Friday, May 20, 2016

Double Feature: Batman v Superman and Civil War

When talking about music in modern day superhero movies, it's sad that, for the most part, gone are the days of our favorite superheroes having their own theme music. Typically speaking, oftentimes the music in modern superhero movies is serviceable at best, it gets the job done, but it's nothing that'll necessarily stick with you or anything. However, one thing I'll give DC for their series of movies is at least they're making an attempt at reviving the concept of theme music, and that couldn't be more apparent than in their latest outing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in which all our heroes had their own individual themes throughout.

Whether it's Superman's more somber yet hopeful Malick-esque music first introduced in Man of Steel, or Batman's more brooding, gothic music that has a classic feel for the character, I love how this universe's first ensemble foray put in the effort to give each of our heroes their own distinct music throughout, none more so distinct than that of Wonder Woman's, whose amazonian beats and rockin' electric guitar accompaniment at first sounds like something that doesn't even belong, yet soon grows on you and really pumps you up as the climactic battle rages on. These are precisely the kinda themes that'll stay with you, that'll stick around in your head and bring these characters to mind, just like the themes of old.

Meanwhile, on the Marvel end of the spectrum, they've really not done much in the way of standout music in any of their movies so far, the exception being Guardians of the Galaxy and its incredible use of classic rock tracks. But when it comes to actual original scores, they've kept it pretty generic for the most part thus far. That is, until Captain America: Civil War came around, and for the first time in 13 movies, actually gave us a score that not only stood out during the film itself, but that stuck with me well after the movie had ended.

In the movie, our main villain discusses his intentions on crumbling the empire that is The Avengers, and this shows in the music, as the booming horns and almost lamenting tone sounds precisely like the hymns you'd expect to hear upon such an epic fall from grace for our heroes as they engage in battle against one another. Perhaps not exactly theme music, but certainly a step up from the typically serviceable outings we've come to expect from our Marvel films, something that really elevates the material on screen and helps make it stick with you, gives it that added emotional depth.

Great music is hardly the only thing these two movies have in common, though. In fact, it's almost fascinating just how similar the two are to one another, and yet how drastically the two go in such different directions with various aspects of their respective plots. After my initial viewing of Batman v Superman, I had intended to give it another watch, with particular interest after also recently rewatching Man of Steel and coming away with a far more positive reaction than my initial viewing. Then after watching Civil War, and having my faith in Marvel movies rejuvenated after a slew of disappointments from the studio, I decided that I was going to be ridiculous one Monday afternoon and give both of these movies a second viewing in one big epic double feature.

Both movies essentially have the same premise, two heroes facing off against one another in a battle over ideals, gradually being manipulated more and more into an actual physical encounter, and a slew of other heroes entering into the foray along the way. From the outset, Batman v Superman certainly appears to have the more appropriate title, as Civil War's comes from a loose adaptation of the Marvel comic book story, but really could've just as easily been titled Iron Man v Captain America, as that's really the central conflict there.

However, I'll jump to the defense of the name Captain America: Civil War for the movie's title based on a few things. A number of people have mentioned how this movie could've easily just been called Avengers 3, however, I don't feel that's accurate. The two Avengers flicks so far have been really well balanced amongst their ensemble cast, giving an equal share of the spotlight to every member of the team. Here, though, it's an even split amongst Captain America and Tony Stark specifically, with the other heroes definitely playing more supporting roles. So then, why couldn't this be Iron Man 4 instead of Captain America 3? After all, Stark is arguably in more of the movie than even Cap.

Well, in that case, I'd point to the fact that, in terms of the actual content and tone of the movie, it's definitely more in line with what we've been getting out of the Captain America flicks thus far than the Iron Man films. Not to mention that it directly continues Cap's story from where it left off with The Winter Soldier, and carries over several other elements introduced in that film, and yeah, you can see why they decided to place it under the Captain America banner. The only other appropriate alternatives would've been had they actually named the movie Captain America vs. Iron Man, or titled it Marvel: Civil War perhaps, but placing it under the Captain America banner prevents them from needlessly having to introduce a new IP for the MCU on top of everything else, and it fits there well enough, so all things considered, going with Captain America: Civil War for the title of this new movie honestly does work the best.

As for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I've heard a number of complaints that the movie isn't enough actual Batman v Superman and probably should've just been called Dawn of Justice. However, upon a rewatch, I really have to disagree with this stance as well. Honestly, though there is a lot going on in the film, the entire movie does build up the encounter between Batman and Superman, and the way their fight concludes equally segues us into the "Dawn of Justice" aspect that's also at play throughout, so really, the whole title works perfectly fine for this film.

