Next year, we’ve got a pair of movies hitting cinemas that will pit high-profile superheroes against one another in battles of wills, philosophies…and, of course, punches.
In Captain America: Civil War, you don’t really know who the “bad guy” is yet. We haven’t seen a ton of footage from the film, and frankly if we were to go on the comics, the series didn’t do the best job of clarifying that. Most fans felt that Iron Man and the pro-registration side were the bad guys, but at the end of Civil War, they won and Captain America was killed. Follow-up interviews indicated that Tony and company were supposed to have been “right,” which means the creative team and audience were interpreting some key story elements differently.
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, meanwhile, is an odd animal. It’s a follow-up to Man of Steel, the polarizing 2013 Superman film, and seemingly adapts a number of elements from The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller’s seminal Batman miniseries. Being a sequel gives Superman a leg-up in terms of audience perception, much in the same way that having his name in the title likely helps Captain America’s case in Civil War. But in The Dark Knight Returns, Batman is clearly the hero, and while Superman isn’t the primary villain, he’s certainly an antagonist. There, Superman is played as a tool of an oppressive state — similar to accusations leveled at Tony Stark in the Civil War comics years later — and Batman is just the unchanging voice of reason and justice who’s one man against a broken, corrupt system.
So…which will win out?
Some fans are already saying that they see Batman as a fairly unambiguous “good guy” here: he’s been through a lot, lost a lot, and he seems only focused on making the world a safer place, in the face of this godlike opposition. Superman is seen tearing his cowl off in one sequence, telling him to “stay down” because “if I wanted it, you’d be dead already” in another in teasers for the film.
And then, of course, there’s Man of Steel. The battle through Metropolis in the film’s third act has drawn a lot of criticism, probably most famously from longtime comics writer and editor Mark Waid. Many of the things Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor are saying about Superman in trailers for the film are literally things that have come from the mouths of audience members and critics in the time since Man of Steel hit theaters.
So with it being so easy to identify with Bruce and Lex, does that actually make Superman a villain in this film?
After Man of Steel came out, the filmmakers were fairly open about the fact that Superman as he appeared in that film wasn’t yet fully formed. He’d spent years working under the radar to make the world a better place, but it was only when a group of heavily-armed Kryptonians came spoiling for a fight that he stepped into the tights for the first time and dealt with a powerful and deadly threat.
In the trailers for this film, we see far more feats of wonder. Superman lifting a rocket safely away from an exploding launch site, saving a family from a flood, celebrated as a hero in the streets of Metropolis.
As much as there is a compelling argument to be had about exactly what went wrong in Man of Steel — both in-story and not — that argument is only going to take us so far in Batman V Superman, and at that point, we’ll have seen that Superman is becoming more…super…this time around, and that anyone cynically chuckling “Well, yeah…” under their breaths at everything Lex says in the trailers is going to have to re-evaluate a lot of that by the time we get Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman sharing the screen together.