It’s difficult to talk about Captain America: Civil War without comparing it to that other superhero extravaganza that happened this year, Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice. Yes, Civil War and Batman v Superman are quite different in terms of tone and what they’re attempting to achieve (DC’s film is trying to jump-start an entire shared universe, while Civil War is cresting a wave that was started years ago) but as these are the two biggest superhero films of the year from rival studios, some comparison between the two is justified. The only real problem is that, for comparison’s sake, there’s really no competition here because Civil War is superior to Batman v Superman in just about every way imaginable … and I say this as someone who generally prefers DC’s comics and characters to Marvel’s. Here’s why DC’s superhero battle royale doesn’t have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with Marvel’s.
10. The Main Event
The marketing campaign for Batman v Superman focused heavily on the conflict between the titular characters, promising a titanic battle between “God and man.” Unfortunately, the actual fight between Batman and Superman lasts all of ten minutes and amounts to little more than the two punching each other, with occasional pauses so Batman can hit Superman with a kryptonite trap. The main problem with this fight is that it barely has any impact on the film’s final outcome; Batman and Superman fight for a bit and then they’re pretty much buddies for the rest of it until Superman unceremoniously dies in the final act.
On the other hand, Civil War builds to its final confrontation between Captain America and Iron Man and then at the last moment, throws in a dramatic wild card that changes the dynamic of their relationship even more. Even though neither character dies, the friendship between the pair feels dramatically different by the time they finally stop punching each other, which is a good indication that this fight is integral to Civil War’s entire structure. You could take out the Batman and Superman fight out of Dawn of Justice and the only thing that would change is that the film would be shorter and we would all be spared from having to endure any Martha memes.
9. Introducing New Characters
Civil War and Dawn of Justice both introduce a number of new characters to their respective shared universes, but one handles this much more efficiently and effectively than the other. Civil War does an excellent job of introducing Black Panther into the MCU, giving audiences just enough of T’Challa to build excitement for the character’s upcoming solo film, but it’s the integration of Spider-Man that truly deserves recognition, as Civil War’s writers had to add him in at the eleventh hour as they waited for the Marvel and Sony deal went through during the film’s development. Batman v Superman somewhat successfully brings Wonder Woman into the fold, but completely botches the introduction of other heroes such as Cyborg, The Flash, and Aquaman, relegating each to a brief video stored on Lex Luthor’s hard drive rather than actually finding a way to integrate them into the film’s plot.
This is a bit of an odd comparison to make considering Civil War lacks what one might call a “big bad,” but the film still manages to do a better job with its limited villain roster than Batman v Superman. Popular Captain America villain Crossbones makes a memorable appearance in the film’s opening scene, but unfortunately, his role is abruptly cut short when he decides to blow himself up. Fortunately, we do get a lasting villain in the form of Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl), a man determined to bring down the Avengers. While he sort of gets pushed to the sidelines in favor of the film’s heroes (which, let’s be fair, is pretty much the case in every Marvel movie) his motivations at least make sense. In Batman v Superman, we get one of the most poorly-realized villains of any comic book film made in the last decade or so in Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor, a character whose motivations seem to change from scene-to-scene. And then of course we have Doomsday, who is pretty much just a empty vessel of bad-looking CGI whose sole purpose for being in the film is to kill Superman (which, to his credit, he does succeed in doing).
7. Box Office
Admittedly, this has no bearing on the actual quality of either of these films, but all the same, Captain America: Civil War has defeated Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in the battle for box office supremacy. Civil War currently sits above the $1 billion worldwide mark, while BvS has brought in $871 million. Both films are huge successes at the box office, but it’s hard not to think that Warner Bros. is a bit disappointed that the combined draw of Batman and Superman wasn’t enough to get their film past the $1 billion mark; something that the two most recent Batman solo films, The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), were able to do.
It may seem negligible to compare the box office takes of these two films when both brought in so much money, but this was definitely a case where negative word of mouth hurt BvS’s box office numbers, whereas Civil War’s positive reception from audiences and critics likely helped bolster it, at least to some degree. With many films to come from both studios, this is a war that is far from over, but right now, Marvel is definitely far ahead of Warner Bros when it comes to making money off of its shared superhero film universe.
Dawn of Justice and Civil War both ostensibly focus on trials and tribulations of superheroes, yet Civil War is the only film that features said heroes performing any actual heroics. Although BvS pays lip service to things like protecting the public and making sacrifices for the greater good, both of its lead characters come off more as thugs than inspirational figures. Sure, both Captain America and Iron Man let their petty (in the grand scheme of things) interpersonal problems get in the way of the bigger picture, but at least both characters come away as two men just trying to do the right thing. Civilian casualties weigh heavily on both characters’ consciousnesses, and the same can’t really be said for either Batman or Superman.
