Character Fighting Styles
The MCU is well known for its action scenes, especially the battle royale that is seen at the end of Avengers: Endgame. This post was inspired by re-watching Endgame and by the popular meme on Youtube: When There’s a School Fight, which uses MCU characters to show what types of fighters are entering the fray. These memes are hilarious and I can’t seem to get enough of them. MCU fight scenes just lend themselves well to music videos, I guess.
As far as I can tell there are at least four types of fighters in the MCU, Brawlers, Intuitive, Adaptive, and Masterminds. These are not hard and fast rules and you may disagree with my descriptions. There may be more different styles than I listed here, and there are a few characters that fit into multiple categories, but I decided to list them in the style they most often seem to deploy.
The Melee Fighters
Melee Fighters are classic brawlers. They don’t have a plan of any kind when going into a fight. They just run in and start swinging. They are the complete opposite of the Tactician although they are not necessarily chaotic because their fighting style is fairly simple, and is expected of who they are. Brawlers tend to be such hugely powerful characters that they simply don’t need to plan what they’re going to do anyway, and therefore have no fear of being hurt. Brawlers in the MCU are close-quarters fighters who prefer to square up face to face, and their combat style is disorganized and sloppy. They have no need for hand-to-hand martial skills, and many have not mastered any special techniques, and usually don’t need to.
A classic melee fighter is The Hulk, whose fighting style pretty much consists of being angry. He doesn’t need a weapon because is one. The Hulk’s job is to go into battle and…smash! There’s no rhyme or reason to anything he does, but he’s not chaotic in the same way as the Intuitive fighter because the brawler’s behavior is somewhat predictable. Brawlers tend to move straight ahead and hit whatever is in front of them. Because he’s largely invulnerable to attack the Hulk is not worried about developing evasive maneuvers.
The fighters most like the Hulk are Wenwu (The Mandarin from Shang Chi) and Thor. These are characters who have so much sheer power that they don’t need to think in terms of tactics, although it is a talent they possess. Neither Thor nor Wenwu worry about getting hurt or being taken out of a fight, which gives them the freedom to move around a battlefield in any direction they please, although most of the time they just move in straight lines, taking the fight directly to their opponents. Wenwu is a character who has the ability to be a skilled tactical fighter and he is a deeply emotional person but he has only ever mastered this fighting style because he’s not easily defeated. We can see the kind of fight that results when melee fighters go head to head in the movies The Avengers and Thor: Ragnarok when Thor is set against the Hulk. They just run straight ahead and hit something until it falls down.
The parallels to Hulk, Thor, and Wenwu are Rocket, Drax, and Groot. These characters are different precisely because they are smaller, less powerful, and therefore, acutely vulnerable, yet they still approach combat in this wild melee style. These three characters do not have any kind of a plan when they go into a fight, although Rocket is capable of stealth attacks when he is alone, or moving against a greater foe. Drax, however, has no situational awareness, doesn’t think at all, and always uses the direct approach no matter who his opponent is. He just runs in and stabs any body part he can reach (usually in the back) in a wild frenzy. This combat style is in keeping with his mindset of taking everything literally. Direct is the only thing he understands.
Another heavy hitter is Captain Marvel, a being so powerful that most other combatants are entirely out of her weight class. This is a woman who went toe to toe, and one on one, with Thanos. Like the Hulk, she doesn’t need to assess a battlefield. This is not a character that ever has to worry about being harmed or having a plan. She can take down multiple major opponents just by swooping in as she did in Avengers Endgame. She is literally a deus ex machina. Calling in Captain Marvel is like using a nuke on an ants nest.
Rocket is very capable of coming up with and executing a plan if he feels his opponents may outclass him, or he’s outnumbered. In fact, he is known for being wily, just like the species from which he was created, but he seems to prefer the direct approach and shooting his way out of a fight. His use of wild gunfire and using his much larger companion, Groot, as a shield is a tactic we saw him use in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Normally, I would classify him as a Tactician because of his intelligence, diminutive size, and because we’ve seen him exercise his other skills, but those don’t seem to be his preferred method of combat. He seems to find a great deal more joy in shooting things head on.
