Marvel vs. DC: Why 'Batman v. Superman' Might Be the Anti-'Civil War'

The new trailer for the DC superhero slugfest feels like a response to Marvel's big 2016 release.
Jimmy Kimmel Live/YouTube

It's the end point of 99 percent of all superheroes-fight-each-other storylines in comics, and in teasing the inevitable post-tiff team-up, the new teaser for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice felt like both a response to, and an antidote for, the melodramatic relationship angst of last week's Captain America: Civil War trailer from Marvel. Have we somehow entered a Cold War of superhero-movie trailers?

(The fact that the BVS trailer debuted on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live! a week after the Civil War trailer only underscored the sense that it was specifically responding to the Marvel tease; why else use the same venue to debut?)

There is, of course, a lot of melodrama in the Batman v. Superman trailer — director Zack Snyder specializes in grand spectacle, so of course we see Superman floating in the air while someone reaches out, arm outstretched, asking to be saved, as well as scenes of mass destruction both repeated from 2013's Man of Steel and unique to this movie — but it was leavened by something far more unusual in a Snyder movie: a curiously silly sense of humor. It wasn't just in the trailer's punchline — "She with you?" "I thought she was with you," after the appearance of Wonder Woman — but in Jesse Eisenberg's weirdly nervy Lex Luthor and the macho "my city is better than yours" exchange between Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne at the trailer's open.

Additionally, there are lines that feel loaded in ways that tweak the relevance of the Civil War trailer. It's difficult to hear Henry Cavill's Kent complain about "the bat vigilante in Gotham" without thinking of the similar vigilante line from the Captain America sneak, for example, while the political undertones of lines about "civil liberties being trampled" and "that son of a bitch brought the war to us" remain almost impressively unsubtle, if depressingly topical in light of recent international events.

But it's the final moment of the trailer — when the audience gets to see the cinematic Doomsday for the first time (Hey, just like the Civil War trailer, a new character reveal!), and Superman and Batman complete the comic book trope by overcoming their differences to fight a common foe, alongside a third hero, who saves them both — that feels the most fresh, especially in light of the Civil War trailer. While that ended with a showdown between three heroes, this trailer moves beyond that to show three heroes standing united — a moment of optimism that looks beyond the in-fighting of the movie's title to what comes next.

With 2016 currently facing a glut of movies where superheroes fight each other, it's a smart move to push a counternarrative (especially when audiences are arguably more invested in the other studio's heroes' emotional conflicts, anyway). For all the fan complaints about how dark and depressing Man of Steel was, it's this new trailer for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice that suggests that conflicts can be resolved in favor of shared goals, while Captain America: Civil War would rather concentrate on punching and betrayal.

Plus, you know, the female superhero gets to save the boys from certain death, which is something else new for superhero movies. Although, maybe next time, we'll get to hear Wonder Woman actually say something? It has been two trailers already …

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