It’s here! Captain America: Civil War has finally hit theaters. So if you’re like me, and were sick of hearing story after story about what a complete and utter failure Batman v Superman turned out to be, well too damn bad! Civil War’s only going to add gas to that tank.
So let’s get everything out in the open. Civil War and Batman v Superman are two big movies, put out by rival studios, that each feature scenes of superheroes punching each other in the face. Beyond that, Batman v Superman is DC’s attempt at setting up its own cinematic universe, much like the juggernaut Marvel’s been using to print money since 2008. It’s very easy to look at these two films and say they are one and the same. But don’t be fooled! Anyone using Civil War to measure the successes and failures of Batman v Superman is just being lazy. It’s as simple as that.
It would be disingenuous to say that these two movies had nothing in common, but as is so often the case, context is everything. It’s not enough to say, “But they both hit each other!” We have to examine the characters, their motivations, and the consequences of their actions. So join me, won’t you, as we embark on this grand adventure and settle once and for all the question: Do I have too much time on my hands?
It goes without saying that heavy spoilers for both Batman v Superman and Civil War follow. Forewarned is forearmed.
The Inciting Incident
The inciting incident is what sets a film’s story in motion. In Batman v Superman, we’re taken back to the Battle of Metropolis, shown in all its glory at the end of Man of Steel. Only this time, we see things from the perspective of Bruce Wayne, who’s forced to watch helpless as the brawl between Superman and Zod brings down the Wayne Financial building, killing scores of his friends and coworkers (not to mention thousands of others all across the city). In Civil War, Captain America and the Avengers are in Lagos, trying to keep Brock Rumlow (better known to comic book fans as Crossbones) from stealing a biological weapon. Rather than be captured, Rumlow blows himself up, and several people in a nearby office building are killed when Wanda Maximoff lifts him up into the sky to redirect the blast.
In BvS, mankind’s introduction to Superman convinces Bruce that he simply poses too big a threat to humanity and has to be destroyed. Full stop. In Civil War, the Lagos incident causes the United Nations to pass the Sokovia Accords, which will bring the Avengers under UN control. Already we see the difference between these two situations. In Civil War, the governments of the world have identified a threat — an unchecked Avengers — and decided that the best way to handle it is to regulate it. They decide to create rules which the Avengers will need to follow if it wants to keep operating. In BvS, one man has taken it upon himself to destroy Superman, and begins to prepare for how he’ll go about accomplishing that.
Let’s break it down even further. Superman and the Avengers are our threats, and Batman and Iron Man/the Sokovia Accords are the means by which those threats will be neutralized. However, while Iron Man/the Accords will allow Captain America to come out the other end in one piece, Batman has other plans for Superman. While the inciting incident in Batman v Superman immediately sets Batman and Superman on a collision course with one another, the same is not so for Iron Man and Captain America in Civil War. Cap’s involvement is Lagos, and even his refusal to sign the Accords doesn’t bring him into direct conflict with Iron Man. It’s only when Captain America insists on protecting Bucky that things gets physical between the two.
The Villains and Their Plans
Our villains are Lex Luthor and Colonel Helmut Zemo. And while both of them are working behind the scenes, pulling strings, their motivations in their respective films are actually quite different.
Lex Luthor hates Superman on a fundamental level. He believes a being that is all-powerful cannot be all-good, and a being that is all-good cannot be all-powerful. The purpose of Lex’s vendetta against Superman is twofold: He wants to expose to the world what he sees as the lie of Superman (described above), and he also wants to show the world that Superman is vulnerable, in the hopes of preventing other metahumans from coming out of the woodwork.
Zemo’s motives are a little more mundane. He fought in the Sokovian military, and his family was killed when the Avengers went up against Ultron. Zemo understands that he is but a man, and will never be able to take the Avengers out by himself. So he devises a plan which, if successful, will cause the Avengers to take out each other. Or at least rip the team apart.
The difference between these two plans should be pretty obvious. Lex is psychologically traumatized and has a desire to make the world see Superman as he sees him. At the same time, he’s playing the long game, in the hopes of preventing others like Superman from showing themselves. Zemo’s plan is much more focused. While it’s possible that his experiences have led him to hate all superheroes, right now he’s concerned only with destroying the Avengers and thereby avenging (haha!) his family.
Breaking it down even further, Lex is working to change public perception and prevent another Metropolis, while Zemo’s goal is revenge.
The Fight, pt. 1
Each film showcases two fight scenes. I would say that one is large, while the other is small, but I don’t think that does a very good job describing them. It would be more accurate to say that one is more personal, while the other is more spectacle. Batman v Superman lets the more personal fight play out first, while the larger, flashier fight is saved for the third act. In Civil War, things are reversed, and we see the flashy fight first, and the personal fight saved for later.
In BvS, Batman and Superman go head to head. Batman is fighting because he sees Superman as a threat that needs to be destroyed. Superman has been forced into the fight because Lex kidnapped his mother and will kill her unless he kills Batman. You can see Superman trying to stop the fight pretty early on, trying to reason with Batman, who just isn’t having it. After that, Superman tries ending things by quickly overwhelming him, almost like he’s trying to slap some sense into him. Batman gets in his face, and Superman shoves him across the parking lot. Superman picks him up, flies him through a building and throws him into the Bat-Signal. He tells Batman, “If I wanted it, you’d be dead already!” But then Batman uses the kryptonite, and Superman is fighting for his life.