Batman is too focused on his own anger issues (and on mercilessly killing his enemies) to make time for acting like a hero, whereas Superman acts like the very concept of saving people is beneath him (there is literally a scene where he hovers over people who need to be rescued). People watch superhero movies for many reasons, but one of the most important ones is that they want to see these characters perform heroic acts, and of the two, Civil War does a much better job of actually giving audiences what they came to see.
To be fair, neither of these films are paced very well, as both suffer from stretches that just drag. Still, Civil War feels positively brisk in comparison to the slow, plodding pace of Batman v Superman. The main thing that Civil War has going for it is that it spreads out its more exciting action scenes throughout the film, whereas you have to wade through almost two hours of set-up to finally get to the big brawl in Dawn of Justice. Although Civil War gets dragged down a bit in its middle act by set-up scenes, it’s still much more engaging than Zack Snyder’s haphazardly edited film, which jumps around from scene-to-scene with little in the way of connective tissue. At the end of the day, we’d much rather sit through scenes of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark talking out their problems than watch Batman and Superman brood separately for two hours before finally meeting for an obligatory fight that doesn’t make up for the previous two hours of dull storytelling.
4. It’s Fun
In his bid to create the dark, violent, and overly serious Batman v Superman, Zack Snyder seemingly forgot that these movies are supposed to be fun. Apologists may argue that a film such as Dawn of Justice isn’t supposed to be fun because it’s a “serious” take on superheroes, but that is a stupid argument. The Dark Knight, a film that is perhaps even more grim and adult-oriented in the storytelling department, is still a fun and enjoyable movie to watch. The lighter, more humorous tone of Marvel’s films definitely isn’t for everyone, but Civil War balances these elements with an at-times somber plot that digs into some surprisingly rich thematic territory. However, at the end of the day, Civil War is still a film that remembers to take time out every now and then to simply have some fun with its characters, something that can’t really be said for the po-faced stylings of Batman v Superman.
3. Action Scenes
This sort of builds off some previous points, but in short, Civil War has much more dynamic and exciting action scenes than Dawn of Justice. I’ve already talked about how the Cap vs. Iron Man fight puts the one between Batman and Superman to shame, but this is pretty much true across the board. Civil War’s airport battle is one of the, if not the best, live action superhero fight in any comic book movie, whereas the Doomsday battle that caps off Dawn of Justice is largely forgettable outside of the few times Wonder Woman gets to do something cool. Civil War also has a much more engaging opening, with the Avengers taking down Crossbones and his squad in Lagos. Batman v Superman revisits the climax of Man of Steel from Bruce Wayne’s perspective, but the only thing it really accomplishes is making Superman look even more like a mass murderer than before. Things pretty much go downhill from there, unfortunately.
2. It Actually Respects Its Characters
Batman v Superman is the kind of comic book movie that seems to have disdain for its own source material. Superman acts nothing like Superman, with his heroic values and sense of purpose replaced by immense amounts of angst and self-doubt. Then we have a beloved character like Jimmy Olsen, who Zack Snyder included in the film just to kill off because he thought it was a fun thing to do. In contrast, Civil War treats all of its characters with reverence and respect, even if they’re only in a few scenes.
Take Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) for instance, whom Marvel has essentially killed off in the MCU permanently now with her literal death in Civil War and the recent cancellation of the underappreciated Agent Carter TV show. Peggy never actually appears on screen in Civil War, but her funeral is no throwaway scene; it reinforces Steve Rogers’ motivations throughout the rest of the film, as he desperately tries to cling to the last person from his past (Bucky) left alive. Marvel simply has a better grasp of its characters than DC does at this point, which probably goes a long way in explaining why we got that now-infamous Martha scene …
1. Emotional Weight
How is it that a film where no major characters die is somehow more emotionally resonant than one where a title character dies in a battle to save the Earth? Well, there are plenty of reasons, but the main one is that Civil War simply does a much better job of delivering emotional payoffs for its characters than Dawn of Justice. The final fight between Steve and Tony is devastating because the ideological divide between them is just as important, if not more so, than the physical battle the two partake in. Every punch the pair land on each other feels wrong, so that by the end, you’re just hoping they’ll stop before they end up killing one antoher.
In comparison, Superman’s death in BvS, which feels totally unearned and emotionally bankrupt. It’s a cynical death, brought about because Doomsday is the film’s primary villain and if you’re going to put Doomsday in a film with Superman, Superman has to die, apparently. It’s simply extremely difficult to care about Superman’s death at the end of this film, as we’ve barely even had time to see him actually be a superhero before he’s killed off. Plus, he’s so obviously coming back in Justice League Part 1 that his death is of little consequence or significance anyway.