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Arts & Culture

'Civil War' Gets Right What 'Batman V Superman' Got Wrong

Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) find themselves on opposite sides of a superhero battle in "Captain America: Civil War."
Marvel Entertainment
Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) find themselves on opposite sides of a superhero battle in "Captain America: Civil War."

Captain America has his third hit feature in a row

Film Review: "Captain America: Civil War"
KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews "Captain America: Civil War."

First it was Batman Vs. Superman, now it’s Avengers fighting Avengers as Marvel serves up Captain America: Civil War. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando says what DC got wrong, Marvel gets right. CIVILWAR 1 (ba) Captain America is on a roll. With Civil War the goody-two-shoes Marvel superhero delivers his third hit in a row. This time out he finds himself at odds with his fellow Avengers as he tries to protect his old buddy Bucky Barnes. CLIP Sorry Tony you know I wouldn’t do this if I had any other choice but he’s my friend… so was I. I’m not a big fan of these superheroes vs. superheroes plotlines. Villains you love to hate often make the best comic book movies for me – think The Dark Knight or the first Avengers. But Civil War succeeds where Batman Vs. Superman failed – it makes us care for both sides and finds the right mix of fun material and serious drama. Beth Accomando, KPBS News.

Companion viewing

"Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011)

"The Avengers" (2012)

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014)

First it was “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” now it’s Avengers fighting Avengers as Marvel serves up “Captain America: Civil War” (opening May 6 throughout San Diego). But what DC got wrong Marvel gets right.

Captain America is on a roll. With “Civil War” the goody-two-shoes Marvel superhero delivers his third hit in a row. This time out he finds himself at odds with his fellow Avengers as he tries to protect his old buddy Bucky Barnes. The irony is that the square-jawed all-American hero turns out to be the renegade going against the government while the sarcastic, rebellious Tony Stark finds himself siding with politicians and agreeing to rules to govern the Avengers.

I have to confess, I’m not a big fan of these superheroes versus superheroes plot lines. In comics, it’s an interesting twist to take but in a movie franchise where films takes years to make it feels an unnecessary diversion before we get to fight the real villains. Villains you love to hate often make the best comic book movies for me – think of Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight” or Terence Stamp’s General Zod in “Superman II” or Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in the first “Avengers” film.

But kudos to the Russo Brothers for making the best of a less than satisfying plot line. Plus they make “Civil War” succeed where “Batman v Superman” failed. The main failure of DC’s film was I didn’t care about anyone in it. It made no difference to me whether Batman and Superman fought or teamed up. They both seemed unmotivated in their hatred of each other and nobody seemed to be having a good time – except perhaps Lex Luthor. Everyone looked constipated and unable to shed that look of twisted pain although I’m told Wonder Woman cracked a smile in battle but it was so dark I apparently missed it.

Bottom line: “Batman v Superman” was a badly told story and that’s why the box office took such a steep downturn in the second week.

The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “Zack Snyder's tentpole tumbled 69 percent in its second weekend, tying with 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine' for the second steepest drop in history for a marquee superhero title — only 2003's 'Hulk' did worse.”

Fan boys can protest all they want but “Batman v Superman” has not displayed any broad-based support from the movie going public.

Marvel gets Spider-Man (played by Tom Holland) back so he can join the Avengers in "Captain America: Civil War."
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel gets Spider-Man (played by Tom Holland) back so he can join the Avengers in "Captain America: Civil War."

But “Civil War” is poised to not only have a super-sized box office opening weekend but to maintain a steady draw for weeks to come. The reason: it serves up an engaging narrative with characters we care about. We don’t want to see Steve Rogers and Tony Stark go at it; we want them on the same side fighting the real bad guys. The Russo Brothers, along with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who have written the previous two “Captain America” films), get that. They show us that despite differences the Avengers are a team but at the moment they are a team divided.

The film gives us scenes where the characters actually address that. There’s a serious tone to some of the scenes where they discuss the moral responsibilities they have as well as consider what abiding by rules set down by politicians and diplomats might do to their ability to fight crime and evil. Then to counter these serious moments there are still moments of fun, but levity that’s worked into the story and not just awkwardly inserted. So when Black Widow and Hawkeye are fighting they get to take a moment to ask if they are still friends but Scarlet Witch reprimands Hawkeye for pulling his punches. Then the film makes the point that there are real consequences when friends fight friends and people can get seriously hurt.

I also love that the film can take a moment for a complete throwaway scene as when Bucky (crammed in the back seat of a ridiculous VW bug getaway car) asks Falcon if he could move his seat up and the disgruntled Falcon refuses. It’s really a nothing scene in terms of the plot but I appreciated that the filmmakers took the time for such an exchange.

My only real complaint about the film, and especially in the 3D version I saw, was that some of the action looked bad and severely over cut. I wish American films would learn from Hong Kong action choreographers to shoot and edit fights in a manner that allows us to truly appreciate what is going on. There’s some nice stunt work and Black Widow has some impressive moves but too often the action just comes at us in rapid-fire flurries where we can’t always tell what’s going on. There isn't a scene like that breathtaking elevator fight from "The Winter Soldier."

The cast is spot on once again and highly appealing. The filmmakers also get stellar actors for even small roles so Alfre Woodard has one scene as a grieving mom and Daniel Brühl brings some nuance to Zemo. Marvel finally got Spider-Man back into the fold (the character had been owned by Sony since 1999) and wisely cast the role with a relative unknown, Tom Holland. And Holland cracks wise and holds his own with the veterans of the cast. The only odd casting decision is to make Peter Parker's Aunt May hot by casting Marisa Tomei in the role. Previously she was played by older actresses like Rosemary Harris and Sally Field. Even Tony Stark thinks she's hot and that takes a little getting used to. It's also a bit uncomfortable having Steve Rogers taking a romantic interest in Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), the niece of his now dead girlfriend Peggy Carter.

“Captain America: Civil War” (rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem) delivers a highly entertaining comic book movie and proves that for the moment, Marvel is still beating DC at the film franchise level. But DC has the upper hand in terms of animated and live action TV with series like “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Justice League,” “Young Justice,” “Flash,” and “Arrow.” (My bad, I originally said "Daredevil," which is Marvel, no excuse except I was writing at 2:00 am and my mind was thinking good comic book TV shows and not focusing on just DC.)