When engaged in combat with multiple opponents the melee fighter is considered a group’s Heavy Hitter, and deployed as such, creating just enough chaos and being just enough of a wild card that simply dropping them into the middle of a battle can turn the tide as we saw wit the Hulk in the first Avengers movie.
Other fighters in this category: Wolverine is the most famous and a lot has already been written about him, General Okoye of the Dora Milaje of Wakanda.
The Intuitive Fighters
The Intuitive fighter has an almost sixth sense about where to be and what to do in combat. Their fighting style is based entirely on their “feelings” about what to do next and how to instinctively handle an opponent, which can sometimes get them into a pinch that requires them to power it out. Like the melee fighter, they don’t have a set plan, but unlike them, they are even more chaotic in battle because their movements are predicated on what they feel needs to be done next. Picture them on the battlefield, not in terms of lines or circles, but in great jagged bends, swirls, and loops, with no logic. Unlike the Brawler, who doesn’t need or care about situational, or spatial awareness, their combat perception is extraordinary and entirely instinctive. It has to be as they are usually physically vulnerable, smaller, and mortal. They can get seriously hurt or killed if their senses fail them, so that is what they’re listening to on the field. They are also the combat wild cards. No one can predict where they’re going to be or what they’re going to do, because they don’t know either, and unless they have a set goal to accomplish, they simply make things up as the battle unfolds.
If you’ve seen the end of the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, then you are well aware that Star-Lord belongs on this list. “Dance-off, Bro’!” was an entirely inspired bit of anti-fisticuffs! This is the very definition of the Intuitive fighter. They always do the most unexpected thing in a fight and bring a real element of chaos to the event. Many of them live by the rule that if they can’t defeat their enemy, then they might as well confuse the hell out of them!
Spiderman literally has a sixth sense that moves his body out of danger and sometimes has no idea what he’s going to do from moment to moment. You would expect him to be a melee fighter, and he seems like one on the surface, except Spiderman isn’t especially powerful or particularly invulnerable. He moves wherever he needs to move to be effective or protect himself, and this gives him the ability to fight opponents that are far out of his weight class, like Doctor Strange. He doesn’t really think very much about what to do in a fight. He doesn’t have to because the nature of his superpowers means he relies on his instincts to tell him where his opponent is, where he needs to be, and/or what he needs to do, as we saw at the end of Spiderman: Far From home in his fight against Mysterio. Even going up against Doctor Strange in No Way Home, he manages to come up with a way to defeat him, entirely on the fly.
Spiderman is very strong, but he’s also a child with almost no combat skills to speak of, relying almost entirely on his superpowers and web gadgets. Fighters like him, and the Scarlet Witch, look chaotic in a fight because they will range all over the battlefield with no plan beyond what they need to do at a specific moment, which is based entirely on what their senses tell them.
The Scarlet Witch is one of the most powerful beings in the MCU because she is what’s known as a Reality Bender, and unless you’re a sorcerer too when she steps onto the battlefield, best step aside. She has superb instinctual awareness which tells her exactly where she needs to strike to hit her opponents in their weakest spot, or she simply changes reality to create that weakness. She is also capable of incredible feats of sheer destruction. On the surface, she looks like she may be a Melee or Adaptive fighter, except she relies entirely on her abilities as a sorceress, has no martial or hand-to-hand skills, and her abilities are entirely sensory-based, which is why I put her in this category.
