Spoiler warning for both Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War!
The superhero war is raging here in 2016. In one corner, we have Marvel, backed up by the most expansive shared universe this side of Star Wars. In the other, DC is new to the game, but backed up by two of the most iconic superheroes in film history. It seems odd that the two sides are only now directly competing with each other. DC’s been making Superman movies since the ’70s, while the Marvel Cinematic Universe is almost a decade old now. Yet here we are in 2016, experiencing the first true cinematic bout between the two comic book titans.
While critics have pretty much made up their minds about which film is superior, that certainly doesn’t mean that fans have done the same. Zack Snyder’s DC universe is one that revels in death and destruction, eschewing the lightheartedness of its Marvel counterparts. For some, that’s a preferred alternative to the constant quipping we see in films like Guardians of the Galaxy and to a lesser extent, Civil War. On Marvel’s side, they have nine years worth of movies to contextualize their various characters and stories. But who came out on top in this heavyweight showdown? Let’s look at the facts.
1. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
For all its various flaws story-wise, Batman v Superman was a visually arresting film. The IMAX fight sequences were especially incredible, and Ben Affleck’s unhinged portrayal of Bruce Wayne numbers itself among the best we’ve ever seen from the character. For Clark Kent, we get an embattled alien demigod trying to find his place in the world, protecting a society that doesn’t wholly accept him. We get Lex Luthor existing on the periphery of all this, pulling enough strings to get the planet’s two mightiest heroes at odds with each other.
Despite the solid visual elements and iconic DC heroes, it’s also a film hindered by its own plot devices. The climactic fight scene between our two heroes ends with Batman ready to drive a Kryptonite spear through Superman’s heart. His hand is stayed though, when, we kid you not, he learns that his adversary’s mom shares the same name as his own deceased parent. It’s a flimsy method of pushing our main characters toward the inevitable team-up stage of the movie, and it’s just one of many similar examples throughout the story.
2. Captain America: Civil War
Civil War is a story years in the making. Steve Rogers and Tony Stark have never quite been on the same page, even dating all the way back to their first meeting in The Avengers. That friendly rivalry boils over to adversarial levels in the latest chapter of the MCU. The two exist on opposite sides of a dividing moral line: Is safety more important than freedom? While the temptation is to side with Cap, the movie doesn’t make it easy, giving us a compelling case for all involved. Thematically, it’s a smooth, well-oiled machine that beautifully balances a complex narrative among almost every hero the MCU has to offer.
Dig beneath the surface level of Civil War, and we have a villain, Helmut Zemo, whose nefarious scheme is almost impossibly complicated. To avenge the death of his family in Age of Ultron, Zemo devises a plan to put Captain America and Iron Man at each others throats. That plan goes as follows: Zemo stages a U.N. bombing and blames it on Bucky Barnes, tracks down the means for activating Barnes’s HYDRA brainwashing, and then leads our heroes to a remote HYDRA storage facility. He then shows Stark a video of the night his parents die, orchestrated by Barnes himself, sending Stark into a violent rage. All in all, it’s enough to make one’s head spin trying to piece together Zemo’s logic.
3. The verdict
On one hand, we can certainly see the appeal of the violent, visceral superhero universe depicted by Zack Snyder and DC. But in terms of which film had a deeper, more cohesive story, Civil War takes the crown by a longshot. In fairness, Marvel’s superhero showdown was helped in large part by the almost decade’s worth of character context afforded by the MCU. DC, by no fault of its own, simply hasn’t given us enough time with its main heroes for us to understand their place within their universe. That being said, the studio has years of planned films on its calendar to fill in the gaps, making it an issue that could soon become a moot point.
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