The DCEU has been through a lot, hasn’t it? From the overwhelming vitriol it became consumed in when Batman v. Superman‘s theatrical edition first hit cinemas, to the paradigm shift in opinions that followed once Batman v Superman‘s ultimate cut (on the Blu-ray cover, it’s called “Ultimate Edition,” but it’s also been called the “Extended Cut,” so I combine them into “ultimate cut”) first hit the digital airways, and now the split opinions as it comes to Suicide Squad. With Doctor Strange on the horizon, and essentially no fanfare being made about it, one thing’s for sure: whether you love or hate the DCEU, you just can’t stop talking about it. Why is that? Because even when these movies falter, they still ask questions without easy answers or tackle elements similar blockbusters wouldn’t dream of. Ultimately, this is why Batman v Superman is a far better film that its contemporaries over at Marvel. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the top 5 reasons Batman v Superman is better than Captain America: Civil War.
1. The V
I love the 8-minute fight between Batman and Superman. That fight sequence, in my opinion, was worth the price of admission on its own. True, the cinematography, VFX and fight choreography were phenomenal, but those, in my opinion, are the parts that mattered least. What made this fight great were the stakes, the mindset of the characters and how (yes, I know one guy is a super powered alien and the other is a guy dressed in a batsuit dressed in an armored metal batsuit) real it felt.
The Stakes and Mindset:
For Batman: This fight is his legacy. He’ll kill this alien and finally do something that matters after 20 years of fighting criminals that just keep cropping up. There is no taking in this alien, or any chance of them reaching a compromise: the only way this ends is with him dead or the alien dead. Batman is out to fucking murder this guy.
For Superman: Batman is a vigilante that’s terrorized the poor people in Gotham. He’s extremist in the way he operates and threatened to kill him when they last met. Superman knows he isn’t a killer, but if he doesn’t find a way to convince Batman to help him, his mother’s dead. He isn’t fighting to stop Batman, or to preserve his own life. He’s fighting to save his mother’s, and that “fight” is in convincing Batman to not be adversarial.
So if Batman wins, he’s validated. All the time and loss he’s endured fighting in Gotham will mean something. If Superman wins, he’ll save his mother’s life and come to a compromise with the bat vigilante.
What makes this great is just like in The Dark Knight Returns, Batman is the aggressor while Superman DOESN’T want to fight him. Batman here wants to murder a man we all know is innocent, while Superman just wants to talk to him. This makes the fight uncomfortable and disconcerting. We’re literally watching someone we’re conditioned to think of as a good guy trying to murder another good guy.
This fight felt real because you could see the actual wear and tear on the combatants in the first few minutes. Superman picking up Batman and throwing him into the search light mattered. You could see and hear Batman panting. Superman getting hit with the Kryptonite gas mattered: it made him weak enough to get the first real beating of his life. You see it on his face while Batman is wailing on him. By the end of the 5 minutes of brawling, you see Batman’s lost a significant part of his helmet and you see how ragged Superman looks.
This is how fights go. You don’t come out of it looking pristine like nothing happened. Fights don’t end with grand gestures of manliness or whatever. Fights tend to end with a whimper after both parties have exhausted themselves. It’s the difference between professional wrestling and UFC. In Pro Wrestling, the finisher is often flashy and that wins the match, but in UFC most fights end in a pretty mundane manner.
2. The Action was crucial
For a lot of movies, it’s poor communication driving the action. A misunderstanding between parties that can be settled with both sitting and having a civilized conversation. That was not true in Batman v Superman. A lot of people say Superman should’ve just shouted to Batman that his mother was in danger, but that wouldn’t have stopped the fight. Batman was going to kill him regardless of “Martha.” He didn’t back away because Superman said that name. He stood theire with the spear over him still ready to deliver the final blow. He wasn’t ready to listen until Lois came in and pleaded with him to not kill the man could no longer defend himself. That’s when he realized Superman was a man. No amount of yelling at Bruce would’ve made him come around until Superman’s “super” was out of the equation.
Zack Snyder did a phenomenal job with this scuffle. There were no quips, there were no jokes, no one-liners: there was just two guys with their own agendas going at it. There was no other way this could have been resolved BUT in a violent brawl; there was no talking this out; there was no “But couldn’t X just do Y?”. That made the fight integral to the plot, and that made it MATTER. It felt uncomfortable, all too real and those are the things that made it feel awesome.
Conversely, Civil War could’ve been solved with just Tony and Steve sitting down to talk. Recall, before this film Batman and Superman had never met before. Superman didn’t even know Batman existed. In Civil War, Tony and Steve have known each other for four films, which rounds out to about 4 or 5 years. In that time, they’ve fought aliens, robots and countless human soldiers. Their bond is battle-tested. People say this makes the fight feel more personal than BvS, fine. But it also makes it much more stupid since them not simply sitting and talking things out is far more unbelievable. You’d think they’d trust each other.
3. The Conflict
Let’s start off with Civil War for a change of pace. Scarlet Witch causes some casualties and then the Accords happen. I won’t go over it in detail since we’ve all seen the movie by now. The conflict doesn’t work. A few people died, but how many people have been dying over the past 12 movies without that ever even being addressed? The newscaster read off some casualties in the first Avengers film, but the movie paid no attention to it as the heroes were talking over the newscast and then they left to get shwarma. This conflict about human lives and being held accountable is something that has only been brought up in this film.
Now recall Man of Steel. That movie did not shy away from showing us buildings falling on people running away for their lives. It didn’t pretend people weren’t dying. Then, during the film’s climax, Superman screamed in pain at having to take a life, even if it was the life of a genocidal mad man. In the DCEU, all lives matter (topical, right?). So it is no surprise then that all that destruction came up as the driving force behind Batman v Superman‘s narrative. We now know the film was always meant to tackle the fallout from superbeings fighting, so the DCEU is addressing the huge collateral in the very first two films. That makes the conflict of heroes being held accountable hit home stronger here.
4. Earnestness in Portrayal
In the MCU, we’re told Tony is an alcoholic playboy, but we never actually see him doing any alcoholic playboying. Similarly, in Civil War, Tony is never as angry as the narrative wants us to think (and why would he be, Steve is his friend and it’s not like they wouldn’t just sit and talk all this out, right?). He’s not as driven in practice, in front of our eyes, as the movie tells us he is and wants us to think he is.
Compare that to Batman in Batman v Superman. We’re told Bruce Wayne is losing himself. We’re told he’s down and out, and in the above gif, you can see that. He’s waking up next to a woman he doesn’t even remember bringing home (the look of incredulity on his face when he turns to her), and then the first thing he does is take a hand full of pills and downs it with booze. That’s the down-and-out starter kit right there.
Further, we’re told Batman has become brutal, and we see that many, many times in the film. From him not trying to save the criminals in his way, to him pressing his foot against Superman’s neck as he’s ready to kill him, to stabbing a criminal that stabbed him previously. The movie doesn’t shy away from showing the unflattering portrayals that it claims is part of the narrative, and that just strengthens the film. We see what it wants us to see in grisly detail, unlike in Civil War which still wants its heroes to look heroic, regardless of context.
This is why I find it so baffling that people get so caught up on Batman not being heroic. He wasn’t supposed to be, and his character development is him becoming heroic once more. This movie isn’t interested in offering instant gratification.
5. The technical aspects
No theme in Civil War is that infectious.
No shot that good.
No moment as profound.