If you happen to have at least some interest in both martial arts and superheroes, one of the cool little things to enjoy about the ever-expanding live action Marvel-verse is how each person has their own combat style that’s completely in keeping with their character.
On the TV side, Jessica Jones fights with a smashmouth strength that perfectly complements her powers (and her personality) while her best friend Trish keeps a dojo in her home where she can study self-defense techniques that will help to protect her in all-too-human moments of weakness and vulnerability. Actor Finn Jones, who recently landed the lead role of Daniel Rand in the forthcoming Iron First series, is putting himself through a grueling schedule of multiple hours of kung fu, wushu, tai chi, and weight training so that he can do Daniel’s extensive martial arts background justice.
On the big screen, the Black Widow fights like a highly-trained spy. Iron Man, Thor, and even Ant-Man all go into battle with a mix of intelligence, preternatural power, and technological support that makes sense for their backgrounds, gifts, and gadgets. Perhaps the most interesting example of all, though, is Captain America. From his debut in the 2011 origin film Captain America: The First Avenger to the latest Marvel offering, Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans) has continued to acquire and show off new combat techniques with an impressive amount of style, skill, and consistency. As we prepare for Captain America: Civil War, which comes out on May 6, let’s take a look at the efforts that the filmmakers, stunt coordinators, co-stars, and Evans himself have been putting into the Captain’s continuing martial arts evolution.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
In his debut as Steve Rogers, the weakling army reject-turned-super soldier thanks to his participation in the experimental program Project Rebirth in 1942, Evans’s combat training concerns took a back seat to basic muscle-building. The star already had a somewhat solid background in on-screen fighting thanks to his part as a karate-kicking bruiser of a villain in 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and his first stab at superhero-dom as The Human Torch Johnny Storm in the 2007 attempt at Fantastic Four, but he needed to put on even more muscle to play the genetically enhanced Rogers.
To accomplish that, he put in hours a day at the gym with Simon Waterson, the man who helped Daniel Craig get in shape for Casino Royale. “We would take two muscle groups, whether it was chest and back or biceps and triceps and we would just destroy those muscles, literally, for about two hours. Then we’d cool down with core and abs,” Evans told Men’s Health in August, 2011. “It was grueling, it was brutal and I’d find any excuse possible not to go,” he laughed. “But I had to do it.”
When it came to establishing his physical abilities, the actor had the following conversation with the First Avenger filmmakers: “When I came into it I was interested about, ‘what are the extent of his abilities. Can the guy jump over mountains? What can he actually do?’ because I think that will affect how cool the movie looks in the end. You want him to be someone who is obviously superior, obviously able, but you don’t want the guy punching through brick walls,” Evans told Super Hero Hype in June, 2011. “They basically equated it to, he would crush the Olympics. Any Olympic sport he’s gonna dominate. He can jump higher, run faster, lift stronger weight, but he can be injured. He could roll an ankle and be out for the season. He’s not perfect, he’s not untouchable. So a lot of the effects, if I’m going to punch someone they’re not going to put them on a cable and fly them back 50 feet, but he’s going to go down, probably not getting back up, which I think humanizes it. It makes it something that, again, I think everyone can relate to a little bit more, which I really like.”
Here’s a taste of Steve being strong in that movie:
The Avengers (2012)
Although Steve Rogers was thawed decades into his future/our present for the first Avengers film, his physique (which Evans largely maintained from his previous film) and physical arsenal remained quite similar, save for one highly memorable development. The Captain’s more abilities took on a slightly less realistic bent when he punched a heavy bag (or ten) straight across the room.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
By the time that directors Anthony and Joe Russo, started to talk to Evans about making The Winter Soldier, he been spending a lot more time thinking about his character’s fighting skills. “In between the first Captain America movie and The Avengers, I had played the Captain America video game. I’m not really a video game guy. But someone handed me the controller, and I was playing, and the way Cap moves in the video game, there’s a fluidity and it’s very acrobatic. It’s very aerial. He uses his environment, and it’s almost this beautiful, smooth dance,” the star told a blogging panel in promotion of the movie in 2014.
So he asked the Russo brothers if they’d played the game. “And I swear to God, they said: ‘You know what? We referenced the video game, too.’ I said, ‘Good, good, we’re on the same page. But that means we need to incorporate a little bit more of an acrobatic approach to fighting.’ And so we put myself in gymnastic classes, which is something I always wanted to do – kind of, anyway. [laughs] I mean, I wanted to go play on like, the balance beam, but it was more like tumbling, essentially. Parkour-style gymnastic stuff. Flipping, and spinning, and just kind of getting a sense of your body in the air. So we did about two months of that. We did two months, a few hours each day, and it was invaluable. It really lends itself to a lot of those fight scenes.”
Having UFC legend Georges St-Pierre play one of the Captain’s antagonists helped elevate his fight game, too.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
When it came time to make the Avengers sequel, Evans had only one concern for writer/director Joss Whedon. “The only thing I kind of talked to [him] about was [Steve’s] ability consistency. You know, with the second Captain America we really pushed the envelope in terms what this guy was capable of, which I was excited to see because the first Captain America he’s just strong. In Avengers it was still in my opinion a little bit punch, punch, kick, kick,” he told Cinema Blend last year. “His fight style needs to advance a little bit. I don’t wanna go full Bruce Lee, but there needs to be more than just haymakers and fun kicks. There needs to be a style of fight. There needs to be a consistent display of strength.”
You can see some of Steve’s evolving skill in his big moment against the film’s bad guy, Ultron:
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
While we don’t know much about what Captain America’s fights will look like in the new movie, or how Evans has been preparing for the role this time around, we suspect that the debut of Black Panther will add a new dimension to the action. The brilliant prince of Wakanda, also known as T’Challa, is famously trained – and quite gifted – in martial arts. And Chadwick Boseman, the actor who will be playing him in the film universe, also brings his own training to the role.
According to director Joe Russo, Boseman is “playing the character with a real intensity and a real grace. He’s got a movement style that he brought because he has a background in martial arts and it’s fascinating. He moves like none of the other characters in the universe. We really distinguished him.”
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly last December, Boseman said the following about his fighting style: “There are some animal forms, but not just a cat. He could be a snake, or various different styles. Obviously there’s an opportunity to do some capoeira. The key with T’Challa is to keep everybody on their toes. It’s to do the thing that is surprising, that you wouldn’t expect. […] I wouldn’t say he’s a ninja, but he does employ some of those aspects as well.”
Boseman went on to suggest that T’Challa and Rogers won’t get any one-on-one combat time in the new movie, but given the secrecy that surrounds these films, we’re not going to give up hope just yet. We’ll just have to wait until May 6 to see how it all plays out.
Are you a fan of the Marvel movies? Are you looking forward to what Captain America does next? Let us know in the comments!