This weekend saw the opening of another Marvel film to massive box office and critical success ($181 million domestic and 90% on Rotten Tomatoes). When you take a look at the success of Captain America: Civil War, you can’t help but go back and compare it to the other hero vs hero battle royale, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, which was released less than two months prior. Like Civil War, BvS was highly anticipated by fans, seriously hyped by the studios, and posed the same questions about heroes and the culpability of what they do. In terms of look, execution of the plot, and approach to the overall problem, Civil War and BvS are night and day. This goes beyond the dark, broodiness of the DCEU and the colorful swirl of the MCU. This is about how two different studios approached a similar subject. I personally think Civil War did the superhero battle better while BvS squandered its potential.
Obviously there are going to be lots of spoilers for the DCEU and MCU films. Do I really need to tell you this?
The Building of the Universes:
In terms of leading up to the big conflict between heroes, the MCU spent the last eight years and twelve films building a universe that could support a large number of heroes and eventually pit them against one another. The DCEU is three years old and has had only one film entry before two of the most iconic characters in the property started to do battle. This is important, but not really at the same time.
The MCU had to build a universe around a B-Team of characters because their popular comic book franchises (X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man) were sold off to other studios. The non-comic reading audience needed time to get to know these other characters and become emotionally invested in them. The conflict between our heroes in Civil War has been earned because we have seen Steve Rodgers and Tony Stark on more than one occasion argue over culpability of their actions. The films have shown multiple heroes make major mistakes that have ramifications echoing in other films. These superheroes have created a family unto themselves and we are emotionally invested in the group. When they start fighting, we as the audience feel conflicted in taking sides. But we can’t help but take sides because we understand the argument they are having.
Batman and Superman are the most popular comic book based characters in the world. I speak from experience. I have traveled the world and have been overseas when Superman Returns and two of the Christopher Nolan Batman films were released. The fan fare for these films were just as massive in countries that claim to hate Western Culture as it was in countries that hold Western values. The two superheroes have been a large part of pop culture since the 50s and 60s. Longer than that when you take a look at how popular the comic books were before they were made into TV shows and movies. Wonder Woman is also the most popular female superhero in pop culture, having her own very successful TV run back in the 70s. The fledgling DCEU doesn’t need multiple movies to introduce us to this group of characters. We already know and understand them. Could there have been more of a build up to BvS? It wouldn’t have hurt. Does that mean Warner Bros jumped the gun on putting Batman and Superman against one another? Not really. Like I said, we already know these characters, lots of buildup is not necessary. But a Batman film before BvS would have help to establish this new version of the character so his brutal methods wouldn’t have been such a shock to the audience.
Heroes as far as the eye can see:
With just three superheroes, BvS feels overcrowded and Wonder Woman is barely even in the movie. She opens an email, flirts with Bruce Wayne, and fights Doomsday. Throw in some quick cameos introducing the rest of the Justice League and the whole film feels overloaded. Add in the flash forwards/dream sequences to another comic storyline that the DECU may be working towards and I got lost. The Flash coming from the future to warn Bruce about Superman with no explanation that is something The Flash can do? What in the hell? Too much information too fast.
Civil War has twelve heroes with two of them being established into the MCU. The reason why the film doesn’t feel bloated is because the universe has been built. We know ten of these people already so when Black Panther/T’Challa and Spider-Man/Peter Parker are introduced, we don’t feel overwhelmed. Their introductions are handled perfectly. We don’t need to see how Parker became Spider-Man again. We have seen that a few times at this point so when Tony goes to talk to the fledgling superhero, all Peter has to say is it happened six months ago. T’Challa taking the mantel of Black Panther was also done simply by introducing the character and his father, T’Chakka. We as an audience understand how monarchies work so when T’Chakka is killed, we know T’Challa is king and protector of his country. We get he wants to join the fight to catch the man who killed his father. Simplicity is usually the best way to go.
Both films have someone else behind the scenes pulling the string of the superheroes making them fight. For BvS it is Lex Luthor, in Civil War it is Zemo.
Zemo’s motives are simple. It is straight revenge on the people who caused the deaths of his whole family. The puppet master is nothing more than a mercenary for higher from Sokovia. When Ultron and the Avengers level the city in their epic battle, Zemo’s wife, child, and father were killed. His methods to get his revenge are perfectly simple and absolutely genius. He studied our heroes from the SHIELD/Hydra information dump Natasha Romanoff plastered all over the internet and found the biggest sore spots of the two Avenger’s leaders. For Steve, it is Bucky Barnes, for Stark, it is his parents. The Accords have our heroes split, but still friendly. When Zemo frames Bucky for the UN bombing, it fuels the embers of animosity. When he activates Bucky’s Winter Soldier program for real, it becomes an out-and-out brawl between our heroes. What makes Zemo’s plan so masterful is the final blow. You think he is about to activate a group of more dangerous Winter Soldiers which would unite our heroes in a bigger fight, but he instead turns Stark against Steve and Bucky when Zemo shows Stark the video of his parent’s death. Bucky may not have known what he was doing, but Stark just doesn’t care. “He killed my mom” he reasons and you can’t help but agree. Zemo wanted to see the end of the Avengers and he got it without spilling a drop of his own blood.
