Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Captain America: Civil War
The battle of superhero battles is coming. After years of seeing superheroes fight their Rogues’ Galleries on screen, the advent of shared universes like the Marvel Cinematic Universe means we’re seeing more and more crossover between our most famous superheroes. With rival D.C. finally getting in on the game, next year sees the biggest face-off yet between the two titanic comic companies. Superman will clash with Batman for the first time in live-action cinema in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice while the friendship between Captain America and Iron Man will descend into conflict in Captain America: Civil War.
While BvS wrapped its filming last November, Civil War, the follow-up to this month’s billion-dollar blockbuster Avengers Age of Ultron (my review here) has begun filming in Atlanta, Georgia. some of the first spy pics have popped online. The most notable ones features Falcon’s (Anthony Mackie) new suit/wings and a fight between Chris Evans‘ Cap and the villain Crossbones a.k.a. Brock Rumlow, the traitorous SHIELD-turned-HYDRA agent played by Frank Grillo in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. At the end of that film, Rumlow was left burned and near-death after getting caught between a Helicarrier and the Triskelion. His new suit hews close to his comic persona, but forgoes the explicit skull imagery. Because, apparently in a world of a hero with an A for America on his helmet, that would be too obvious?
These two films have been unusually intertwined in their development. After Man of Steel succeeded with a “modest” $600 million worldwide gross (compared to both Avengers billion-dollar grosses), Warner Bros. went all in at Comic Con 2013 where director Zack Snyder had actor Harry J. Lennix read an excerpt from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns while the logo and initial release date of July 17, 2015 were revealed. Of course, that’s a date Marvel would later take for Ant-Man, but only after a game of release-date-chicken with D.C.
Not long after in August 2013, Ben Affleck was announced to inherit the role of Bruce Wayne / Batman. Eventually, the extremely-long production schedule pushed the film from the July date to May 6, 2016, where it would face an “untitled Marvel film.”
That film was eventually revealed to be Captain America 3. Some were perplexed by its placement, even after The Winter Soldier had impressed so thoroughly. Marvel kept its projects mysterious, even titles, until early last fall when word came out during the press tour for his starring vehicle The Judge that Robert Downey, Jr. would join the third Captain America movie, all but confirming the Civil War storyline (the title and story were indeed revealed at Marvel’s big Phase 3 presentation last October). For once, Marvel seemed to be chasing D.C.
Both studios refused to budge at first, with Marvel saying they had no intention of moving. Warner Bros. and D.C., on less sure-footing than their trailblazing rivals, came to the conclusion that there was nothing to be gained from a head-to-head box office collision. They blinked and moved BvS to March, a familiar corridor for Snyder who has had all but two of his previous six feature films released in March, making this one his fifth.
As I said before, this is a space to discuss how similar ideas percolate in not only in Hollywood, but in our shared public consciousness. For example, what is it about a privileged genius who believes he knows what’s best for his community and the moralistic boy-scout with an ingrained, seemingly inhuman sense of right-and-wrong? Perhaps more importantly, which characters do you think of first when you hear those descriptions? The god-like ideals that D.C. characters represent? Or the flawed, down-to-earth humans of Marvel? Each has their own merit and distinction.
And why must they fight? Do we want them to fight? Yes! Let’s look at the storylines (to the best of our knowledge): two heroes are on the opposite sides of an ideological conflict while, behind the scenes, more malevolent forces manipulate for their own benefit. In BvS, it is the global existential crisis in the wake of the presence of and mass destruction incurred by an alien, Superman. In Civil War, it is a global Superhuman Registration Act in the wake of the mass destruction caused by the Avengers and others.
We know these heroes will ultimately put aside their differences and deal with a bigger threat, because that is what we would wish we could do given the power and chance. We want to think we’re like our heroes, not only strong and brave, but also able to be above the petty differences that may divide us. We know that, deep down, each of us is connected to each other in more ways than we can imagine. These hero archetypes aren’t really different; they represent different sides of the human psyche. Their external resolution is our internal resolution.
Or we could talk about corporate bigwigs essentially marketing and selling humanity’s own identity to itself in star-spangled or Bat-themed packaging. But I’m feeling optimistic today.
Which will win in box office? In fan approval? The stakes are higher for BvS, which has the responsibility of launching an ENTIRE slate of films for the next five years. Civil War, on the other hand, will be hard-pressed NOT to join Marvel’s billion-dollar club, which includes both Avengers films and Iron Man 3. Marvel is currently ahead in public appeal, but has been come under criticism more and more for its harsh business practices that alienate some talent like Edgar Wright and even poster boy Joss Whedon
D.C. has a different, more reverent tone along with more room for improvisation. But with only the divisive Man of Steel to judge, many unfairly leap to conclusions: Affleck sucks! That Joker pic sucks! Warner Bros., despite well-reported wrinkles that need smoothed out, is doing all they can to get their universe together next year and I’d have to say, as a fan and filmgoer, I’m way more excited for the pair of D.C. team-ups (Dawn of Justice will be followed by the first supervillain team-up film, August 6’s insane-looking Suicide Squad) than I am for Civil War or Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange.