I found myself thinking about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice a lot while I was watching Captain America: Civil War. The films both address the evergreen comic-book question of acceptable losses. Is any civilian casualty in the fight against demon aliens attacking New York from a portal in the sky acceptable? Is it the fault of the superheroes for creating the situation in which a portal is opened? What part should civilians play in determining the actions of said superheroes?
There are so many scenes that are similar between the two films that Captain America feels a bit like a point-by-point rebuttal against Bat v Supes. Marvel demonstrates everything that DC did wrong, and then has a quip or a reference to a previous film that makes you feel like you’ve been rewarded for acknowledging that yes, this movie is way better than that Superman thing.
There’s a glaring difference between the two films there too: Captain America: Civil War is the twelfth movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Dawn of Justice is mostly the first. Captain America takes elements from the majority of its other films to create what feels like the next step in the a long, delightful evolution of a distinct universe. Dawn of Justice is a thing I don’t even really want to talk about but goddamn am I looking forward to a Wonder Woman movie as long as Zack Snyder isn’t allowed anywhere near it.
The newest Marvel movie is not, as people say of most new Marvel movies, “the best superhero film ever.” I don’t even know how to go about determining what that is anymore for sure. That said, it’s a hell of a movie with an exciting rush of discovery a lot like seeing the Avengers fight together for the first time felt.
The two things I worried about before seeing the new movie, though were Spiderman and Black Panther. I’m joyfully happy to report that both were handled as well, if not better than, the introduction of any other character in the MCU.
If you haven’t heard, Marvel tapped 2016 National Book Award and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Ta-Neshi Coates to write the 11 issue run of the new “Black Panther” comic book series. How could the film possibly live up to such an inspired decision? With Chadwick Boseman. He just embodies the African Royalty/Massively Ass Kicking Giant Cat with ease and perfection. His anger and motivation in the film, although similar to some of the other characters, feels completely encompassed within his own world. This is a royal family member of the central African country of Wakanda, nestled in the jungle and as well known for their isolation as their technological superiority — it could have gone so incredibly wrong in so many different places, but it didn’t. That’s an awesome relief, especially since there’s a Black Panther solo film in the works.
My second fear: Spiderman. They finally cast a teenager to play Peter Parker, which is important and relevant because in the comics, Peter is a teenager. His non-stop, snarky chatter and goofy excitement over his powers are charming because of his youth. He undergoes major personal changes and starts shooting white stuff out of his body — that’s not subtle storytelling, it’s puberty, and this version blows away all previous versions. The eyes on his mask even move like the ones from the old animated series, which makes him feel like a cartoon character in the best possible ways at the best possible moments.
The cartoon aspect is not used to a point of excess, though, which is crucial. It exemplifies the restraint and deference to the human character behind the costume that makes the Marvel movies so damn good — and Tony Stark addresses him as “Underoos,” which is just hilarious.
So: better than dour, confused Batman v Jesus? Didn’t turn Black Panther into a minstrel show, best Peter Parker ever, yes, this is great. Did I forget to talk about the title character and Iron Man and everyone you actually care about? No. I just didn’t because spoilers.
Even if you read the 2006 Marvel comic book event “Civil War” (purely by coincidence, I’m sure, “Civil War 2” is kicking off in the Marvel comic book world this summer if you’re craving more friends punching emotionally each other) you’ll still be surprised. “Civil War” the comic ends with something that would be awfully ballsy of Marvel to attempt in their MCU, but a ballsyness that they’ve definitely earned by this point.
So — who do you think will win in this fight? Captain America or Iron Man?