As soon as the first of the complete Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice trailers came out, it was hard for savvy comic fans to avoid pointing out how much it resembled Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War. Back then, BvS seemed better, seemed more true to the spirit of the conflict; allCivil War had to show for itself was that Iron Man and Captain America seemed to be fighting over Bucky’s friendship.
Marvel eventually learned its lesson and showed more of its hand in its next trailer. It became clearer what the superhero fight was all about. BvS eventually dropped, and we all know what happened—it was an utter bore, and everyone’s biggest takeaway was that their mother’s name is the safe word they needed. We could all guess that at the time, Marvel and Disney were probably laughing it up, biding their time while DC and Warner Bros. dealt with their burning ship.
Now that we’ve actually seen Civil War, all that’s probably true.
Picture this: after seeing both, I can, without a trace of sarcasm, tell you that both movies tell the same story. In BvS, Batman gets on Superman’s case for being too reckless and powerful (a dangerous combination). In Civil War, as many already know because of the source comic, Iron Man gets on Captain America’s case because the Avengers are too reckless and powerful. Both movies hinge on an incident in an African country, and both feature a—SPOILER ALERT—villain manipulating the conflict to take out the heroes of the world.
But despite being the same length and having a cast that’s at least two times bigger, Civil War manages to tell its story more efficiently. That is to say, more satisfactorily. The pacing is much better, sacrificing cinematic heft for a quick zip through the entire necessary plot thread without leaving too much to the imagination. All the heroes get enough screen time, and even though the movie literally introduces two new characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Black Panther and Spider-Man, whom Chadwick Boseman and Tom Holland play resoundingly well), everyone is fully realized. Nobody is shortchanged; nobody feels like they’re crammed into the movie just to make the most out of the Civil War concept.
Instead, my biggest problem with the film lies with its message. (And, by extension, the original comic.) By the way, it’s a message that’s also fully realized; where BvS spends its time featuring Broody Batman and Broody Superman, Civil War actually fleshes out the debate between civil liberties and superpower regulation. They even throw in valid concerns of mortal politics meddling with virtuous superheroics. We didn’t get that last month; or at least, we didn’t get enough of it. The way Zemo’s agenda was revealed was the proper way to highlight the issue-based conflict while still maintaining a manipulative force behind the scenes.
While everyone is free to pick a side (as both Steve and Tony make very valid points) the movie spends too much of its narrative power lionizing Steve’s pro-freedom stance and demonizing Tony’s pro-regulation stance. Sure, that’s exactly how Civil War the comic told it, but after a decade, you’d think all the MURRICA beliefs would be tempered a bit in a world that’s slowly leaning to the left more and more.
Steve insisting that freedom means the ability to impose your beliefs on others makes him seem like a dick because he’s representing dickish America on the global stage; and even when Tony is made to look wrong (in reality, because they’re being manipulated, not in theory), Steve still looks like a jingoistic dick. Tony isn’t given the best motivation to take up the cudgels for regulation, what with only one particular incident sparking his guilt for what happened in Sokovia. He’s just not as political as he is in the comics, although there’s not much that could be done about it here. I just wish his motivation was better supported.
Despite its flaws, however, Civil War might just be the best superhero movie of the year—unless X-Men: Apocalypse, Doctor Strange, and Suicide Squad can unseat it. (Suicide Squad has the best chance to do that, assuming DC has learned all of its lessons from BvS and this.) Though it might not be the best comic flick of all time, I’m willing to call it the best benchmark of how a superhero story should be told in cinema, especially one as grand and ambitious as two sides of heroes fighting each other. Having heart and a lighter tone definitely helps, but it isn’t that necessary. What’s more important is finding the right length for each plot point, no more and no less.
Image from Screenrant