I really didn’t want to be that person who wrote an article about Batman vs Superman and Civil War, in fact I’m pretty sure I tweeted my disdain about critics who did just this in their reviews for Civil War!
I have reviewed both of these films independently of each other (BvS review is here, Civil War review is here), and indeed was more positive than others have been about BvS in particular. It was in this process that I realised just how similar the films were, and rather than slating one to praise the other, I wanted to look at a more in depth comparison of the themes, plot devices and characters, within the two films.
I do not wish to upset anyone with this article, in fact I was slightly hesitant to write it for this reason, but yet I also felt it needed to be said. In order to bring some balance to proceedings, I’ve also included some contributions from @ReelFilm_Movies; an unashamed DC fan, to argue the case for Batman vs Superman.
Please let me know your thoughts on this either in the comments below, or by tweeting me, @sarah_buddery.
Please note there are spoilers for both Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Captain America: Civil War in this article!
There are many who think it is unfair to compare the DCEU and the MCU, simply because the MCU has been established over 8 years and 12 movies, whereas the DCEU has only been going since 2013’s Man of Steel. It is undoubtedly unfair to expect BvS to carry the same emotional weight that Civil War does, considering the world is in it’s infancy, whereas Marvel have spent many years fleshing out their characters and the world they live in.
Rather than compare their world building, I do instead want to compare the two universes and at what stage they released their “Vs” showdown. Civil War was a showdown between two of the main characters in the MCU, Captain America and Iron Man. Iron Man had five film appearances under his belt, and Cap had four. With BvS, we only had one Superman movie to go on, and it was the first time we were introduced to the new Batman. Ben Affleck was a great Batman, and an even better Bruce Wayne, and it is unfortunate that BvS had so much work to do! It needed to continue the Superman storyline, it needed to set up Batman, it needed to introduce us to the world of the DCEU, there was a new villain to contend with, and the plot somehow had to lead to Batman taking on Superman. It’s no wonder that the plot of BvS felt incoherent, it was pretty much four different movies in one! Some have accused DC of trying to “play catch up” with Marvel, and rather than being preoccupied with this, I feel more time should’ve been spent setting up the individual players, before pitting them against each other.
Civil War tied in plot threads from pretty much every other MCU movie that preceded it, by waiting until the thirteenth film to let the heroes go all out against other, it meant we really cared about what happened. The familiarity with the world, and the characters meant the stakes were super high, and therefore it was much easier to invest in the film generally, and particularly in the conflict. The central conflict in BvS seemed a little contrived comparatively, and having spent very little screen time with the two characters leading up to this point, it always felt like I was just watching a cool fight, rather than being emotionally invested in the story and caring what happened to the characters. The trailer did little to help this as it pretty much ruined the fact that at some point they’d resolve their differences and team up against Doomsday…but that’s another issue for another time!
Thoughts from @ReelFilm_Movies: In terms of world building, I think Snyder does a decent enough job. In fact, it’s probably one of my favourite aspects of BvS. It’s what Zack Snyder is good at. Look at Watchmen. In BvS he manages to create an aesthetic that’s beautiful and that sets the tone for the film. It feels very distinct from other superhero films. Marvel’s films are largely grounded in the present day. They’re very real world. Batman v Superman however, feels like it exists in an alternate reality. It feels very distinct. And that’s a good thing.
In Snyder’s universe, superheroes are something of legend, of myth. They transcend humanity. Even Batman, just an ordinary guy, is seen as a mythological creature. The story is told in an almost operatic way. It’s an interesting contrast to what we’ve seen so far in comic book films. It tries to do something different. I applaud the risk.
This film as been widely criticized as being ‘too serious’ or ‘not fun’. That’s not the issue with this film. And it does have its issues. Good and fun are not synonyms. Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy isn’t ‘fun’, but it’s great. Game of Thrones isn’t ‘fun’ and it is one of the most critically acclaimed TV series’ ever. Again, it’s nice to see them taking a risk and going with something different. Sure, Marvel films are fun and Civil War particularly got the balance between seriousness and fun pretty much perfect but DC have to have their own image.
