Alright, I understand that technically, this post should be called Movie Fights: Captain America: Civil War vs. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but I didn’t name it that because, well, first of all: that’s a really long title. Too long. Secondly, there are way too many colons in there. And finally, I for one have had enough of these ridiculous movie subtitles. Call it Batman vs. Superman OR call it Dawn of Justice, but don’t do both! That’s just confusing! It’s like cramming two movies’ worth of material into one rushed, confusing theatrical cut… wait a second.
Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start again: This is the much-awaited (maybe) comparison of Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, and DC’s Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Now, on the surface, these two movies seem to have a lot in common. They’re both big-budget summer action films where superheroes who should be working together fight instead, because of a relatively petty issue that they could easily resolve by communicating if they really tried. However, these movies have a lot of sizable differences, which add up to make them into two very different films.
I’ll tackle Batman v. Superman first.
To start, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is long. It’s a long movie, and I swear not a minute of it is wasted. It’s stuffed to the gills with plot. There are at least two and half different plotlines in the theatrical cut alone; I hear there are even more in the director’s cut. Most of the plot is setup for Batman and Superman fighting; and boy is there a lot of setup. I don’t want to spoil any of it, but let me just say: there are more villainous machinations and philosophy-rationality discussions in Batman v. Superman than there are actual brawls between Batman and Superman. In addition to all the philosophical rhetoric and plot twists, there’s also a generous amount of setup for future DC movie-universe films. I’m not a hardcore DC fan, so I didn’t catch all of the hints while I was watching the movie, but I got at least some of them. And then, of course, there’s a subplot meant to set up the DC’s incoming Justice League movie.
All this adds up to a film so full of things happening that it’s hard to follow everything at once. Batman v. Superman is so dense, so stuffed with important plot pieces that my only impression walking out of the theater was “sensory overload”. It took me the better part of two weeks to really work through everything I vicariously experienced in the movie. For a movie called Batman v. Superman, there’s a lot of expositing, a lot of storytelling twists and turns, and not a lot of fight scenes. (In fact, 90% of the fighting is relegated to the last half hour of the movie. The rest of the movie only has a Superman rescue montage and like one scene of Batman doing Cool Stuff.)
So Batman v. Superman is too much material crammed into not enough space, with a much darker tone than you would think given the subject matter. Let’s look at Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War.
Unlike DC, Marvel has already established a strong movie brand and found their niche as far as storytelling goes. They’ve got a handle on the tone of their movies, and though I think the actual writing in their films has been going downhill of late, they know what works for them.
So Captain America: Civil War is, in essence, more of the same. It’s got all of the characters you know and love from the previous movies. It’s got peppy, fun-to-watch action scenes sprinkled throughout, along with snappy, humorous dialogue. It’s got a smattering of thought-out character moments, and a plot that makes sense if you don’t think about it too much. In short, it’s got everything we’ve come to expect from Marvel over the past few years.
To be honest, I enjoyed Civil War a lot more than Batman v. Superman. Civil War was a lot less complicated, easier to follow, and didn’t require as much active thought from me. It also had a more light-hearted tone. Batman v. Superman is dark and gritty and believes that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Civil War believes that power corrupts, but ultimately justice can be served if we try hard and commit to it. That’s a big difference in tone right there, but that’s not the end of it. Batman v. Superman is almost entirely consumed with its philosophy—that power is a corrupting influence with no moral compass, no matter a person’s intentions. By contrast, Civil War doesn’t touch on its own philosophy hardly at all, and even contradicts itself at points. What it comes down to is that Civil War doesn’t take itself half as seriously as Batman v. Superman, so it’s more fun to watch.
The thing is, though, I don’t think either of these movies is really the best it could have been, and ultimately neither of them are a completely enjoyable presentation of what they promised. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: any movie that promises me Batman and Superman fighting each other has a heck of a premise to live up to. The same goes for Civil War: the filmmakers had a lot to set up if they were going to get me to believe that the Avengers would really split apart and fight each other. Both movies tried to live up to their premises, but neither of them accomplished it really well. Batman v. Supermanspent too much time on the buildup. It’s so dark and complicated that by the time it gets to the actual fight, you hardly even care anymore. Civil War didn’t spend enough time building things up; it presented a philosophy of sorts for both sides of the conflict, but then had the characters contradict themselves multiple times. Essentially, Civil Warseesawed back and forth between a dark, serious plotline and the upbeat, enjoyable action sequences we’ve come to expect from Marvel. It couldn’t pick a tone, and I think that was its major flaw.
I do think both of these movies are worth watching. Civil War certainly isn’t the worst movie Marvel’s ever made, and it did have its share of worthwhile moments. Batman v. Supermanis… an experience. I actually did enjoy it, but not all of it. If you watch it for anything, watch for Ben Affleck as Batman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. They were definitely the highlights.
Both these movies are worth watching, but I think they both represent missed potential on the parts of their studios. To quote the Honest Trailer, Batman v. Superman “burned through like six movies’ worth of good material”, and suffered for it. It was too rushed, trying to get us to care about too much in too short a time span. By contrast, it was obvious that Civil War was, at least in part, riding the wave of popularity Marvel has accrued with its past movies. It’s my personal opinion that the writing in Marvel movies is starting to go downhill, simply because Marvel knows that any movie they slap their name on will sell like hotcakes. Essentially, they’re getting lazy, instead of using that branding potential to break new ground and explore new territory film-wise.
In closing: both of these movies represent their respective studios’ shortcomings. Captain America: Civil War rides a wave of previous successes, not bothering with internal consistency because the writers know people won’t care; it’s Marvel, and Marvel movies are good. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice tries desperately to build up everything in the DC universe at once, hoping that something will stick and get people to come back for the next DC film. So both of these movies have their good points, but neither reached their full potential. Neither of them could decide exactly what they were trying to do. Maybe they’re more similar than I thought.