This is no small matter. Welcome to part 1.
The comic book genre has held the cinema by the throat for many years now, and not to everyone’s enjoyment but there’s no question that the results have been incredible. Records have been broken, legends have been made, and culture has been revolutionised. There have been almighty successes, and there have been tragic failures, most of which have been Marvel, but the pinnacle has always been the Universe, the combination of heroes into a single coherent force, and it has been a sincere delight to watch Marvel and Disney built that cinematic empire, and something of an ordeal watching DC and Warner Brothers attempt to rush the same thing.
This year has been a pivotal moment, a test of strength of the two giants of industry. Marvel brought us the Civil War, an unforgettable moment in comic book history where a major event forces legal action to be taken by the world’s governments to be taken against every enhanced human and super-being. DC gave us the grudge match of all grudge matches, two heroes functioning at opposite ends of the spectrum, the beacon of hope in a dark world, and a dark knight who hunts evil where it hides.
There is a clear winner, and there is a clear loser, but it’s not the whitewash victory that I expected, despite my bias. Let’s start breaking this down.
Marvel – Following the events of Sokovia, and building upon the disasters of past events since the appearance of Iron Man, the UN has put into action the Sokovia Accords, rules, legislations and registration procedures that will help mitigate the death toll of such disasters, and enforce some accountability upon those who should be unaccountable. Stark, who has spent his heroic career trying to rid the world of the weapons he created, and watched the innocent brought low by the powerful supports the Accords whole heartedly, but Rogers fought for freedom against absolute rule and registration of individuals, and has seen the kind of damage a government can do when it enforces its law above what is right.
Marvel have had years to build upon this moment, plenty of disasters to give reason for the Sokovia accords the weight they needed, but where it falls apart is with Cap. This being a Captain America film the focus is quite firmly on Bucky “The Winter Soldier” Barnes, and it seems like he’s less concerned with freedom so much as distracted for the most part, and dragging a few friends along for the ride. Granted, time is given to him airing his grievances, and he makes an interesting point about the Avengers being where they’re needed but not permitted, but he seems less to be fighting his cause, instead dismissing the Accords to help a friend in need.
DC – The massive destruction wrought by Zod and Kal-El in Metropolis have brought into question whether a man with the power of a god can be allowed to operate as he chooses, and certainly the vigilante of Gotham believes that such a creature should be destroyed before it decides to turn its boundless strength upon those it once protected. Clark Kent sees the lawless actions of a man who hunts criminals at night as no different to the self same criminals. Though they both fight for what is right, the difference becomes insurmountable, and the conflict gives way to violence, with only a little pressure applied.
Our titular combatants in Dawn of Justice seem to take the stance of “You’re dangerous!” “Nuh-uh, you’re dangerous! You have lasers!” “You have knives and you’re a meanie!” but the attitudes of the people around them are far more rational. While Kent and Wayne face off in the playground, many of the people live in absolute reverence of the overwhelmingly gifted alien in their midst and elevating him to near-divine status, and others wonder how such an entity can ever be controlled, or if needs be stopped. The motives behind Lex Luthor are also a little suspect, but I’ll come to that later.
Marvel – At this point our cast of characters are far too well established for their to be any need to introduce them, instead we find ourselves further exploring the minds and histories of the major players, giving time to develop our new starters, and there’s even time to spare for our fresh faces. It’s no longer news that both T’Challa/Black Panther and Spider-Man have made their MCU débuts in Civil War, and given that both have rather substantial back-stories to contend with, each worthy of their own film (after all, Spidey’s had about a half dozen now) we’re left with the impression that this is a world in which super-powered people exist, and that the events of Civil War are quite literally pulling them together.
A couple of minor spoilers here, but nothing to worry about, come back after the paragraph if you want nothing ruined. I’d be doing a disservice to the film if I let these few moments pass without remark, the first being Vision in a jumper and shirt, the second is Giant Man. First of all the very picture of a near-godlike android in loafers and trying to be normal is just adorable and hilarious all at once, and second I thought I’d be waiting a lot longer to see Paul Rudd try growing to the 20ft tall version of Ant Man that raises far more questions about Pym’s physics.