Wanda doesn’t make battleplans. When she has a goal she moves however and wherever she needs to accomplish it, as we saw in her fight with Thanos in Endgame. She is often only as powerful as she needs to be to accomplish whatever momentary goal she has set, as we saw in the Multiverse of Madness, where we see her walk into multiple situations with no plan and still manage to defeat her opponents. She is highly focused, scarily single-minded, and relentless, ruthlessly removing any and all obstacles from her path. She could theoretically unravel the entire world (something she has done multiple times in the comic books just by accident), but the MCU version of Wanda doesn’t seem to have such lofty goals, and because her ambitions are often small and personal. She is also a Tactician’s worst nightmare, as we saw in Multiverse of Madness because, like most Intuitive fighters, she cannot be planned against.. (To date, the only opponent capable of besting her is another Intuitive fighter, America Chavez.) It’s hard to defeat someone whose ambitions you don’t understand, who simply sidesteps or powers through any tactic you invent.
Other heroes in this category are Loki, who could be added but is more tactical than he seems at first glance, Groot, who sometimes behaves as more of a melee fighter, and strangely, the Stephen version of Moon Knight.
The Adaptive Fighters
Adaptive fighters are superb hand-to-hand combat specialists and are kind of rare in the MCU. They are, like Bruce Lee advised, like water, the kind of fighter who changes their fighting style based on whatever skills their opponent displays, and often have mastery of multiple styles. Since they adapt to their opponents, they display multiple styles and are not committed to any particular way of approaching a battle. If they determine that their opponent is a brawler they will adapt to counter that. If their opponent is Intuitive they can use that, but unlike their opponent, their response is based on their immediate observations (which can sometimes be wrong) rather than how they feel. As a result, the Intuitive opponent is the hardest for them to overcome because they need to have some sense of their opponent’s motives or goals and Intuitive opponents are difficult to read. The biggest difference between the Adaptive fighter and the Tactician is that the adaptive person fights on a smaller, more interpersonal level.
One of the reasons that Bucky Barnes is so evenly matched against Steve Rogers is because while he possesses both Adaptive and Tactical fighting abilities, he is mostly adaptive whereas Steve is mostly the other and these are complementary skills that account for how well the two fight together, as we saw at the end of Civil War when they both fought Tony. In their first fight in The Winter Soldier, he and Steve are mostly evenly matched, but since Bucky is also (to some small) degree an intuitive fighter too, he was able to be distracted by Steve’s emotional response. Basically, Steve did something totally unexpected, call him by his old name. Bucky shows a number of different combat modes. Like a lot of melee fighters, he doesn’t always plan ahead. Like the Intuitive fighter, he sets a goal and moves straight towards it, while being both focused and relentless. Adaptive fighters like Bucky are very hard to beat unless you are simply more powerful, unpredictable, or do the unexpected.
Black Panther, as befits someone who has been raised since birth to be the protector of an entire nation, has learned multiple fighting styles, which makes him more of an Adaptive fighter, as we saw in his film. He has learned how to fight in multiple forms of hand-to-hand and melee weapons combat, and also without the nearly supernatural abilities given to him by the special herb grown only in Wakanda. His speed, strength, and flexibility put him on a par with Spiderman, except T’Challa is less intuitive about the use of his abilities in a fight and more of a tactician, as he assesses the skills of his opponents and deploys specific moves to counter them. He is one of those fighters that, on the surface look as if they are another type of fighter, but that’s just how an Adaptive fighter operates, which can be seen in his two matches against The Winter Soldier. He lost his first match to Killmonger because he was emotionally compromised, but later in the movie, he came back better prepared, and while the two seemed evenly matched during that second fight, T’Challa was eventually able to overcome his foe.
Some heroes that are likely to fit into this category are Wong, The Sorceror Supreme, Falcon, whose military training prepares him to be more adaptive than strategic, Nakia, from The Black Panther, and possibly Gamora, who displays a penchant for strategic thinking but most often engages in adaptive behavior during a fight.