But anyways, now that I've discussed the titles of these movies in more length than is probably really necessary, how about we discuss the actual content in the two movies themselves? First off, I just want to mention how, despite these two movies being as long as they are and tackling as much as they do, they are both incredibly well paced movies, as my double feature flew by in absolutely no time at all, despite my spending around 5 and a half hours in the theater on this occasion. But speaking of just how much these two movies tackle, let's start off by discussing their use of ensemble casting.

Marvel is certainly no stranger to this at all by now, having successfully given us The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy and proving their abilities to balance out a larger cast of characters. And this latest outing is largely another success for them as well. Though some of the characters do feel a bit tacked on and largely unnecessary to the grand scheme (I'm looking at you, Spider-Man), their inclusion doesn't take anything away from the story, and they're all used just enough to not feel too intrusive, either. Many of these guys were brought in solely to give us that great action set piece at the airport, the big clash amongst the two sides of opposing heroes, and the scene was just so much fun all around that I really can't fault the film for going this route. So, though not everyone's quite so organically integrated into the actual narrative, they all still served their purpose and didn't feel pointless or wasted, either.

And speaking of Spidey, if The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a very flawed movie that happens to have quite possibly the best closing 10 minutes in any superhero film to date, then Batman v Superman is, too, a very flawed movie that just so happens to have quite possibly the best opening 10 minutes in any superhero film at that, as we witness the battle from Man of Steel from Bruce Wayne's point of view. Just wanted to get that in there, even if it wasn't quite so seamlessly incorporated as perhaps the rest of my scattered thoughts stringing these two movies together, but I digress!

Now, DC on the other hand is playing a bit of catch up, and decided to introduce a lot of new characters all at once in one go. And yeah, some of these instances felt pretty forced, such as when Wonder Woman is literally sitting at a computer and watching the three after credits scenes teasing Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash respectively. And I would say that the main villain, Lex Luthor, was also handled somewhat questionably as well. On first viewing, I didn't have too big an issue with this universe's take on the character, but on a second watch, Jesse Eisenberg's radically over the top performance does sorta just stick out like a sore thumb, like this character doesn't really fit in this established dark and grim world. I still don't think it's a bad performance necessarily, just perhaps a misguided choice.

Now that said, the one new character introduced in either of these movies who stands out tooth and nail above the rest as being by far the best inclusion would have to be Wonder Woman.

I love this movie's portrayal of this character. Her action scenes at the end are an absolute blast, and are so fun that, even after my second viewing of both these movies, her scenes are the ones that make me tempted to possibly give Batman v Superman a third viewing. Quite frankly, if her standalone movie is anything like what what we got out of her in this film, then Wonder Woman is easily among my absolute most anticipated upcoming superhero films.

I mentioned a possible third viewing of Batman v Superman (which honestly isn't too likely to happen), and a lot of that has to do with just how much the movie improved on a second viewing. Now, it was a movie where, despite being pretty messy in areas, I didn't think was nearly so bad as critics were making it out to be, even if I didn't actually disagree with many of the criticisms being lobbied its way. However, most of my misgivings for the movie didn't bother me nearly so much on a second viewing, and the things I did enjoy about it I found myself loving even more.

Meanwhile, I was pretty high on Civil War after my initial viewing, thinking it was one of Marvel's best yet and being just overall highly impressed with how well balanced, well written, and well performed the movie was all around. This is quite possibly Robert Downey Jr.'s best performance I've seen from him for instance, and like Guardians of the Galaxy, the sheer emotion this movie displayed elevated it well above the rest of Marvel's best. And after a second viewing, yeah, I pretty much came away with precisely the same feeling. The movie didn't improve in any regard necessarily, it just remained very much a very solid, very evoking film, and definitely one of my favorites out of the studio yet.

And speaking on that emotion, that brings me to the actual title encounters in these two films. First, Civil War, and the final confrontation featuring Iron Man taking on Captain America and The Winter Soldier. The tease of this fight in the trailers gave me hope that the Russo brothers would improve upon their more problematic action directing from The Winter Soldier, and that proved to be precisely the case in the final film. In fact, the way this movie played out, I almost thought the scenes from the trailer might be trailer exclusive, like Marvel was faking us out again, much like they did with Iron Man 3's marketing.

