Marvel and DC, those comicbook giants, have each released a movie with practically the same themes: superheroes at war with each other but, somehow, one gets lambasted and the other praised. What gives?
To be sure, the two movies, DC’s Batman v Sperman: Dawn of Justice and Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War, have common elements: they involve family, especially moms; manipulation by a villain who is just plain human (not a metahuman or enhanced as DC and Marvel respectively would refer to supers); government intervention (or an attempt at it), and an all out slugfest between the superheroes. Exciting stuff, IF you know how to mix them properly. As it stands, it seems that Marvel succeeded spectacularly and DC failed miserably. Alone, Superman and Batman are two of the most popular characters around but while the Dark Knight Batman trilogy worked well, Man of Steel and Dawn of Justice did not. In fact, for all the spectacle, it left you empty.
On the other side, Marvel has been churning out hit after hit. True, Civil War does not feel like a Captain America movie and more like an Avengers one with Tony Stark/Iron Man getting equal amount of screen time with Steve Rogers/Captain America. The movie needed it because it was because of the conflict between their two beliefs that gave rise to the War, although, compared to the source material, it was a rather small encounter.
The difference between the two though is quite simple: Civil War is built on friendship — between Steve and Bucky (Winter Soldier), Steve and Tony, and, to a lesser extent, Natasha Romanov (Black Widow) and Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Steve and Natasha, Tony and Jim Rhodes (War Machine) and Steve and Sam Wilson (Falcon). You even have something going on between Steve and Sharon Carter/Agent 13, and Vision and Wanda. DC didn’t have that, despite the source material having that as a central theme. Robin was dead. They turned Jimmy Olsen, photographer for the Daily Planet, into a spy and discovered. Yup, he’s dead too. These two characters have always been important to Bruce/Batman and Clark/Superman. Taking them away that way leaves these characters dead. The relationships that Bruce and Clark on the one hand, and Tony on the other, have with their mothers is but a part of who they are. The rest is due to their friends. DC missed that.
Friendships are essential in the whole story because it hurts you, the viewer, to see friends fighting each other and, yet, mesmerized by all their skill, weapons, talents and strength of character. DC just decided to bring in three of their most iconic characters and join in a slugfest, the very heart of which would leave you asking “why?” It’s so dissatisfying an explanation that you even wonder if these superheroes are worth it. Dawn of Justice may have started off as a Superman sequel but, with the introduction of Batman, the story got too complicated. Eventually, it felt like it wasn’t really a movie about Superman or Batman but Wonder Woman. I get it that it’s supposed to set up the coming of the Justice League what with all the cameos and the not so subtle hints but even that was badly managed. The plot was so messed up and characters badly casted or played that it hurts to watch sometimes. Remember how the idea of the Avengers began? It was just an after-credits scene and yet here we are. Civil War is not perfect but it works perfectly, and it all stems from those wonderful friendships.
An interesting sidelight to all this is a growing concern about civilians becoming collateral damage. DC built on that as the starting point of the conflict between the Bat and Superman but it went to great lengths to describe the final battleground as total devoid of humans because it was after office hours (what, no nightlife?) and “the monster” falling into an uninhabited area. Marvel also used it as their take off point, citing the casualties from the earlier adventures of the Avengers as a reason for government intervention, and the final fight scenes occurred in an unused part of an airport and an abandoned base. While we don’t mind the absence of civilians in the battlefield, it does make the films less real. Nevertheless, it may mean that DC and Marvel don’t want their audience to be desenthisized about collateral damage even if it is a reality. Ultimately, that is a good thing.
So, here you see both camps with the same basic story but with totally different results. Marvel won. Hands down.