Fighting Patriot: Stunts and More in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

“I have a long-standing relationship with Marvel,” states Thomas Robinson Harper who was the stunt coordinator for Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). “I did the first Iron Man [2008] and Iron Man 2 [2010], as well as re-shoots on Thor [2011]. I was asked by Louis D’Esposito [Avengers: Age of Ultron] to come in and meet with the Russo brothers [You, Me and Dupree]; we hit it off and the rest is history.” The previous experience with the world of Tony Stark came in handy when having to deal with the adventures of Steve Rogers. “Working on the first two Iron Man projects gave me an idea on what Marvel likes to see as far as action; I stepped it up from there.” Harper made “videovis” for every action scene which was presented to Anthony and Joe Russo. “They would give me an idea what they wanted and I would go shoot a test; we would meet again, take out what they didn’t like and add to what they did like.”

An essential element of being a stunt coordinator is deciding when a stunt double should replace a principle cast member. “30 plus years of doing stunts gives me the experience to make the call as well as working with the actors for almost four months before we started shooting,” remarks Thomas Robinson Harper. “It gives me a good idea what they can and can’t do safely.” Two key collaborators in pulling off a successful action movie were Visual Effects Supervisor Dan DeLeeuw (Night at the Museum) and Special Effects Supervisor Dan Sudick (Cowboys and Aliens). All three of us work as a team to determine the final outcome of the film. There was constant communication between all three of our departments.” Assisting Harper were Chris Carnel (American History X) and James Young (Limitless). “Chris was my Fight Coordinator and his job was to coordinate all of the fights with the stuntman. James Young was my Fight Choreographer and the Winter Soldier double; he worked closely with Chris and me to choreograph and shoot the ‘videovis.’”

Each character has distinct fighting style in Captain America: The Winter Soldier with World War II super-soldier Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) utilizing a combination of Parkour, Brazilian Ju Jitzu, karate, and boxing when battling his enemies. “We mixed many styles to show that he had done his homework since he thawed out.” Russian assassin and S.H.I.E.L.D agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) who goes by the name Black Widow joins forces with her Avenger counterpart. “She has her own style that I developed on Iron Man 2.” A new member of team is an ex-military paratrooper who pilots a wing pack known as Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) aka Falcon. “His fighting is all flight based.” Though living in the modern world, Rogers encounters a former wartime buddy Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) who has been turned into a brainwashed and enhanced killing machine called Winter Soldier. “We wanted his style to be brutal and ruthless.” Also making a big screen appearance is counter-terrorism S.T.R.I.K.E. team operative Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo). “We did more of an S.E.A.L. team style with his fights.”

There is no shortage of fights in the conspiracy thriller which required each of them to be distinct. “It’s not easy,” admits Thomas Robinson Harper. “We did a lot of testing and if it looked to close to another fight we would keep changing it until it felt right.” A major battle takes place in a confined space just after Steve Rogers asks, “Does anyone want to get off of this elevator?” “10 guys fighting in an elevator is really hard just because there is no room to do anything.” Falcon encounters the Winter Soldier on top of a S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier. “We wanted to show how brutal Winter Soldier could be before he fought Cap.” Beneath the massive aircraft a physical confrontation unfolds in the surveillance hub dome between Captain America and Winter Soldier. “Fighting on catwalks and set pieces that are unstable and slippery has its own set of problems.” Contributing her fighting prowess was Black Widow who is part of a covert operation to reclaim the S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel the Lumerian Star captured by French mercenary Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre) and his band of Algerian pirates. Working on the ship was really hard because the ship has such tight quarters, except for the Cap Batroc fight.”

Not all of the stunts involved fighting such as helping Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) to take flight. “Getting the Falcon to fly right was done by my stunt riggers with a lot of testing by Aaron Toney, his stunt double.” Captain America has a great ability to leap. “Again all done on wires by the stunt riggers lead by Shawn Kautz.” Black Widow seamlessly swings down and runs onto a roadway. “This was done in three parts and involved both of her stunt doubles, Heidi Moneymaker [After Earth] and Amy Johnston [Raze].” The project was filled with pleasant surprises. There would be a least one time everyday that I would say, “Wow! That came out better than I expected.” The reason for that is the stunt people I have working with me to create these stunts are without a doubt the best in the world, from the stunt riggers to the doubles and every ND stunt person that worked on this film.” Unfortunately, Thomas Robinson Harper will not be contending for an Oscar. “Have you ever wondered why there is no category for stunts in the Academy Awards but there is for Documentary Short Subject? Me too.”