I am one of the few who actually quite liked Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor Jr; his performance, whilst a little off the wall, was very memorable, and I found him quite a captivating screen presence. I was quite surprised by just how many similarities there were between Luthor Jr. and Civil War’s Captain Zemo (Daniel Bruhl), particularly in how much they were involved in the heroes coming together to fight.
I liked that in both there was this overarching plot about one man going to extreme lengths to start the fights, but again I felt this was something that Civil War did a lot better. It felt like Luthor Jr.’s plans were never fully fleshed out, and it was difficult to understand his rationale in making the two fight. Zemo on the other hand, had been personally affected by the events in Sokovia, and he was a constant presence whose motives and actions made sense. The actions he undertook to cause the rift between the Avengers, were well thought out, and there was no doubt by the end what it was he had wanted to achieve. What I also liked however was there was enough tension already in Civil War with the disagreements over the Sokovia Accords, without Zemo’s plans. In Batman vs Superman, the villain was the sole reason the heroes fought, and because his motives were not so carefully explained, it negated a lot of the tension. In order for the conflict between the two protagonists to be believable, there has to be enough existing animosity to make the idea of a ruckus seem believable. This is something Civil War nails, but BvS struggled with.
Thoughts from @ReelFilm_Movies: DC, more so than Marvel, are known for their great villains. They have so many iconic villains; most people who aren’t even comic fans could name a handful off the top of their head. I’m not sure you could say the same for Marvel. And I feel this has somewhat leaked into Marvel’s films. The main criticism I have of their films is that the villains are one-dimensional, with the exception of Loki and now, Zemo.
Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor certainly isn’t that. Nor is he the classic Luthor from the comics. Again, it’s DC trying something at least different. I enjoyed Eisenberg’s performance and he certainly wasn’t dull. While his plan is a little convoluted, the guy is clearly not well adjusted. I’m interested to see what make him this way and where his character goes next. It felt like more of an origin story for Lex. His plan involves turning Batman and Superman against each other, specifically for Batman to kill Superman. He doesn’t trust Superman, which is fair enough. He manages to turn the world, including Batman, against Superman, even if this isn’t really emphasized enough in the film. While it wasn’t implemented as well as it should have been, I liked Lex’s role in this movie. He wasn’t really a villain (until the end), he was just a guy trying to do what he thought was right. And those types of characters make the most interesting antagonists.
Both films had some new characters to introduce; for Civil War it was Spider-Man and Black Panther, and for BvS…well it was mainly Wonder Woman, but this was also the first appearance of a new Batman, and it wanted to set up the Justice League going forward.
With Civil War I was worried about how they would fit these characters in, but I shouldn’t have worried, they seemed to fit in perfectly and it felt like they’d always been there. Enough back story was provided so we knew who they were and why they were involved, but it also left enough to be explained in their solo movies. They were crucial members of the cast, and each had their important part to play.
Now we come to Batman vs Superman; for me one of the most laughably bad bits of the film was the “introduction” to the other Justice League members. In what should essentially have been a post-credits scene at best, Wonder Woman watches some video clips on a laptop of Aquaman, The Flash and Cyborg. My main question is “what the hell were they thinking?!” but also, “ok, so did Lex Luthor Jr. design the logos for the Justice League members? Was there a planning meeting? Was there some poor graphic designer being held at gunpoint whilst Lex demands what the logos look like?!” So many questions! Not only was the scene completely out of place as it took us away from the main fight, but it felt like unashamed fan service. It was all, “look fans you know these people! There’s Aquaman! He has a trident! Isn’t this great?!” but it actually felt a little bit insulting. The clips served absolutely no purpose to the main plot, and I think they should’ve either had it as a post-credits scene, found a more natural way to work the characters into the plot, or just left them out completely.
Thoughts from @ReelFilm_Movies: I’ll start with Ben Affleck’s Batman, who’s the standout of this film. He makes an excellent on screen Batman and Bruce Wayne, an important distinction. In spite of some odd character choices and his non-existent detective skills, I think this is the best on-screen Batman we’ve seen. He’s brutal, rage-fueled and bitter – perfect attributes for a man who likes to punch people so hard in the head that their face smashes into the floor (that really does happen). There’s a fight scene in which he takes down a room full of about twenty guys and it’s phenomenal. Probably one of the best combat scenes I’ve ever seen in film. Apart from the mass murdering (hopefully we’ll get an explanation for that in the standalone Batman film) I was really encouraged by this portrayal for the DC universe going forward.