This fight is brought to an end by the infamous Martha moment. Hearing his mother’s name serves to jerk Batman back to reality, and he realizes just how far he’s fallen, how much he’s transformed into the criminals he hates. Batman promises Superman that he won’t let his mother die, and goes off the save her. The two are now on the same side.
In CW, the first, flashier fight occurs because Captain America and Bucky are attempting to chase Zemo, who’s gone to Siberia, ostensibly to activate a group of super soldiers. Iron Man and his Avengers are simply trying to block their path. While Batman’s mission is to kill Superman, it’s very obvious that both Team Cap and Team Iron Man are pulling their punches. In the end, they’re still on the same side. No one wants to kill each other. This is given a little more weight when Rhodey is seriously hurt in the fight. Tony’s reaction is almost that of a man who’s been jerked back to reality himself. As if it never occurred to him that in a brawl between TWELVE superheroes, no one would be killed, or even seriously injured.
Let’s take a look at each film’s second fight, and then we can compare and contrast.
The Fight, pt. 2
Batman v Superman’s second fight is all spectacle. Now that Batman and Superman are on the same side, they’ve teamed up to battle Doomsday. Joined by Wonder Woman, the three are able to bring the monster down, but only at great cost, as Superman is killed in the fight. As said before, Civil War‘s second fight is much more personal than the first. Zemo reveals that it was Bucky who murdered Tony Stark’s parents. Captain America tells Tony that he knew his parents’ murder was a Hydra plot, and the three go at it. Tony is definitely trying to kill Bucky, while Cap is there to protect his friend. Tony almost brings Bucky down, but is stopped when Cap disables his suit. Cap collects Bucky and leaves.
How do these fights compare to each other? It may be a little easier if we compare each film’s personal fight, and then each film’s spectacle fight.
What sets off the more personal fights in each movie? Superman’s fight with Zod is something that made Bruce Wayne feel completely helpless. That feeling has fed into a resentment, even a hatred, that’s been simmering for the better part of two years. Batman has known this fight was coming, and he’s planned for it. By contrast, the personal fight that we see at the end of CW is much more abrupt. Tony learns that it was Bucky who killed his parents, that Captain America had some idea that that was the case, and he can’t control his rage. Their fight is brutal, and a little ill-conceived. It doesn’t take long to see that going up against the two, Tony is a little outmatched.
Once you dig into them a bit, the big, spectacle fight in each film couldn’t be more different from one another. If Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman can’t defeat Doomsday, there’s really no knowing how much death and destruction he’ll go on to cause. General Swanwick tell the president that Doomsday is unkillable, and that very well may have been true. The stakes in their fight couldn’t be higher. This is not so in Civil War’s spectacle fight. Again, Team Iron Man is basically trying to keep Captain America from stealing an airplane and escaping to Siberia. The entire thing amounts to little more than a police action. As a matter of fact, it’s a police action that fails, when you consider that Captain America and Bucky escape.
Our heroes find themselves in very different places once the dust settles in each movie. In BvS, Doomsday has been destroyed, but Superman is also dead. Batman, convinced that other threats are on the horizon, tells Wonder Woman that they need to seek out other metahumans like her and convince them to unite so that they can face these threats together. With that, the Justice League is born. The film has left us with something larger than what we had before.
In CW, the Avengers are broken in two. Captain America’s team is on the run. As far as the government is concerned, they’re considered criminals. Captain America himself has left his shield behind, a symbolic rejection of the Captain America identity. If either team continues to operate, they’re going to do so in a way that is very different from what we’ve seen before. Our heroes are no longer united, and the film leaves us with something lesser than what we had before.
So what have we learned? While it’s true that both Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War have a lot in common — heroes fighting, manipulative villains — many of these similarities are only cosmetic in nature, as the events that bring these similar circumstances about are very different, as are our characters’ motivations.
As a matter of fact, you could say that the false comparisons between these two movies are commonly applied to the larger Marvel and DC cinematic universes. The MCU consists of thirteen movies. Marvel has had years to establish its characters and fine-tune the stories it’s telling. It’s easy to look back on things 10 billion dollars later and imagine the road from Iron Man to Civil War as being smooth sailing from start to stop, but of course that wasn’t the case. Anyone remember Thor: The Dark World? The point is, Marvel has had time to iron out the kinks. DC is still in the early stages of this process, but is still judged according to the success of the finely-tuned Marvel machine. Comparing the two cinematic universes is very easy, but still very unfair. DC is still finding its footing, while Marvel has gotten its formula down to a science.
Whew! That was fun. Keep in mind that a little bit of analysis isn’t going to stop fans or critics from making these sorts of comparisons. That’s a shame because I really liked both of these movies, and the constant back and forth you see playing out online can take away from that enjoyment. I can only imagine what it’ll be like once DC puts out a movie that’s as well-received as Civil War. It’ll be fanboy Armageddon. We’ll all be deleting our Twitter accounts then.