I have no clue as to why Lex wants Batman to kill Superman, or why he blackmails Superman into killing Batman other than he just wants to see them do battle. Why create Doomsday? To kill Superman? I thought that was what Batman and the giant hunk of Kryptonite is for? I guess you can argue that Doomsday was created because he knew Batman wouldn’t win the fight, but what if he had? What do you do with a Doomsday that has no Superman to fight? Was he planning on letting that thing destroy everyone else? I don’t understand how a billionaire genius would be happy in seeing the world essentially destroyed.
“Let them Fight:”
When it comes down the motivations as to why our heroes are fighting, Civil War created a clear and concise reasons to put the supers against each other while BvS had misunderstandings, hate, and blackmail. Superhero films have a bad habit of glossing over the death and destruction caused in battle. Eventually these things have to be addressed because why would the rest of the world want to put up with civilians who keep destroying cities to “save” everyone. They are almost as big of a threat as the villains they fight. What if a hero decides they have had enough of the rest of the world, who is going to stop them?
One thing BvS got immediately right was they showed the climactic battle between Zod and Superman from the ground level. We see the destruction of Metropolis from the view of a helpless Bruce Wayne. We also see people killed when the two aliens crash thru a building and bring it down on the heads of innocent civilians inside and below. The anger of Bruce Wayne at Superman is understandable at this point. His employees were killed, he saw people wandering the streets covered on ash and blood. I would hate Superman too after seeing all of that. But hasn’t Bruce seen all of the news reports of Superman saving thousands of lives without leveling cities? Eventually he has to see that the Man of Steel isn’t all that bad. I don’t understand why the only solution Bruce can come up with is to KILL SUPERMAN. I do understand that he sees Superman as a potential threat if the alien decides he has had enough of humanity, but wouldn’t the solution be to go and talk to the guy? Maybe engage him to see if he is going to go all crazy and take out the world with his superpowers?
The only reason Superman even goes to fight Batman is because he is being blackmailed into doing it. He doesn’t like Batman’s methods of vigilantism or the branding of his captures which leads to those criminals being killed in prison, but his go-to is not murder. Even after Superman goes to fight Batman, he is trying to reason with the mad man and get him to see that there is no reason for the two of them to be killing each other. Of course Batman hears nothing until “Martha.”
Civil War also addresses the collateral damage from the times the Avengers have saved the world, but it is a quick presentation on a TV screen. We do see the various members of the Avengers struggle with the deaths that have happened in the wake of the fighting and the world saying enough with the Sokovia Accords. Steve doesn’t like the idea of the UN being able to use the Avengers and chooses to retire with Sam Wilson, Wanda Maximoff, and Clint Barton following him for the time being. They make themselves clear that they do not feel this is the best solution and are peacefully protesting until a better one comes along. Stark, Vision, Natasha, and James Rhodes are not happy about it, but they understand.
It is the introduction of Bucky and the attack at the UN when the Accords are supposed to be ratified that causes the clash in our heroes. Steve can’t stand back and watch his best friend be blamed and killed for something he didn’t do. Stark can’t stand by and allow Steve to harbor someone who is still quite dangerous, even if he might be innocent of the things he is accused of. Then it is revealed that Bucky killed Stark’s parents. Steve didn’t know it was Bucky, but he did know that it wasn’t a car accident that made Tony into an orphan. There is no peace to be had when the man who killed your family is standing right there and someone else is standing between you and him. Now the big superhero battle has become a personal one making the outcome all the more devastating.
The End of it All:
While the ending of Civil War may be a downer, it makes sense. Steve took the shield Howard Stark made for him and used it to literally crush the heart of Tony’s suit to protect Bucky. There is no easy way for Tony to forgive Bucky for what he did or Steve for protecting him. Steve sends a letter to Tony explaining himself, why he broke the rest of Team Cap out of prison, and even left a cell phone so Tony can call if there is an emergency (like a mad Titan coming to Earth looking for Infinity Gems perhaps?), but it doesn’t make things completely okay. The audience expected the death of one of the Avengers, but what we got instead was the death of the Avengers. I was a bit disappointed at first, but then I realized that is a much more powerful ending.
Superman says “Martha” and all of a sudden the two enemies are besties? Granted, my mother’s name is a bit on the unique side so there would be some interesting commonality, but I’m not going to become friends with a person who I just hated five seconds before because our mothers share a name. Then Superman dies to have a shocking twist and keep with the everything-is-awful tone in the DCEU. Superman goes to kill Doomsday with the Kryptonite spear which weakens him and allows for Doomsday to stab and kill him, but Wonder Woman was able to stab and take whole chunks out of Doomsday and survive his blows. Why didn’t she wield the spear? Or Batman? That death is as pointless as Steve’s “sacrifice” at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger and it keeps pushing the whole Superman-is-Jesus narrative Zack Snyder thinks he needs to make painfully clear. Add in BvS was released over Easter weekend and Superman will probably be resurrecting by the third DCEU movie and it is as if Snyder is beating us over the head with a crucifix.
I could make a whole other argument over competency of directors and the actual fighting between the heroes, but this is already reaching term paper length so I’m just going to stop here. I don’t think BvS was a horrible movie, it had so much potential. The film makers just tried to do too much so they would have the first big heroes-fight-each-other movie out.
What do you think Civil War did better over Batman vs Superman? Is there anything you can think of that BvS did better than Civil War? I’m sure there are arguments to be had there. Talk to me in the comments section below.