Two superhero movies, released within mere weeks of one another. Both feature the biggest of names from their respective pantheons of demigods and billionaire geniuses who fight gods. Both films set these heroes up in a clash for the ages, billed as the fight that has been brewing for years and will finally be resolved. But only one of these movies is going to be a critical hit.
And it sure as hell ain’t going to be Batman V Superman.
Look, before the DC lynch mob gets here, let me just confirm this: I liked Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Not as a movie, but as a comic book brought to life in the signature style of Zack Snyder. Ben Affleck is the best Batman in a long age, Lex Luthor succeeds in being the kind of millennial prick that I want to curb-stomp and Wonder Woman owns the entire experience despite having around five minutes of screen time in a bloated two-hour movie.
But sweet Grodd, it is a bad movie. Terrible, stupid and riddled with plot-holes. Yet still enjoyable. There’s a lot to love and hate about Batman V Superman. But if you’re throwing down this summer with a pairing of your two biggest icons going at one another in a massive brouhaha, then Captain America: Civil War is going to win hands down. Not just because it’s a spectacular romp that satisfies on multiple levels, but because it succeeds in every department where Batman V Superman dropped the ball.
And here’s how.
WARNING! MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD! DO NOT SCROLL PAST THIS PAGE IF YOU HAVE YET TO SEE CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR!
A conflict that makes sense
The entire setup for Batman V Superman was already there. Metropolis is destroyed in Man of Steel and referenced to again when Bruce Wayne films an exciting Jeep commercial as he drives his way through the carnage to save his employees from a Kryptonian clobber-fest that Superman is a part of. People die, kids are orphaned and Bruce Wayne is rightfully pissed off at all this unchecked power running amok.
Superman himself has a decent motivation, seeing the vigilante actions of the Bat of Gotham being something that he cannot tolerate. That right there, is a decent setup that could have easily been leveraged into a conflict between the two that would have felt organic. Instead, those sub-plots derail as Lex Luthor’s overwhelming insecurities take center-stage and forces in a kidnap plot because reasons. Completely unnecessary.
And then there’s Iron Man and Captain America. Over the last eight years, we’ve seen these characters grow. Tony Stark’s post-traumatic stress disorder following the events of the first Avengers movie and Iron Man, coupled with his responsibility for creating Ultron have all had a heavy effect on the shell-head.
Captain America has also had his world view rocked, with the Winter Soldier resulting in his faith in government systems being eroded after the HYDRA infiltration of SHIELD was uncovered. That, and the fact that the super soldier serum in his blood made a good man even better, just reinforces that belief in him to always do the right thing.
So when Captain America and Iron Man lock horns in Civil War, it’s hard to support either hero. Because they’re both right. And it’s done in a manner which feels like the culmination of years of progress coming to a head.
Staying true to the core of a hero
Superman should not be a difficult character to write. This entire idea, of an angsty illegal immigrant from the stars that permeates his recent big screen appearances is rubbish. Truth and justice should not be an outdated concept, an idea which has been tossed aside for an “edgier” take on an icon. And it’s a huge blunder so far.
In terms of personality, Superman and Captain America are strikingly similar. They’re both individuals granted exceptional power, power that has been used to help humanity and protect it. In the comics, they’re also the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, bastions of charisma and integrity who cannot be broken. That should not be seen as a character flaw, something which the Man of Steel movies are incapable of letting go of.
Captain America’s unwavering ideals aren’t just a part of his character. They’re what set him apart from his fellow heroes. This drive to always do right, to protect and stand tall. A Superman movie where the last son of Krypton spends two hours pouting and barely even smiles, is just depressing. You want to know why Superman has survived for almost eight decades now?
Because at his best, he’s the best of humanity, despite not being of this world. A being without limits in a world that can be split in half with a sneeze from his super-allergies. A messianic figure who fights for everyone and who works best as an inspirational figure. That’s why movies like All Star Superman succeed in having the best Superman on the big screen, and why Captain America is currently a better version of Superman than Kal-El himself as his old-world values contrast perfectly with today’s more cynical times.
Because those original ideals will never be out of fashion.
Balancing the dark and the light
Batman V Superman may be the prettiest film released this year, and that’s saying something considering just how overwhelmingly and oppressively dark it tends to be at times. For a movie with a Batman in it, that’s sort of acceptable, but unbalanced when Superman is also casting a melancholic shadow. But Captain America: Civil War gets the balance just right.
There’s some heavy themes at play here in Civil War. Enhanced individuals without borders, discord between the team, terrorism and dark secrets from beyond the grave that all come to play. But then there are those moments where you’re reminded that these persons of mass destruction are very human as well. Moments such as when Black Widow and Hawkeye tangle, and she asks him if they’re still friends.
Instances where a road trip with Cap, Falcon and Bucky in an old VW Beetle make me want to see a phase four film called Captain America: Bros Before Foes. It’s these small pockets of light, inserted at just the right time in an otherwise extremely intense movie, that work wonders and will make you leave your cinema with a smile on your face, instead of rushing to see your pharmacist about topping up your Prozac prescription.
To its credit, Batman V Superman does have the occasional moment of light between all that darkness. At least until its snuffed out by the emo equivalent of a hammer to the face.
Introducing new characters with ease
Both Captain America: Civil War and Batman V Superman had plenty of new faces. DC and Warner Bros. were looking to set up a new Justice League, and they sort of did just that when Wonder Woman flicks through teaser trailers of the other metahumans in action in that particular universe. Wonder Woman herself is the best addition, but these new faces felt rushed and inorganic to the process.
But in a move with two big new names amid an established cast of the last eight years of Marvel magic, Civil War was a winner. Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther was magnificent, and somehow managed to dominate every scene he was in and end up having a complete character arc thrown in for good measure as well. Going from a vengeful son hunting the Winter Soldier and ending the film as a warrior-king who echoed the great lessons of compassion and forgiveness that former president Nelson Mandela left behind, I’m properly amped up for his upcoming solo flick after the events of Civil War.
And then there’s Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. A miracle deal inserted at the last minute as Marvel and Sony got over their contractual big screen problems that had put the webhead franchise in danger for several years, Holland was a delight in every single scene that he was in. An introduction that didn’t rely on a third retelling of his origin, a genuine dynamic between him and Tony Stark as well as the star of some of the best actions scenes in the flick, this new Spider-Man is looking like he’ll be setting a fun new benchmark when he makes a new solo appearance in 2017.
A better puppet-master
Look, Helmut Zemo’s entire plan is ludicrous and relies on far too many plot-holes to actually make sense. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Daniel Bruhl is the perfect person to pull the strings, a character who weaves his way in and out of the shadows as he sets up a very personal vendetta that involves all of the Avengers and their actions during the Ultron offensive where the demolition of an entire city-state ended with Earth’s mightiest heroes going along their merry way.
He’s a repercussion, a necessary villain whose hatred feels somewhat justified, even if his actions aren’t. Compared to the walking nervous breakdown that is Jesse Eisenberg, and Marvel has their first truly great villain ever since Loki managed to trick his way onto the throne of Asgard. Credit where credit is due, Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is a fantastic character. But as a villain, he’s just unfortunately thrust into one of the dumbest plots of 2016.
Captain America: Civil War is out right now locally and next week for all our friends in the US of A. If my waxing lyrical above didn’t convince you how good the movie is, here’s Kervyn’s spoiler-free review of it.
Last Updated: April 28, 2016