Likewise, I really enjoyed Jeremy Iron’s Alfred. He’s a much more hardened character than previous incarnations and he seems like a very capable man. Therefore, he has a lot more depth to his character. I want to know about his past, he’s clearly gone through some stuff. His dry humour and wit were also welcome additions to the film. Irons and Affleck have great on screen chemistry and you instantly buy their relationship.
Lastly, we have Wonder Woman. She didn’t have a massive role in the film, so there’s not much to say really, but it got me excited for her solo outing. Gal Gadot looks the part and it feels like she’s going to fill the role well enough. It was great to see her be the one to save the day though. She’s clearly an incredibly powerful being, up there with Superman. We also got a quick look at some of the other Justice League members, again not much to say about them. They were rather shoehorned in.
I feel like they’re all introduced well enough into the story and to be honest, the new characters are the reason I’m most excited for the future of the DCEU.
Themes & Plot
This was something I wasn’t expecting to be so similar between these two films; both of them look at the idea of superheroes being kept in check, because of the destruction they have caused whilst saving the world. This works really well in Civil War because not only have we seen the destruction in the films that came before, but every single character can be implicated in what has happened. There’s no truly innocent parties, meaning it isn’t easy to pick which side you’re on. Despite preconceptions of what “team” you think you’ll be on though, the film will leave you constantly flitting between sides. The morality issues this film addresses keep cropping up and form an intrinsic part of the central conflict, and I really liked the way it tackled this theme.
With Batman vs Superman, it is only Superman who is being called into check after his building destroying antics of Man of Steel. This straightaway makes Superman “the bad guy”, and with a scowling Bruce Wayne looking on as he watches Superman and Zod destroy one of his buildings, this film really doesn’t make it difficult for you to pick a side! I did really like this opening scene, but I just wish the movie had made more of this theme. Ignoring all the meddling from Luthor Jr., there should’ve been a good enough reason for the two to fight! Superman is causing all this damage, which personally affected Bruce Wayne…use that!
Thoughts from @ReelFilm_Movies: A lot of people, including us now, have been comparing BvS and Civil War. This is mainly because they both have superhero on superhero conflict and focus on the right and wrongs of vigilantism. But while Civil War focuses on collateral damage and accountability of superheroes, BvS asks a different question. It’s not about the motives of the characters. Everyone knows Captain America and Iron Man aren’t bad guys. But we don’t know that about Superman or Batman, in this universe. And that’s intriguing. These guys are largely unknown, working in the shadows, with secret identities. It’s a totally different question. How do we know these guys aren’t going to kill us? How do we know they have our best interests at heart? It’s a good question. If you don’t know Clark Kent, how do you know Superman isn’t going to destroy the planet? If you see Batman torturing people, how do you know he’s a good guy?
Superman was part of the destruction of an entire city, would you trust that guy, not knowing anything about him? I liked how they addressed this fallout in BvS. It’s not a question of how should these guys be regulated, it’s more a question of how dangerous they are. The Knightmare dream sequence/future scene is a good example of what Superman could do if he wanted. That’s scary stuff. I guess the closest thing Marvel has is Hulk or Thor but at no point are their motives ever questioned. They’re just part of the Avengers and therefore we know they are good. And that’s fine. I love Marvel movies, but again I’m glad DC are asking us different questions.
Final notes from Sarah…
Special thanks to: Rob at Reel Film Movies (Twitter / Website) for his contributions, and Kevin (@KJCrighton) who came up with the title for this post when I’d hit a writers block! For further reading check out @EyesSkyward‘s really interesting article on what BvS has done for Superman in particular.
Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings! As hard as it might seem to believe, I did like Batman vs Superman, and I completely understand the argument about them being different universes so they shouldn’t be compared; the fact is the similarities are hard to ignore, and after seeing Civil War, it did really highlight just how many flaws there were in BvS. Please feel free to disagree with me, in fact I would love to hear your thoughts, so please drop a comment below or hit me up on Twitter!