I managed to get out and see Captain America: Civil War in its second weekend of release, and as expected, it was quite entertaining. However, my Facebook feed was filled through the previous week with raves from the many comic-book enthusiasts and pros I follow on social media. Along with it was a fair bit of some familiar criticisms (even up to vitriol) — not for Civil War, but for Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The new Marvel movie isn’t nearly as polarizing as the DC/Warner Bros. foray into the super-hero genre earlier this year. I don’t understand why so many had such harsh words for the film (especially those who hadn’t seen it), but the comparisons between the DC flick and the Marvel movie were unavoidable.
Allow me to offer mine, sans spoilers (to the best of my ability).
Comparing BvS and Civil War is natural, and not just because of how closely together they clustered in theatres. It’s because there are some clear parallels to be drawn. Both movies are built on the premise of familiar, colorful heroes doing battle (before dealing with the real threat).
The new Cap ciné is well crafted. It juggles a much larger cast of characters and does so well, achieving a nice balance between multiple plotlines, two key character introductions and so much more. The pacing is solid, and the main fight scene is an absolute blast. That being said, it’s not going to go down as Marvel’s best movie or even among its best. Where it goes awry is in its ending, in that, it lacks an ending. Like so many Marvel movies before it, Civil War seems to be about setting up the next step, about building the larger universe rather than focusing on the core mission of telling one main, compelling story.
Dawn of Justice, on the other hand, had its own flaws, not the least of which was an effort to build the larger DC Cinematic Universe at an accelerated pace, a clear attempt to play catchup with Marvel’s brand. That corporate imperative came as no surprise, though it was occasionally intrusive. Furthermore, some supporting characters who seemed like they should have been more important seemed at times like little more than props, so it didn’t have the same balance when it came to character-driven moments for all of the players.
That being said, like Civil War, BvS did an excellent job of introducing two key characters (albeit familiar ones, an aged Batman and Wonder Woman). Both flicks also had a central theme that linked the disparate plot elements together. Civil War‘s was vengeance (though it was far from subtle), whereas BvS struck me as the linked story of three men all haunted by the ghosts of dead parents and that drives them in radically different ways.
The most common criticism I heard of BvS (and Warner Bros. take on the super-hero genre in general in recent years) was that it was too dark, not just visually, but in terms of content. That gripe was almost always accompanied by praise for Marvel for making its super-heroes fun. And it’s true. There’s been a darker edge to the DC flicks and characters — I would describe it was more mature and reflective — while there’s no denying that Marvel movies are chock fun of fun and even funny moments.
But now that Civil War has played out for all to see (should they so choose), I’m befuddled by the continuation of that dark-versus-light argument. The reason for my confusion is that the tables have turned. DC’s movies are on the road to hope, while cynicism is beginning to blanket Marvel’s cinematic universe.
The ultimate plot driving BvS was pacing a path to partnership. Civil War was about divisions and dissolution. By the end of Dawn of Justice, Batman and Superman have emerged from the darkness and find common purpose in each other’s existence, philosophies and abilities. That movie literally and figuratively ended on a brighter note. Civil War achieves the opposite, taking the supposedly “lighter” and brighter heroes to a darker place. Again, literally and figuratively.
Both are entertaining movies. And while I clearly enjoyed BvS more, I completely understand why others favor Civil War. What confounds me so is that many have taken an either-or approach to the two films, unable to enjoy both in different ways, for what they are.
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.