Now that both Marvel and DC’s cinematic interpretations of superhero registration have been released for the public, we can finally discuss the next generation of superhero movies.
For far too long, it seemed every superhero movie had to be an origin story. Despite characters like Iron Man, Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman existing for generations in books, TV, video games, and insane amounts of merchandising, Hollywood seemed intent on stunting the growth of the genre’s films in order to dumb things down for general audiences.
These days, comic book and superhero mythology is in the mainstream, so we’re actually able to see these movies evolve. Twenty years ago, it seemed like an impossible dream that we’d ever see an event on the scale of Marvel’s Civil War or even a Batman/Superman crossover. In 2016, however, it finally happened.
I’ll start by breaking down some of the important elements in each film. Obviously there will be spoilers, so stop reading now if you haven’t seen them yet.
Captain America: Civil War Walkthrough
What’s most important to know about Civil War is that it’s a Captain America film. This is an important distinction in that, although it features nearly all of the Avengers, the story is focused on Cap. And that’s only real problem I have that keeps me from promoting this movie as the great superhero film the rest of the media is touting it as.
You see…in the comics, Steve Rogers is captured at the end of the Civil War crossover, and while he’s in S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, he’s assassinated by his girlfriend, Sharon Carter. The death of Captain America happens not in the Marvel crossover, but in his comics. It’s a powerful moment in the Marvel universe that affects every other series, and I had high hopes for seeing it when Civil War was announced as a Captain America film.
Unfortunately. Captain America: Civil War contains none of this. In fact, it ends with Rogers (Chris Evans) being pretty much the only person on #TeamCap who isn’t captured, and he ends up freeing everyone else from prison. This makes it clear that Disney/Marvel has no intention of ever killing off Captain America, which is my only big disappointment in this film.
Despite this setback, what we do get to see is actually a good movie.
Instead of a young superhero team destroying a school in Stanford, CT and leading to the government requiring superheroes to register their real identities, the movie puts the blame on Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) for destroying a building full of civilians in Nigeria while saving Captain America. This leads to the government introducing the Sakovia Accords (Sakovia is the fictional country where the devastating battle with Ultron occurred) and requiring all superhumans to act under the strict supervision of the government.
This somewhat ruins Captain America’s stance, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it gives Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) a bit more credibility. In the comics, it’s easy to side with Cap because he’s already working for the government, but he quits to protect the identities of everyone else. His identity is already known, so when he turns on S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s a selfless act, similar to whistleblower Ed Snowden, meant to protect the anonymity of other citizens.
The majority of people going into the movie were already on Cap’s side, so it seems as though most reviewers give the movie version a pass for simply not wanting to work for the government. I, however, had trouble siding with him because in the previous two Captain America films, he’s wholly working for the government. There’s no real reason he should be taking the stance he’s taking, and his arguments conflict with the character that’s been built in the previous movies.
By contrast, Tony Stark actually makes a few good points. It does seem reasonable that the Avengers act under the government’s control, and Rogers is putting his own selfish needs in front of the needs of the many. This also is a departure from the character we’ve seen built up in the Iron Man franchise, but it doesn’t matter as much because he’s a guest in a Captain America movie.
However, once the fighting starts, it’s difficult to care. Tensions come to a boil when Wakanda’s King T’Chaka (John Kani) is murdered by the most physics-defying bomb blast I’ve ever seen while speaking at the U.N. It literally manages to originate from a van across the street, climb up a few floors and kill only T’Chaka. With Bucky (Sebastian Stan) being blamed, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who magically survived his father’s assassination despite being 3 feet away when it happened, vows to kill him.
It’s not long before we’re watching Cap, Bucky, Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Black Panther in action, destroying low-income housing (which Cap has no problem doing, so long as no police officers are killed) and running through traffic in the streets. At one point Cap steals a police vehicle, then completely destroys it in what seemed like an avoidable accident.
Soon War Machine (Don Cheadle) shows up and everyone’s under arrest and taken into custody. At this point the movie really picks up steam, and tensions mount as another fight ensues while #TeamCap escapes, and both Rogers and Stark build up their forces.
