This Was The Biggest Challenge In Filming Captain America: The Winter Soldier's Famous Elevator Fight [Exclusive]

Marvel Cinematic Universe films are a curiosity among modern superhero movies in that they're lauded for their general spectacle but not so much for their action scenes. What's more, at the risk of kicking the proverbial hornet's nest, this is one area where recent DC films have surpassed their Marvel peers. Where the one-on-one fights in the MCU often boil down to a bunch of weightless computer-generated images bashing one another silly, the brawls in DC titles like "Batman v Superman," "Aquaman," and "Birds of Prey" boast precise choreography and a tangible sense of danger.

There are a few exceptions, like some of the more memorable martial arts throwdowns from "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" and, if we're including the old Marvel Television shows, the stellar one-take tussles in Netflix's "Daredevil." Of course, there's one MCU movie action scene that towers over all the rest and that's the fabulous elevator fight from 2014's "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." Even the film's directors, the Russo Brothers, couldn't resist nodding to the time Steve Rogers laid the smackdown on a lift full of HYDRA agents with a key scene in their 2019 Infinity Saga capper, "Avengers: Endgame."

Much of the MCU's best action owes a debut to Chris Brewster, who served as a stunt double for the Steve Rogers character in "The Winter Soldier" and acted as Charlie Cox's stunt double on "Daredevil" on top of being a fight choreographer and stunt coordinator. Among his many other credits since then are "Black Adam," which he worked on as a stunt and fight coordinator. In an interview with /Film's Jack Giroux to discuss the Dwayne Johnson-led DC film, Brewster looked back at "The Winter Soldier" and recalled the biggest challenge of its elevator fight: keeping the whole thing feeling realistic.

No waiting turns

As Brewster told it, it was "The Winter Soldier" stunt coordinator Thomas Robinson Harper (who was also a stunt coordinator on "Black Adam") who "brought me up to be one of the coordinators alongside him" on the "Captain America" movie sequel. Harper, it ought to be noted, got his start doing uncredited stunt work on films in the late 1970s and would go on to work on projects as varied as "Waterworld," "The Patriot," "The Matrix Reloaded," and "Superbad" prior to making his MCU debut as a stunt coordinator on "Iron Man" in 2008. In Brewster's words:

"[Harper is] the guy. He is the legend. He is the absolute top of the stunt world, my idol, and the person who's paved the road for me to do what I do."

Continuing, Brewster said that Harper "called me up basically the day that he got the job" to assist him on "The Winter Soldier." The duo wasted no time in getting to work on the film's elevator fight after that, recognizing early on it would be a very difficult scene to pull off as envisioned. "We literally built the elevator out of boxes and pads and everything, and we just started walking through the space seeing what was doable," Brewster explained.

The key, as they saw it, was to avoid having anyone fight in an unrealistic fashion, e.g. visibly waiting for their turn to attack Steve Rogers. "There's nothing worse than seeing somebody do a big setup for a move and seeing three people just waiting for them to do the move instead of hitting them while they're setting up," Brewster observed. "We try to find the reality in the movement, but still stylize it and make it as flashy and dynamic and exciting as we possibly can."

Choreographing the fight, one person at a time

One need look no further than what the internet has infamously declared the "Worst Fight Scene Ever" (i.e. the gloriously awkward battle between Kirk and the Gorn on "Star Trek: The Original Series") to grasp what Brewster is talking about here. In order to avoid this, he and Harper carefully planned out and choreographed the elevator fight scene one character at a time:

"We like to choreograph a fight scene and obviously think of the hero and the main characters first, but then we'll go through the fight scene and play every single character in the fight. What are you doing at this moment? Because it takes one person in the background of a fight to ruin the entire fight. As soon as you see the main character go by them and they do nothing, it's like,'No, that guy would've done something.' If there's ever a moment that feels forced or fake, we're like, 'No, we have to fix that.' We'll go back and redesign until everything makes sense to us."

It worked, too. Eight years later, the MCU has yet to deliver a skirmish that's quite as exhilarating as the time a bunch of HYDRA clowns declined Steve Rogers' polite invitation to vacate the elevator "Before we get started." Even to this day, actors like Anthony Mackie — whose MCU counterpart, Sam Wilson, took up the Captain America mantle in "The Falcon and the Winter Solider" and will continue to wield the shield in the upcoming "Captain America: New World Order" — are holding out hope they, too, will get a fight scene to rival that one.