Sorry for missing last week. I was whisked out to the remnants of the Wild West and was too caught up to actually post.
Like my previous inevitable comparison, I’m sure this is overdone and unnecessary, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to share my thoughts. Unlike the Spider-man entry, in which a studio was battling with itself, this entry is about two studios battling against each other. And rather like when DC Comics and Marvel Comics used to have crossover events, the fans are the ones who are choosing the winner. So here we go, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) vs Captain America: Civil War (CA3), and why I regard one as a good movie and one as a storytelling failure.
First, I want to state I’m not totally biased against WB/DC. Okay, I kind of am, but that’s on the studio for a history of appallingly bad decisions in regard to the adaptation and marketing of its intellectual properties. As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” I’ll note I did not like the Civil War story line in the comics, and I expressed many doubts about adapting it to the big screen and whether or not I would even see the movie in theaters.
1) Visuals/Special Effects – I’m starting here (again) because this is a pretty easy place to start. Both studios dumped a ton of money into the special effects and it shows. However, and this may be because I watched CA3 in an actual movie theater and BvS at home, but I feel the effects in BvS were lacking. In particular, the kryptonite gas looked pretty fake. This could also be a result of the Gritty Sepia filter as well. However, neither my small screen or Gritty Sepia excuses Doomsday. Either no one noticed he looked like an off-spec cave troll, or no one cared, and frankly neither reason is acceptable.
Winner – CA3.
2) Direction – I realize this comparison isn’t exactly apples to apples. Marvel Studios has developed a “house style” that limits a director’s individual vision for the movie. Whether this is good or bad, it results in every movie have a consistent if somewhat generic feel to it (Guardians of the Galaxy is a notable exception probably because it is currently pretty tangential to the main MCU). WB/DC has clearly let the directors take the lead on setting the tone for the material so the movies in the DCEU each feel very different. However, WB/DC executives apparently approved of Zack Snyder’s direction in Man of Steel and let him helm BvS, so apparently that is the kind of direction the studio wanted.
As I said in my storytelling failures, the direction in BvS just doesn’t work. The dialogue is heavy-handed and pretentious, the actors are either wooden or over-the-top, the soundtrack doesn’t match the on-screen action, and some of the choices to use slow motion or otherwise linger on a scene for dramatic impact seem very odd. Why was there a horse? (if you’ve seen the movie, this makes sense). Why was Lois Lane in the bathtub? Why start with narration and Batman’s origin story? A bathroom sink? Really?
As an example of what when wrong, consider the scene where Clark Kent is staring at a news report on Batman branding criminals. In the “Ultimate Edition,” the news report is a woman giving tearful testimony about why Superman lets people die. This right here is the problem. In theory, Clark should react differently to these two stories. Instead, the direction was either to tell the actor he was watching one story and then replace it in the theatrical release without reshooting the scene, or the direction was to tell the actor to emote at a blank screen with the story to be filled in later. Either way, how was this kind of direction ever going to produce a good performance?
CA3’s direction is perhaps more generic (i.e., having fewer to no hallmarks of an individual director’s vision) but it is consistent throughout the movie. The soundtrack matches the on-screen action, the acting is good, it’s well-paced, and there was no scene that caused me to think, “Wait, why is this even here? What is going on?” (I had a lot of those moments with BvS). But most importantly, the direction didn’t bog the movie down with an inflated sense of self-importance. This was a summer blockbuster that’s supposed to be fast-paced and exciting with a few laughs and a few tears. It’s supposed to be fun, and it is fun.
Winner – CA3.
3) Plot – As the Honest Trailer pointed out, these movies have a lot of plot in common. There’s a randomly motivated villain with an incomprehensible and implausible plan to get heroes to fight, which works because they won’t just sit down and talk out their differences and instead over-react, lots of spin-offs and sequel-baiting, and finally a teaser of a greater threat lurking just a few movies away. There are a lot of contrived plot points in both of them and a lot of plotholes that are just hand-waved away if they are acknowledged at all. Both movies were also well over two hours, so what’s really the difference?
CA3 didn’t feel like it had a 2+ hour runtime. Nothing felt like filler, not even Iron Man stopping in to pick up Spider-man which clearly was added when Marvel Studios got shared custody of the character from Sony. CA3 is really “Avengers 2.5” and even with all those characters to manage (and new ones to introduce), the inclusion of all these characters didn’t feel forced. Even Ant-man, and you know how I feel about Ant-man, served a purpose (even if just comic relief).
BvS felt bloated and loooong. I’ve already said this movie was trying to do too much and it really shows. So many of the subplots just didn’t go anywhere (like Superman’s existential crisis), Wonder Woman was obviously shoe-horned in, and many of the supporting cast didn’t need to be there anyway. A lot of scenes felt like filler.
Winner – CA3.
4) Characters – I realize that this category is not fair to WB/DC. Marvel Studios has built up its characters over a series of movies. At this point, the audience is expected to know who most of the characters are and what led up to this particular conflict. BvS has to introduce one-half of its title fight and jam in sufficient reason for the conflict all in one movie. That’s a pretty tall order, and I suppose it’s no surprise BvS couldn’t pull it off.
WB/DC’s offering, despite the title, wasn’t Batman versus Superman. It was Squadron Sinister Hyperion versus Crazy Steve. I don’t like either character so that already distanced me from having any emotional investment. The supporting cast was annoying or marginalized. The villain was completely out of character (as established in the comics anyway) and really annoying.
In contrast, Marvel Studios managed to take a contrived premise and get me invested in the characters and the emotional stakes. Sure, the villain was practically a non-entity, but that isn’t a problem for me because the villain is supposed to be that way.
Winner – CA3.
5) Final Thoughts – Of course CA3 is the winner. Despite the similarity in plot (including plotholes), CA3 is just a better movie. It’s better written, better directed, better acted, and understands what it is – a fun, summer blockbuster. Could CA3 be better? Yes, it could. Neither movie really managed to put forth long-lasting stakes. No one died in CA3, and while Superman did die, it’s clear he’s coming back eventually. I’ll take a fun (if shallow and generic), well-made movie in which the creative team has clear affection for their characters over a sad, brooding poorly made movie in which the creative team apparently hates all the characters.