But no, the movie ends quite gloriously on that fight, and while many might be citing the airport battle as being a highlight for the movie, the encounter between Iron Man, Cap, and Bucky is the best fight in the entire MCU to date. The sheer raw emotion on display is off the charts, and the aforementioned booming music accompanying it will send chills through your body. It's a fight where you can clearly see where both of our heroes are coming from, and you don't even want them to fight, and it's almost frustrating in that regard, but all you can do is watch and see it play out in an inevitable, tragic fashion.

Batman v Superman takes a bit of a different route with its title encounter, however, as the movie doesn't end on their battle, but rather, sees the two uniting in the end in order to take on a bigger threat. The fight itself was enjoyable enough, even if, unlike Civil War, the actual reason the two are fighting does get a bit muddied up along the way. Though one of those lingering issues I still took with the film is in regards to what actually concludes their encounter.

Now, I'm not opposed to the idea of the two bonding over their mothers having the same name. In fact, it's a pretty human notion that I kinda liked initially, and seeing Batman literally coming back from his darker place and re-finding the humanity hiding deep within himself upon that revelation is a great moment in the movie. However, my issue with this ordeal comes down to its execution, specifically of Superman asking Batman to help him save "Martha". Not his mother, but Martha. And this just rang as very forced to me. Why is Superman referring to his mother by her name? Why isn't he asking Batman to help "save my mother", or something more along those lines? That would certainly feel more natural. And yes, I know that in order to do that would mean also naturally sacrificing the bonding realization of their mothers having the same name, something that had been a foreshadowed element from the very beginning. But all the same, the moment felt contrived, and took me out of the scene. I don't have the answer to how they could've necessarily accomplished what they were going for in a more natural way, but I do wish that perhaps some more thought and care went into that actual pivotal turning point.

Speaking on those "mommy issues", that brings me to one of the areas where the movies took completely different routes on a similar aspect. In Batman v Superman, a revelation involving our heroes' parentage is what ultimately unites them. Meanwhile, in Civil War, said revelation concerning our heroes' parentage is what completely drives them apart and actually kick starts their final fight, which I found quite interesting.

And one other thing I do appreciate very much about both movies is that they both gave us a very definitive victor to those fights. There may have been cop outs in other regards to both movies, particularly as it regards killing off certain characters, but the fact that they followed through with giving us a winner to those fights is honestly more than I actually expected. And that's another aspect in which both movies took a different route, which I again found pretty interesting. In Civil War, Captain America, who's fighting to defend his friend, succeeds in stopping Iron Man, the aggressor in their battle. Meanwhile, in Batman v Superman, it's the aggressor who actually wins, as Batman succeeds in taking down Superman, who is fighting more defensively throughout in a vain attempt to knock some sense into Batman and get him to listen to reason, much like Cap in Civil War.

And again, just the fact alone that the movies conclude in such different manners, in Batman v Superman seeing our heroes brought together to unite against a common enemy, and in Civil War our heroes being brought together to contend against one another, is just sorta interesting as well. I don't actually have any point I'm driving to here with these comparisons, nor am I making any attempt to dissect what either company might be trying to say with their particular decisions. I just really genuinely found it fascinating how these two movies that came out at around the same time could have just so much in common with one another, quite frankly even more than I honestly expected them to, and yet still go in such different directions from one another in all of their similarities. Can you imagine if these two movies actually ended up releasing on the same day as they were at one point in time slated to do? How bizarre would that have been?

And yeah, that's pretty much all I got. This was honestly one of the more enjoyable double features that I've done, as I quite liked both of these films, despite any of their apparent flaws. And a lot of that enjoyment came from seeing these two harshly different takes on essentially the same subject. I would say that Civil War is certainly the more solid movie of the two, as well as the more emotionally powerful, though Batman v Superman perhaps has a bit of an upper hand in terms of its visual prowess, as well as the sheer fun factor of its action sequences. And thinking ahead, I've gotta say that the Russo brothers have officially won me over and have my confidence in them moving forward with future Marvel projects, and though DC's outing was certainly the messier of the two, I remain hopeful that they'll perhaps pull it together, and if nothing else, at least remain entertaining moving forward. (I'm looking at you, Wonder Woman!)


  1. Great post! I still have yet to see Batman v Superman, I'm waiting for the DVD, but I love Civil War so much. I'm seeing it again next week. When I do get around to BvS, I'm going to try to pay close attention to the score, I'm intrigued by what you said about Wonder Woman's.

    1. Thanks Brittani! Yeah, BvS has gotten pretty scathing reactions so far, so I'll be interested to see what you think of it. :)