The Tactical Fighters
A Tactician is the type of fighter who carefully analyzes the battlefield or their opponent to determine what tactics are necessary to win. The Tactician always has a plan both before and during battle and usually adopts a bird’s eye view of events. They can but rarely choose to do things on the fly and dont like leaving things up to chance. They are the masterminds of the battle, assessing the type of battle, who the players are, and how best to counter them. Where the Adaptive and Melee fighters see things on a smaller and more personal scale, the Tactician sees the grand objective and everyone’s role in it.
All the characters on this list are master strategists, who prefer to think their way out of a problem, and when they are in the midst of a problem, tend to strategize very well on the fly. This is one of the first things we learn about Natasha in The Avengers. Natasha is the kind of person who has plans within plans, and an answer for every contingency. Since she and Hawkeye are entirely mortal and human, with no armor, no superpowers, and no particularly flashy weapons, the two of them have had to keep up with beings far out of their weight class by mostly using their minds. Hawkeye has decided to increase his survivability by increasing his reach and effectiveness with the bow and arrow, and his marksmanship and spatial awareness are unparalleled, hence his name. Clint is not a great hand-to-hand fighter, but he can hold his own against her well enough, and the two are about evenly matched. They both prefer never to engage more powerful beings face to face, instead relying on distance in Hawkeye’s case, and stealth for Natasha.
It is helpful when thinking about these different fighting styles to think in terms of straight lines, or curves and loops moving across an empty plain. In that sense, Black Widow (a highly trained assassin) is the one you won’t see coming, as her gift is stealth. She is a very wily opponent who is capable of assessing the battlefield to see where she can be most effective and she prefers to deflect and/or distract, as we saw in The Winter Soldier. Because of her lack of size and power, she prefers to avoid fighting whenever possible, and for her, no tactic is off the table, including trickery, lying, betrayal, or simply running away. For her, there is no shame in retreating against a more powerful foe, as she did in the first Avengers movie when she knew that her survivability against the Hulk was dependent on how fast she could run. Natasha retreats, so she can regroup and come up with a more effective plan of attack. She later came back with what she called The Lullaby, a way of calming the Hulk’s rage that doesn’t require her to physically engage.
Eats very easy to talk about Tony Stark and Steve Rogers as Tactical fighters because we’ve seen the two of them in movie after movie, so it becomes pretty evident what psychological style they employ. Also, I wrote about the two of them in an earlier separate post, but one of the characters I haven’t talked about much is Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy, a character I like despite that he’s a bit of an asshole.Yondu displays a great deal pf cunning and mental assessment, especially in his mastery of the Yaka Arrow, a short spearshaped that can change its directory according to certain high pitched whistles he makes. With the Arrow he can take out a roomful of opponents (in GotG 2, an entire ship full) with just a few short whistles.
We have had plenty of opportunities to watch Doctor Strange in action as he literally has, (just like Tony) one of the flashiest fighting styles in the MCU. Like a lot of strategic-style fighters, Steven doesn’t display a lot of emotion during a fight as his abilities require him to be somewhat detached for them to be used, and it was how he was trained. Unlike Wanda, who is self-taught, and whose powers are informed by how she feels, Steven must remain clearheaded in order to put his powers to good use, and as a former brain surgeon, he is highly intelligent. He has a habit of ignoring his feelings in a fight which can make him seem cold and/or callous. Steven is always calculating the odds as we saw in Infinity War. He is daring and willing to make the sacrifice play, though not always to himself. When he is in touch with his feeling his tactics can be risky and somewhat playful, as was just seen in Multiverse of Madness. He almost always has a backup plan, until he simply runs out of plans, but is not above asking for help from his handful of friends (like Wong) when that happens.
Other characters that can fit into this category are usually villains like Thanos, Killmonger, and Agatha Harkness, gray characters with variable motives like Loki, and those with rigidly fixed motives like Nick Fury, and oddly enough, Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy. Both Marc and Jake Lockley from Moon Knight can fit this category along with the original Sorceror Supreme whose fighting style reflected her calm and somewhat detached demeanor, the polar opposite of characters like Drax and Rocket.