The Big Picture
- The events leading up to the elevator scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier set the stage for its greatness, with a series of revelations and betrayals that leave Captain America on high alert.
- Chris Evans’ exceptional acting allows us to see the magnitude of truth in Captain America’s expression, as he confronts the sham of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s pursuit of justice and gives his adversaries a chance to walk away, demonstrating his unwavering integrity.
- The elevator fight scene is nothing short of spectacular, using every inch of the confined space to create intimate and chaotic action. As Captain America perseveres against a horde of soldiers, viewers are left in awe and emotionally invested in his journey.
The MCU has consistently delivered some of the most exciting action/fight scenes in the history of film, scenes that have become legendary in their relatively short lifespan. The Leipzig, Germany Airport Battle in Captain America: Civil War. The Battle of New York in The Avengers. The dream team of all three live-action Spider-Men against their multiverse opponents in Spider-Man: No Way Home. The all-out fight that falls short of stopping Thanos (Josh Brolin) from retrieving the final Infinity Stone in Avengers: Infinity War, and the epic battle that concludes the Infinity Saga in Avengers: Endgame. Yet the best fight scene in any MCU film is a much smaller affair: the iconic elevator fight from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
What Happens Before the Elevator Scene in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’?
The events leading up to the sequence in Captain America: The Winter Soldier are key in understanding just how good the scene is. The film begins with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and the counter-terrorism team known as S.T.R.I.K.E., led by Agent Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo), boarding a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel to free hostages captured by a gang of pirates. There’s a secondary, secretive objective as well, which Rogers stumbles upon when he finds Romanoff extracting data from the ship’s computer to a flash drive. Upon their return to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, Rogers confronts Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), wanting to know why he wasn’t told about Romanoff’s task. Fury cryptically tells Rogers that he can’t trust anybody as they make their way down to a large, underground level where three Helicarriers are being suited for an operation. That operation is Project Insight, which allows the Helicarriers to utilize spy satellites to preemptively eliminate national security threats. When Rogers expresses his serious misgivings about the plan, Fury is dismissive, telling Rogers to “get with the program.”
A short time after his confrontation with Rogers, Fury tries to access the files that Romanoff had extracted. Oddly, he is unable to get past security to do so. Odder still, the security denial was said to have come from himself. This prompts Fury to meet with Secretary of Defense Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and tell him that Project Insight will need to be delayed until an investigation is complete, which Pierce agrees with. Later, as Fury drives away, he contacts Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), seeking to meet up to discuss his reservations about the operation. As he hangs up, his car is T-boned by a police car, and soon Fury is under attack by assassins. He narrowly escapes the clutches of the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and makes his way to Rogers’ apartment. When Rogers returns home, he finds an injured Fury, who clandestinely tells Rogers that anybody could be listening. Fury is then shot by an unseen sniper, and as Rogers checks him out, Fury gives him the flash drive and tells him, again, not to trust anybody. After Fury dies (SPOILER: he doesn’t really), Rogers is told that Pierce wants to see him back at headquarters. Pierce asks why Fury was in Rogers’ apartment, on the premise of wanting to find out who shot him (SPOILER: he already knows). Rogers doesn’t bite, and after Pierce repeats the question, Rogers says that Fury “told me not to trust anybody.”
What Makes ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s Elevator Fight the Best?
Every minute of Captain America: The Winter Soldier prior to this point leads Rogers to believe that something is definitely awry within S.H.I.E.L.D.: Project Insight, the attack on Fury, Fury’s insistence that he trust no one, and Pierce’s vain attempts to find out what Rogers knows. Rogers is now on high alert, finally understanding the urgency behind Fury’s warning. He’s suspicious from the moment he gets on the elevator with Rumlow and a few members of his team, noticing their hands are on their guns. At the next stop, more men come in, one of which Rogers notices is sweating, as if in nervous anticipation. One more stop brings a few more men into the elevator, who stand in front of Rogers, essentially boxing him in.
It’s then we become privy to just how exceptional Evans is as an actor. His full embrace of the character allows us to see in his expression alone the magnitude of the truth he’s confronted with. S.H.I.E.L.D.’s pursuit of justice, which Rogers believed was equal to his own, is a sham. He looks, in a word, defeated, but you can still see the resolve in his eyes. But it’s what he says next that sums up the very being of Captain America: “Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?” He knows there’s going to be a conflict, yet to the end he gives the men on the elevator a chance to walk away, showing that even in the darkest of moments Rogers stands by his integrity and morality.
What follows next is nothing short of spectacular. Rogers is forced to fight alone against a horde of soldiers while in a confined space, and directors Anthony and Joe Russo use every inch of that space to perfection. There’s something or someone moving in every frame, with the closed quarters being used to condense the action into a space that makes it intimate and more personal. This, coupled with frenetic cuts, adds a chaotic energy to the moment that elevates it, and all we can do as viewers is watch with amazement as one man perseveres in what should be an unwinnable situation. Then, when Rogers makes his escape by shattering the elevator window and plummeting to safety, one can’t help but let out an audible gasp of relief. We as fans are now committed to the character in a far deeper and more intimate way than ever before, and arguably more than any of the MCU’s other heroes, simply because over the span of just under three minutes we’ve seen the best of us take on and rise above that which would see him fall. All of this makes the elevator fight scene rise above the standard and, ultimately, turns it into the MCU’s best, most personal conflict, hands down.