the audience with a situation in which Cap may very well be the underdog. The Winter Soldier is all about vulnerability and the limits of control, and in a world where superheroes have a major leg-up in relation to mortals, the reminder that Cap isn’t untouchable serves to both raise the stakes and strengthen the audience’s emotional investment in the character’s well-being.
9 | 0.00%
Writer/director Joss Whedon was under an immense amount of pressure on Avengers: Age of Ultron, not the least of which came from himself. The filmmaker pulled off the impossible with The Avengers, but now he had to deliver a sequel that appeased fans but didn’t simply coast on the goodwill of the first movie. It’s an equally difficult task that Whedon beautifully pulls off by approaching the film visually, tonally, and structurally from an entirely different angle. And while the third act “Battle of Sokovia” action set piece is certainly the most flashy, the film’s—and Marvel’s—best action sequence is the Hulk vs. Hulkbuster fight. It’s a beautifully choreographed battle that continually surprises, from the arrival of Veronica to the evolution of the Hulkbuster armor mid-fight. And yes, Tony punching the hell out of Hulk’s face is funny, but it’s the focus on character and emotion that really makes this thing sing. At heart, these are two friends beating each other to a pulp. Tony is trying to limit collateral damage to zero, while Hulk is raging from Scarlet Witch’s mind trickery and feeling more exposed by the second. Whedon masterfully crafts this action sequence to work on multiple levels, from thrills to sadness, and it’s for all these reasons and more that it’s the best Marvel Cinematic Universe action set piece so far.
10 | 0.00%
Since The Avengers acted as the capper to Marvel’s ambitious Phase One series of films, everyone expected big things from the grand finale. We weren’t disappointed, as Whedon and Marvel gave us everything from giant space centipedes to Hulk smashing any and everything in his path (including Thor). Things were always going to get a bit cluttered with this many moving pieces operating in the third act, but Whedon handles the action deftly by giving each character his or her moment to shine while also acknowledging the role that the Avengers are there to play: they’re there first and foremost to save the city, not destroy the enemy. Equal weight is given to the Avengers saving people as it is to the Avengers punching bad guys, and that makes this third act sequence somewhat unique in a sea of same-feeling Marvel third act battle sequences.