The major battle from the trailer occurs at an airport, and it turns out this is because Rogers convinces Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) to bring him weapons in their secret meeting at an airport. Why in the world these intelligent soldiers and government officials would choose to have a secret meeting in one of the most secure places where you’re most likely to be seen is beyond me.
Obviously they’re seen and we’re treated to the battle we’ve finally been waiting for: a full-on battle royale featuring as many superheroes as Marvel could afford to put on screen. Though nowhere near the scale of the comic’s Civil War, this fight scene is epic and largely the reason why so many reviewers have rose-colored glasses on about all the film’s failings.
Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) provide comic relief, but they also turn out to be two of the more powerful superheroes in the film. Spidey catches Bucky’s punch with ease, and kicks Captain America’s ass quite a bit before his inexperience gets the best of him. Even after that, he’s still able to take down Scott Lang after he grows into Giant Man and neutralizes everyone but Vision (Paul Bettany).
One could easily cry sexism at how much better young Peter Parker handles his powers than Wanda Maximoff, but I’ll let Paul Feig and his new Ghostbusters handle that. Maybe Jezebel will bring it up in their review.
Everyone but Cap and Bucky are captured in the airport, despite a forced close call with Black Panther, and Vision accidentally shoots Rhodey out the sky (who magically survives), distracting Stark from his chase.
He picks it back up, however, and we finally learn why Baron Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) has been pulling the strings the whole time: to get the Avengers to destroy themselves, since they’re too powerful for him to fight on his own.
After Stark learns Bucky killed his parents, he immediately starts fighting again, despite already knowing he’s being controlled. Zemo tries to kill himself but is stopped by T’Challa, and Captain America destroys Iron Man’s arc reactor (though not really).
Then we get the pulled-punch ending and a few after-credits scenes with Cap and Black Panther in Wakanda and Spider-Man using new Stark tech that’s actually old tech and nothing like the type of technology you’d expect a billionaire tech genius and weapons designer to give a kid.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Walkthrough
Unlike Civil War, Dawn of Justice isn’t afraid to kill off its titular hero. This movie ends with the death of Superman, and he actually dies twice.
Dawn of Justice also does a better job than Civil War of highlighting the effects superhumans have on ordinary people. For all its flaws in portraying Batman and Superman, the portrayal of their effects on ordinary human society for exceeds the competition.
For much of the movie, Dawn of Justice shows debates about what Superman (Henry Cavill) is and whether he should be checked. Meanwhile Clark Kent is more interested in Batman (Ben Affleck). Its almost as though he’s unable to fully accept his place in the world nor even the worldwide debate about it, so he projects it onto another masked vigilante.
People familiar with DC comics are already aware that Batman has methods of disabling every superhuman in the event they go rogue, including every member of the Justice League. Like Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) and Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne is a billionaire with a lot of resources at his disposal.
Once Batman determines that he must stop Superman, it becomes all-consuming, and he spends a bit of time burgling Luthor. The tension between these two men gets so bad that neither of them seems aware of other criminal forces mounting against them. Superman at one point stops Batman from chasing Luthor’s criminals and flies away without bothering to stop the criminals.
Although the debates about superheros is just an aside in Civil War, Dawn of Justice almost focuses on them more than the actual action. Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) is willing to listen to Luthor’s pitch for keeping Supe in check but soon realizes he’s motivated only to assassinate him. She appears to be the only person with the foresight to notice this, and she has neither hero’s money or powers.
The bombing at Superman’s trial was a genius move by Lex, but terrible writing by Chris Terrio and David Goyer. Superman’s mind was clouded so he somehow didn’t notice the bomb next to him, despite having ample time to realize something’s wrong when Sen Finch kept stuttering. Everyone else in the room questioned if she was ok, and he could have read the label on the jar, seen where she was looking, and still had time to remove Wallace Keefe (Scoot McNair) from the building.
