Ok, so clearly the movie events of the decade were the bringing together of our favorite comic book heroes in two mega-hyped films. The majority of the critics panned Batman VS Superman and liked Captain America: Civil War.
The problem is, they got it backwards.
Let’s start off at the drawing board of both movies: Marvel needed to have some sort of battle between Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Antman, Spiderman, the black guy, the red guy and the guy with the bow and arrow.
DC had to focus on a conflict between two legendary characters, Batman and Superman.
Now, class, what’s the number one lesson they teach you in art school?
Less is more.
WHAT WAS BAD ABOUT THIS ONE
The thing that made Captain America: Winter Soldier one of the best comic book movies of all time was that it was actually about Captain America. Captain America: Civil War is maybe 51% about Cap and 49% Avengers (its focus on Cap is loose at best – why they didn’t make this a straight up Avengers movie i’ll never know).
Another popular aphorism is too many chefs spoil the soup (or in this case, the super heroes). All those characters feel crammed into the movie just to lead up to a fight I never wanted to see in the first place. Maybe diehard Marvel fans thought this would be cool, but ultimately the story felt like it was trying too hard to get these guys on opposite sides of the fence. The focus on Captain America just wasn’t there – a big disappointment considering the first two films.
On the other hand, Batman VS Superman has been a mainstay of the DC universe since the dawn of comics, and something even the general public can easily identify with. Every human on Earth is pretty much born with the knowledge of who Batman and Superman are, and just the thought of these guys duking it out evokes memories of Ali VS Frazier, Holmes VS Moriarty, Kirk VS the Klingon, tastes great VS less filling.
But the Marvel version is like Donald Trump: Civil War featuring Donald Trump VS Ted Cruz VS Jeb Bush VS Ben Carson VS Chris Christie VS Jim Gilmore VS Lindsay Graham VS Mike Huckabee VS Bobby Jindal VS John Kasich VS George Pataki VS Rand Paul VS Rick Perry VS Marco Rubio VS Mark Santorum VS Scott Walker. Not exactly a classic confrontation we’re dying to see again.
You can argue that Batman VS Superman also brought along another character with Wonder Woman, but she was woven into the plot in an intelligent and mysterious way and wasn’t forced to fight the good guys (and at least the gratuitous scene where other DC characters have a forced cameo is mercifully short).
Furthermore, much of Supes VS Bats is based on what many consider to still be the best comic book of all time, Frank Miller’s genre-changing epic The Dark Knight Returns. Here’s a page so you can see how close the film came to it:
And here’s what it seems like Civil War is based on:
In addition, it can’t be ignored that both films have largely the same plot: the government and much of the general public are wondering if these “heroes,” who operate outside the law, are more of a menace than a benefit (featured is the collateral damage we’ve seen in their previous films).
In the various Avengers movies, yes, we’ve seen cities get pretty wrecked, but it was mostly by the bad guys. However, in Man of Steel, half of Metropolis seems to have been devastated, much of it caused by Superman haphazardly flying through buildings and indiscriminately zapping things with his heat vision (in Superman II, at least Superman spent just as much time saving civilians as he did fighting Zod and his cronies). Why didn’t Superman just take the fight to the middle of nowhere? Fans universally criticized this aspect of the movie.
And, much to our delight, this is exactly what is addressed at the start of the film! We see a replay of the end of the battle in Man of Steel from a whole new perspective – by the people who suffered and died as a result of it. The focus is on what Bruce Wayne witnesses, and his failure to get everyone out of the Wayne offices. This turns the most negative aspect of Man of Steel into a positive one and forms a largely single-minded perspective for the entire film: Superman may ultimately be too dangerous for this world and Batman is the only one who can stop him.
If I had to consolidate the plot of Civil War into a paragraph, I’d say the government wants to control the Avengers, which causes a rift between them. This leads to a ham fisted super-confrontation between people who are essentially friends and the whole thing just feels forced.
Neither film is perfect in execution – they both have faults and their fair share of dumb scenes – but I always excuse poor execution for a story that, at its core, is worth telling (Star Trek VI wasn’t perfect, but the basic story of a military establishment wanting to prevent peace at all costs was admirable).
Now while I felt pretty much all of Civil War was a disjointed mess of conflicting tone, Batman VS Superman was consistent until the very end, when it fell into the groan-inducing cliche of good guys get together to fight a really BIG bad guy (in this case, Doomsday was randomly pulled out of nowhere).
Likewise, Civil War ended with another Big Man On Campus, this time with AntMan turning into ridiculous Giant AntMan (I don’t care if it’s been done in the comics, in the movie it was just plain ridiculous). Unfortunately, in a major contradiction to the plot, this final battle also results in millions of dollars of collateral damage and essentially destroys an airport (and some 747s). At least much of the battle at the end of Superguy VS Batdude, most of the damage is held to a pier, some very angry fish and one disappointed nuke.
Again, the nuke scene is directly quoted from the classic Dark Knight:
Whereas giant AntMan:
Ultimately, both films are imperfect and have their own fans, but after viewing each, I walked out of Civil War underwhelmed, bored and confused, and after Batman VS Superman I was pretty much along for the ride until the last ten minutes.
Why did the critics – and many of the fans – see it differently? Maybe you can help me understand this in the comments below!
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