April 29, 2016 by bck1402
Two cinematic franchises decided to pit their heroes against one another. Behind the conflict is a villain pulling strings to accelerate the conflict. Both movies coming out within a couple of months of each other.
I wanted to try approaching a review for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice from a clear perspective. Man, did I have issues with that movie, but laying it all out would have been counter-intuitive to a proper review without seeming to rip the entire movie apart. What has happened since is the release of Captain America: Civil War, which somehow has a similar core plot and a villain with the same intentions, but far different reasons.
So… spoilers (d’uh) if you haven’t seen either movie.
Why Civil War succeeds in its set up is due to its established characters and their politics, built over several movies. The consequences of their actions in those movies have come to a head here, thus creating a perfect political platform that splits our heroes who are firm in their beliefs of what is right and wrong. What triggers the political action, however, are down to the machinations of one individual seeking vengeance, or justice, depending on your perspective.
The consequences of such actions is also at the core of BvS. However, the end result of the heroes facing off against each other, ultimately, has nothing to do with it no matter how much they try to present it as such. Instead, the conflict between Superman (Henry Cavill) and Batman (Ben Affleck) is due to the machinations of Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), for some very obscure reason. The most we have out of this shared universe is Superman as this is a continuation from Man of Steel. The Batman here is barely anything like his previous screen incarnations. Given that this is supposed to be a very seasoned Batman, he is also somewhat so overly emotional that his detective skills got pushed way off the back-burner to the point of allowing himself to be manipulated by Luthor, who somehow knows the identities of all the heroes.
Ultimately, motivations behind the actions of the heroes become muddled and the inability to communicate in the simplest terms, even without provoking any misunderstanding, goes out the window. The end result is a slugfest catering to the fans who have been waiting for this showdown to hit the cinematic screen, and then proclaiming it was the best thing ever.
And yes, BvS is a spectacular slugfest and a visual wonder that one would expect from director Zack Snyder. Even with its dour colour palate, the back-heavy action set-piece is a technical achievement moving from the initial confrontation between the titular characters, to the rise of Doomsday, to Superman’s first round with Doomsday while Batman battles some thugs in a rescue mission, to Wonder Woman popping up to help with Bats and Supes in tackling Doomsday… action movie fans and comic books fans were likely having a field day! Never mind that it took close to 90 minutes to get there, trying to establish not only reason and motivation, but also setting up the larger universe and prepping the next movie to feature more heroes.
This isn’t like in the comics that inspired the movie, that being The Dark Knight Returns. There, the reason for the confrontation was political, and fairly close to the reasoning behind Civil War. Superman was pretty much a government agent in the comic, and Batman does what he needs to do in order to preserve justice in his city, even if it means breaking the law. In the movie, that isn’t quite the case with Batman more likely not approving of Superman’s awesome power and seemingly having no responsibility following the destructive fight with Zod, a recap from ground level opening the movie. That ‘disapproval’ is somehow fed and made manifest by Luthor over the span of, according to the movie, two years! Luthor does this with little notes somehow finding their way to Batman or Bruce Wayne,… and the detective doesn’t look into where the notes came from? A very different Batman, indeed.
And a very different Luthor. Eisenberg’s take on the character is unique, but it may also be divisive. There is a psychotic undertone, a madness that demands some method, like Heath Ledger’s Joker had, but it’s something that doesn’t quite come in BvS. Luthor appears to have been given some motivation and direction from an unknown source, but for all his talk about bringing gods down, it has mixed signals when he seemingly takes orders from an unseen one, or goes about creating one in Doomsday. The reasoning behind getting Batman and Superman to fight? I must have missed something, somewhere, because after watching it twice, it’s still unclear.
That’s not likely to happen with Civil War, because you do get to know how and why Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) put his plan into action. And it’s an action that is reflected in one of the new characters introduced in this movie, to provide a mirror to the villain of the piece as the main heroes get embroiled in the political machinations, and subsequent investigation that ultimate sparks the difference of opinion. At least, we get one scene where the characters, and there are a lot of them, discuss the issue at hand and make it clear where they stand, and why. The argument is raised perhaps a couple of times too many throughout the movie.
It isn’t just the result of the epic battle that happened in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but other epic battles are covered and noted, going back to the first Avengers movie. Hints of all this were already laid in Iron Man 3 as well as Age of Ultron, and that’s for Tony’s side, so his motivations are quite clear. The morals behind both Cap’s and Tony’s actions are very clear indeed, and neither are truly wrong in their decisions. The rest of the heroes fall into either camp depending on their circumstances and how the new ‘regulations’ would affect their lives or actions, or who they believe in.
The action for Civil War is also spread out, giving the movie a better pace for it’s 150 minute (thereabouts) runtime with that major battle between Team Cap and Team Iron Man closing out the second act! The final battle is on a far more personal level, shifting away from the major epic conflicts that seems to have been done away with in Age of Ultron. Despite the global playground these characters are playing in, with massive titles on screen telling you where in the world you are, the movie ends up with a fairly intimate conflict. The end result is one that changes the landscape of Marvel’s cinematic world, as it did at the end of The Winter Soldier. It leaves you wondering just what will be featured in the next Avengers movie, Infinity War. Our heroes are at a crossroads, reflecting an ending similar to that in The Empire Strikes Back (ooh, very much a spoiler, yeh?)
And since I am in spoiler mode, and he is featured in the trailer… Spider-Man is absolutely amazing! AND it was nice that he wasn’t the only surprise in the movie, as there was a BIGGER one, which I won’t say anymore about. Tom Holland’s take on Spidey is incredibly refreshing in contrast to the two previous attempts, not that they were bad. But Holland’s Spidey is a true teen here and those ‘animated’ eyes work so well, even if there’s no logical way for them to work that way. And the quips! Andrew Garfield gave it a whirl, but Holland is so natural at it here. Truly a breakout character, so hang in there for the post credits scene, even if you have to sit through those almost 8 minutes of scrolling names.
In both cases, the stars and the cast deliver where needed, but Civil War wins out a little more. BvS has a tone to maintain, so all hands are on deck in super serious and moody tones, while Civil War gets to play with different characters going through different emotions, Again, see Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. Robert Downey, Jr. and Chadwick Boseman (as T’Challa, the Black Panther) bring some angst to the proceedings for far different reasons while Chris Evans holds court as the beating heart of the show, giving every reason why this isn’t Avengers 3 (or 2.5 as others are calling it). Despite the massive roster of heroes, almost everyone gets a moment, but you do wish some would have a little more screen time, such as Paul Bettany as The Vision.
Ultimately, both movies are going to have their fans. BvS is one that is clearly aimed at the fans, while Civil War continues to build upon all the other Marvel movies that have come before. Both are setting the scene and heading for bigger things to come, but for me, ultimately, story telling still matters. Otherwise, it’s all empty spectacle in a glossy shell (looking at you BvS) as opposed to an entertaining, slightly thought provoking flick. In both cases, it could have been a little less butt-numbing.
Captain America: Civil War 
Stars Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Chadwick Boseman, Daniel Bruhl, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Emily VanCamp with Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd and William Hurt
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
Rating: ****1/2 / 5
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice 
Stars Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane, Scoot McNairy, with Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot and Jeremy Irons
Directed by Zack Snyder
Rating: **1/2 /5