It’s difficult to suspend the disbelief and comes off as though he actually wanted everyone at these hearings to die. Even T’Challa noticed the magical van bomb across the street from his dad and acted. If he had Superman’s speed and vision, King T’Chaka would still be alive.
When Batman and Superman eventually fight it’s only because Lex Luthor kidnapped his mother Martha (Diane Lane). Somehow, even though Superman can hear Lois Lane (Amy Adams) in distress anywhere on the entire planet, he can’t use his plethora of abilities to locate his mother and instead runs to Batman for help. Of course, Batman is ready for battle and that’s the only thing on his mind.
Batman uses a mixture of ingenious weapons like kryptonite gas and ridiculous ideas like gun turrets to fight Superman, and the battle goes back and forth with very little realism or believability, even in the context of the comic book world they inhabit.
By now, I’m sure you’re aware the only reason they stop fighting is because Supe says the name “Martha” just before Batman kills him with a kryptonite spear. For some reason, this is what finally stops the Bat in his tracks, and they find themselves suddenly on the same side against Luthor.
Announcements of Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman appearing in Dawn of Justice turned me off about the movie for a long time. DC/Warner Bros was stuck in perpetual origin story mode much longer than Marvel. While the Avengers were already assembled, We still only had Batman and Superman with any major cinematic presence. Suddenly tripling that number almost guaranteed the movie would be corny.
However, none of these characters actually appeared in the film as anything more than quick video clips to show they exist. Flash (Ezra Miller) does show up in a quick time travel segment that almost made the movie cool, but it’s quickly revealed to be just another of Wayne’s dreams while decrypting Luthor’s files.
The one new character that actually is introduced is Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), although she’s not actually named in the movie. She does manage to get in on the action and make Batman the damsel in distress of the Doomsday fight.
Speaking of Doomsday, DC allowed General Zod to die in order to mutate him into the ultimate creature of destruction. While not necessarily canon, it’s about as good as we can expect to get for the birth of Doomsday.
When Doomsday is fighting Bat, Supe, and Wonder Woman, large portions of the city are destroyed, but, because it’s night time, they constantly excuse the destruction. Lois inevitably falls into the water where she threw Batman’s kryptonite spear. You can’t help but wait for the corny moment Aquaman shows up, but it never happens. Instead, it’s as though they’re purposely creating moments where he could be useful so it doesn’t seem as corny when it does inevitably happen.
Superman is who rescues Lois, recovers the kryptonite spear, and uses it to kill both Doomsday and himself, ending the movie’s climax and pushing to the graveyard scene where Batman and Wonder Woman discuss the beginning of the Justice League.
Marvel or DC?
After having watched both movies, it’s difficult to say which one is actually better. Although Batman v Superman caught a lot of flack from critics and audiences that Civil War seems to be immune to, they both have fatal flaws that stopped me from considering them among the best comic book or superhero movies ever made.
Captain America’s intentions were made less noble – he’s fighting for his own freedom from the system instead of for the privacy and rights of others. It’s a complete slap in the face and a departure that makes it difficult to side with him. On top of this, he doesn’t die (in fact nobody does except innocent civilians), so he’s not made a martyr that could have made the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe much more exciting.
Both Superman and Batman’s intentions are muddled as well. The characters are nothing like they have been in previous films. Also Batman is made older, while Lex Luthor is made younger and much more annoying. We can somewhat tell they’re supposed to be fighting over ideologies, but it feels like much of the important elements of this movie were left on the cutting room floor.
If you’re a fan of comic books and superhero movies, both of these movies are worth watching. However, be warned that, much like the DC/Marvel crossover, you’re going to ultimately be disappointed at the match-ups.
Still, there’s an obvious attraction to seeing superheros beating each other up instead of a villain, and in that aspect, Civil War definitely trumps Batman v Superman.
However, Deadpool is better than both of these movies, and both X-Men: Apocalypse and Suicide Squad are poised to outdo them as well. Far from being the best superhero movies of all time, these movies are barely in the top superhero movies of 2016.
Brian Penny is a former Business Analyst and Operations Manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work appears in High Times, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Lifehack, Hardcore Droid, and The Street.