Beware: Spoilers (regarding both movies) may follow.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil war are very similar movies. Both involve two superheroes who go to war with one another over their conflicting ideologies, they both involve government intervention in the superheroes’ actions, along the way the heroes are both manipulated by a criminal mastermind, and both introduce new superheroes who are to have their own spin-offs in the future. The truth of the matter is, however, is that Civil War did better on all the aforementioned fronts and others better than Dawn of justice. This comes down to a variety of reasons.
Handling the atmosphere.
Marvel and DC contrast in their portrayal of their superheroes in their respective movies. Marvel makes its superheroes more light-hearted and funny whereas DC takes the approach of being dark and gritty. The problem in Batman V. Superman is that itis too dark and depressing. Both Batman and Superman take themselves too seriously. Both of them are portrayed with the same dark and murky atmosphere surrounding them. Therefore it’s difficult for the two to contrast from one another given that normally Batman is dark and brooding whereas Superman is lighthearted and hopeful. Captain America: Civil War portrays its characters as light-hearted and funny but balances it out with deep character moments and adult themes. It gets bleak at times but the movie knows how to balance it outwith some fun, humorous and, heartwarming moments.
Setting up future superheroes and their movies
One of the problems of Batman V. Superman lies in its attempts to set up other superheroes for their respective movies and the Justice League. Despite Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman being one of the better parts of the movie, there isn’t much reason for her to be in it. There’s also Batman somehow having a dream of seeing the Flash from the future and the discovery of Lex Luthor’s files on other superheroes. None of these things connect to the conflict between Batman and Superman. Civil War introduces T’Challa/Black Panther and Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Both of these characters have great moments and action scenes. They not only connect to the main story but their reasons for the sides they’ve chosen and their overall purpose for being in the movie are clear. Yet, the movie utilizes these characters well enough to leave the potential for their spin-offs.
Taking the time to set up for the respective movie.
Back in 2008, Marvel simply started off with Iron Man. And over a period of eight years leading up to Civil War, they gave us solo films with Captain America, Thor, Ant-Man, and, Hulk. They also introduced Black Widow, Hawkeye, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Vision, etc. who may not have had their own solo movies but they worked in as allies to other superheroes. All of these superheroes were given the necessary time to get invested in and develop on their own and were given chances to work off of each other. Because of this, when Civil War came around we can build an emotional connection between the characters thus making their battle and the outcome of it all the more devastating to see. Batman v. Superman, on the other hand, tried way too hard to play catch-up with Marvel by introducing Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, Aquaman, Lex Luthor, Doomsday, and Superman’s death all into one movie without giving the necessary time to get fully invested in these characters or see them develop.
The handling of the villainous mastermind
To be frank, Helmut Zemo and Lex Luthor are the lower points of Civil War and Dawn of Justice respectively. However, Zemo’s character is handled much better than Luthor’s. Nothing about Zemo stands out completely in comparison to the rest of the movie and his plan relies on everything in the movie playing out perfectly. He doesn’t leave one raring for more even though he is still alive at the end of it all and his scheme initially feels like another story although it comes full circle in the end. In a very character-driven movie, Zemo feels more story-based. With that being said Daniel Bruhl gives a good performance and on paper his plan is interesting. He wants to kill the Avengers given his family died as a result of their battle in Sokovia. He knows full well that him taking on the Avengers alone is futile given stronger beings have tried and failed so he goes about having them destroy themselves. And in a sense, he succeeds despite there being some small hope at the end. Given that we’ve had time to invest in the heroes, we see what his plan has resulted in making us feel that much more for what they’ve lost as a result of this war. Luthor on the other hand is the most infamous thing about this movie. Like Zemo, his plans rely on all the events in the movie going the way they do. Jessie Eisenberg’s performance is so cartoony and over-the-top that it takes away the weight from a lot of the moments that should be serious throughout the film. He reasons for hating Superman are vaguely defined. His reasons for his hatred of Batman are even less explained. And he’s the primary force that ignites the fight between the two heroes without there being very little else between them making their battle come across as forced.
The utilization of politics
Both movies involve the government getting involved in regards to the superheroes’ actions. Civil War succeeds in tying all the superheroes’ into how they feel the Sokovia Accords. The congressional hearing regarding Superman’s actions, on the other hand, focus on Superman but do not connect to Batman. And we’ve seen the magnitude of the Avengers’ destruction in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and in this movie. We’re shown just how serious is it to the people to the point that it’s necessary and makes sense why the government would want to intervene. Dawn of Justice, however, doesn’t make much sense of its politics. The congressional hearing involves Superman shooting people in Africa even though it’s made abundantly clear that he doesn’t need one to kill people. And following the bombing in Washington, there is nothing more of the politics. The politics in Civil War on the other hand in a sense resolve themselves at the end. Steve and Tony’s conflict remains, but the Sokovia Accords are passed andSteve and his team ultimately become fugitives. Civil War’s Secretary of State Ross makes his position clear: Even though he and the rest of the world appreciate the Avengers saving the world from evil, they can no longer tolerate them going about unsupervised. Dawn of Justice’s Senator Finch is vaguer in her position. She sees that Superman means well but doesn’t come to an ultimate decision on how to approach Superman.
The handling of the conflict
Perhaps Civil War’s greatest strength is that its conflict is not merely story driven but also character driven. When it comes to Steve and Tony’s and their allies positions about the Accords, it’s not simply the Accords themselves that are important. It is more so on the characters positions on it. Neither takes an extreme on their stances. You see both Steve and Tony as devastated and broken men for different reasons who just want to see things set right. Steve doesn’t simply brush off the seriousness of the matter and Tony isn’t just blindly going headfirst into it. Both have a friendly relationship not only as allies but also friends. They take time to have serious and meaningful conversations about this matter. They talk about what they’ve lost and their past experiences with things related to the matter. They talk about how lack of limitations have resulted in them killing people in the past and now and that if they can accept being put in check they are no better than the bad guys they fight. They talk about how they may not be able to take responsibility for their actions if they are under government control and that power and agendas can easily shift. And these conversations lead to a high-quality action scene at an airport. Dawn of Justice doesn’t take the time to establish a clear conflict between the two. Aside from the fact that the two have killed people, they have no reason to hate each other. Even this doesn’t drive the conflict in Batman and Superman’s final battle making it forced and its resolution even more so. Steve and Tony’s final battle, on the other hand, takes enough time to establish the relationship regarding Tony and his parents in addition to Steve’s relationship with Tony’s father. This makes the revelation all the more devastating and their final battle all the more intense. And its resolution ends in a way that’s not too forced since we know what both sides are fighting for.
Captain America: Civil War and Batman v. Superman may be very similar but their executions are very different. And those executions are where the former succeeds and the latter fails.