I have to say that this was my favourite Warmachine film! This time we see him really stand apart from Iron Man, and yet fighting side by side they coordinate incredibly well. I found Scott Lang to be the most awkwardly shoehorned character of the roster, but he’s otherwise well implemented. Balance is a hard thing to strike with a cast of such magnitude, but Marvel have done themselves as proud as ever.
DC – Serious kudos to Ben Affleck, well done that man. Even the harshest critics of Dawn of Justice have conceded that he did the role… well, justice, and possible deserving of a stand-alone title, but I’d practically give Christopher Nolan my kidney if he would come back and direct it. Strange that he and Alfred should look so remarkably similar in age but I think that has more to do with how well Jeremy Irons has aged. As for the writing, the matter of guns has returned despite the nerdy backlash against Tim Burton, but that’s not my biggest issue. Early on in the film we learn that Batman is branding some of his worst targets, he leaves them with a permanent mark but still believes they can change? Otherwise why not just kill them and be done with it?
Moving on, Superman I don’t see as having a great deal of personality, and honestly I don’t think I’ve ever seen him exhibit so much as a quirk other than the need to protect those he loves, being all the more precious to him because everything he was born to was annihilated. He’s earnest, trusting and generally nice to everyone he’s not beating into oblivion but beyond that he’s rather dry, and the trend continues up to a point – there’s an odd moment in a bathtub but that’s about it.
As for other characters, a quick nod is offered to the future Justice League members, Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. Wonderwoman herself makes a rather dramatic entrance that lacks quite stunningly in backstory but there’s an interesting note to add to that later on. There’s an odd reference to Robin and the Joker that may yet be explained in greater detail one day, but for now it just seems out of place.
Marvel – Two villains appear, unless you still count Bucky to be a bad guy. The first is Crossbones, Brock Rumlow, you may recall being brought back from near-death in an after-credits scene, a HYDRA agent once tasked with taking down Rogers, rebuilt and equipped with battering-ram fists which I want for myself. In Nigeria he becomes the final linchpin for the Accords to be written, helping cause more collateral damage than Cap and his team can handle.
The second is Zemo, and Zemo in name alone. He’s not the pink-faced Nazi with a sword, just a man from Sokovia with a grudge and a rather cunning plan. Perhaps Zemo was a bad choice of name for this particular villain, although there’s time for Daniel Bruhl to earn the title of Baron. His plots bring about the conflict, and reveal so much more besides, so I suspect we’ll be feeling the effects of this film for a long time to come.
DC – Where to start with Lex Luthor? Well, we know he’s got hair, and that Jesse Eisenburg was widely regarded as an odd choice, after all he lacks the gravitas, the charisma, but instead has a great deal of very nervous and frantic energy that he uses to great effect and can still use to fuel an admirable range of characters, heroes and villains alike, but I feel that he’d have made a better Joker, perhaps better than Jared Leto, but we can’t say for sure. He also lacks quite severely in motivation, he seems to be more fascinated by the idea of bringing down a god, rather than embittered by the inequality Superman represents. What we have is someone to spout one-liners for the trailer, one of Snyder’s specialities.
Another spoilerous paragraph, be warned. Luthor keeps a file on known “metahumans” as part of his mad fascination with the powerful creatures that occupy the DC world, and it’s fascinating to see the Justice League presented in such a way. Much of what we know about Wonderwoman appears here, with just a little context added in her dialogue to give her a certain richness of character. We see a glimpse here of the Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg too, and while the latter two look superb, I have some issue with the Flash. And why would mixing human and krypton DNA make Doomsday? Ever?
I shall rest here, lest this article become as monstrous and bloated as one of our Top 10‘s. I mentioned before that this was no small matter, after all this is two films I’m reviewing at once, both with a great deal of ground to cover. If you’re looking for a summary I’ll give it here:
Batman vs. Superman was not the disaster I thought it would be, despite my rather profound hatred of Zack Snyder‘s body of work, I found myself enjoying most of what I saw bar a few key moments. It still pales against Civil War.
If you’re hungry for more, come back on Thursday, because I have so much more to discuss…