Forget Batman v Superman. It’s Marvel v DC Comics. And lately it’s not even a fair fight.
“Captain America: Civil War” opens this weekend. The focus is on hero versus hero again, similar to what we saw a few weeks ago with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Film critics are raving about the new movie. International box office tallies are massive – $224 million in just a few days.
And those U.S. movie turnstiles have yet to start spinning.
That isn’t the biggest element of the ongoing Marvel vs. DC battle. The true story connects two of their most critical assets – Captain America and Superman.
Captain America is Marvel’s choir boy. Sure, most of the company’s heroes are good-hearted, heroic and brave. Cap is more than that. He’s emblematic of American patriotism. He’s a red, white and blue hero – literally.
And, in 2016, that makes him an anachronism. A fuddy duddy. In short, a bore.
We’re obsessed with anti-heroes, That means Captain America should be an afterthought. And yet he’s anything but, thanks to the folks pulling the strings within the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). They didn’t “re-imagine” Cap, played with panache by Chris Evans, through five superhero films (and counting). They worked within his character’s parameters while surrounding him with real-world concerns.
In “The Winter Soldier,” Cap grappled with fighting evil in our War on Terror times. For the new “Civil War,” he’s grappling with handing over the Avengers to the UN for final say. More freedom? Less control but international unity?
This is a job for Captain America. And he’s more than up to the task … without alienating the red or blue states. That requires a delicate touch, the kind MCU screenwriters have been crushing for some time now.
Remember Cap’s critical scenes in the first “Avengers” movie? He cited his personal faith while processing a battle between Norse “gods” Thor and Loki.
He also evoked World War II when first confronted with Loki’s brand of evil. Thor’s wicked half-brother ordered a crowd of Americans to kneel before his might. Then Captain America arrived to defend them.
Steve Rogers: You know, the last time I was in Germany and saw a man standing above everybody else, we ended up disagreeing.
Loki: The soldier. A man out of time.
Steve Rogers: I’m not the one who’s out of time.
What a perfect way to capture his past … and present. They didn’t reboot Captain America. They accepted him on his own terms.
Now, consider Superman circa 2016.
He’s complicated. Unsure of where he fits in with his fellow Earthlings. He’s a hero, but he doesn’t quite know what it means to be a superhero. Henry Cavill’s Superman is so far removed from Christopher Reeve’s version, which held fast to the comic book inspiration, they might as well be playing separate characters.
Reeve was strong and pure, a good samaritan to the core. He cracked wise against the bad guys, but in a way even they might laugh about. He’d save a kitten perched high up in a tree and not give it a second thought. Cavill’s Man of Steel would worry about his image and how the rescue might impact Lois Lane.
In short, all that unites Cavill and Reeve is the “S” on their chests.
And guess what? Cavill’s Superman simply isn’t that interesting. We pity him more than anything else in “Batman v Superman.”
You should never pity a superhero.
DC films tried to update Superman, to make him “dark” and “gritty” for our cynical age. In the process, what made him special got lost in translation.
So comic book fans will flock to see “Civil War” this weekend. They’ll compare and contrast the film with “Batman v Superman.” Both sides will have plenty to say on the subject.
The answer is clear. Marvel stood by its star-spangled character and emerged all the better for it. DC should consider a re-reboot just to catch up to their fiercest rivals.