How The Marvel Directors Approach Their Action Scenes, According To A Top Marvel Fight Choreographer

All of the movies produced by Marvel Studios exist within the same franchise - dubbed the Marvel Cinematic Universe - but to say that every single feature is the same is completely untrue. Regularly mixing up styles, genres, and tones, each entry tries something new, which is why they've remained successful and popular. Of course, the variety in directors that the studio hires has a lot to do with this -- and it's something that fight choreographer James Young has kept track of during his time working on Marvel features.

In the last two years, Young has worked on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Captain America: Civil War, so when I spoke with him over the phone last month one of my questions for him was in regard to the differences in his experience on each set. I asked what it was like specifically working with Joe and Anthony Russo, James Gunn, and Joss Whedon, and he revealed that the filmmakers all have a different particular focus when it comes to the fight choreography in their respective movies.

Russos Captain America

Joe and Anthony Russo

James Young began by talking about Joe and Anthony Russo, with whom he collaborated as the fight choreographer on both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War. As you can probably gather from simply watching the movies, their approach is a unique take on "realistic," with Young adding that they were very open to all of the input that he had to offer while staging any of the blockbuster sequences in the two films. Said Young,

We like to say it's not realistic, but it's our vision of realism in the superhero world. So, with Joe and Anthony, they are so great at just allowing us to give them ideas and allowing us to shoot things to them and create a lot. They just let us go and they just give us the notes they need and we move on from there. So, Joe and Anthony are very, very fluid when it comes to the action. They let [Fight/Stunt Coordinator] Sam Hargrave and myself and our team really create and really come up with some wild stuff.

Given that Captain America: Civil War features some of the most bombastic action sequences in comic book movie history, let alone Marvel history (the Leipzig Halle Airport scene being particularly notable), it's hard to deny that the team of James Young and Joe & Anthony Russo is anything but brilliant.

James Gunn Guardians of the Galaxy

James Gunn

While Joe and Anthony Russo gave James Young some room for creativity and new ideas, his time working as a fight coordinator for additional photography on Guardians of the Galaxy revealed James Gunn as being a filmmaker with a more specific vision of what he wants the sequences to be. Also reflecting the tone of the big sci-fi adventure, much more of the action is driven by the laughs the directors hopes to generate, rather than gasps from showing off kick-ass moves. Young explained,

James Gunn, with the action from Guardians, he's so particular on what he wants. It's more comedy, whereas Captain America shows fighting, martial arts, Guardians is more of your comedy aspect. It's more of performing, stunt performing, less karate, less fighting. More hitting the ground, more reaction... It's more that big, epic war feel.

Thinking about the various action scenes in Guardians of the Galaxy, this definitely tracks -- if not especially because so much of it is driven by actors using blasters, other weird firearms, and spaceships rather than punches and kicks.

Joss Whedon Age of Ultron

Joss Whedon

After his time on Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, James Young was hired by Joss Whedon and his team to be an assistant fight coordinator on The Avengers: Age of Ultron - and the experience showed him that Whedon has his own way of working as well. For the Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Firefly creator, the driving force when it comes to fight scenes is character:

Avengers, working with Joss, number one is character. He always wants character involved in a fight, and that's what we love doing. Character should be front and center: character and story, all throughout the fight. It's so much fun working for, having worked for all three of them, because... different ideas. You get different outcomes. It's great.

The action in Marvel Studios films has certainly come a long way since Iron Man back in 2008, and with any luck, James Young will continue to be a part of the creation of the cinematic universe and collaborate with filmmakers to raise the bar even higher. And as long as the company continues to hire minds like the Russo brothers, James Gunn, and Joss Whedon, we have no reason to lower our expectations for the future.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.