I don’t plan on saying which is better in this article. Instead I seek to compare what are arguably the two best comic book movies of all time by many accounts. Films such as Logan are another great example however it feels like an outlier and exception to the rule. When asked what the best DC movie is, most people will tell you it is The Dark Knight. Likewise when ranking MCU films, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is widely regarded as the best of the franchise, a sentiment I readily agree with.
What do these films have in common? At first glance you may think there aren’t a lot of similarities and, in many ways, that would be right. One of the most obvious similarities I would like to draw attention to the fact that both of these films share a serious tone. Where the Nolan trilogy is certainly darker, The Winter Soldier is a serious film using comedy more to alleviate from the darker tone rather than making the film a comedy like the Guardians of The Galaxy films.
They are both the second act in a third part trilogy and yet, are both considered better than their finale by the masses. I personally loved The Dark Knight Rises but I acknowledge that The Dark Knight is better as Captain America: The Winter Soldier is better than Captain America: Civil War.
An final similarity is that of corruption. Hydra infiltrates S.H.I.E.L.D. and the mob has a huge hand in the GCPD. This idea of corruption within the government is a re-occurring theme in these trilogies as a whole. It’s widely why Captain America goes rogue in Civil War and a main reason for why Batman exists at all considering he saw that the police weren’t keeping the city safe enough and he needed to intervene.
There are many differences between the two films. One being that the villain is a single psychopath in one film and the other is a regimented organization with ideologies similar to Nazi’s. Where the Joker wants anarchy and chaos, Hydra seeks order and peace albeit by killing millions of people. Yet these two different villains are interesting and enjoyable in their own right. I think these villains become more enjoyable based on the heroes they are up against.
Batman is a criminal who fights for justice and beats villains to a pulp. Captain America is standing in the light, working for the government as a legal symbol of truth and patriotism. His fight is one for freedom and the American way. That isn’t to say he only fights for America but it is clear his loyalties are there. Batman is loyal to justice and seeks to keep Gotham’s streets safe for the innocents in his city. Never in the Nolan trilogy does Batman’s scope reach outside of Gotham but Captain America is fighting a global threat.
The Winter Soldier is iconic because it sends a message, if not several. Government conspiracy/privacy and friendship. This seems to be a theme in much if Marvel, Jessica Jones season 2 being a great example. The hero has a friend who commits atrocious acts but the fault is not entirely with them. The hero stands firm with their friend and refuses to give up on them. Winter Soldier sends this message in a powerful way .
The Dark Knight on the other hand sends a different message with the ideology that even the great can fall but also that there is good in the world even when admist terror. We live in a world today full of despair and terror. The media is full of bad news which is why I like to spend my time on comic book sites like Couch Crunchers. The Dark Knight displays this sentiment at the end when the two boats are tasked with blowing up the other. The more powerful message to me is that the prisoners refuse to blow up the innocent. These people are in prison for a reason but it doesn’t make them terrible people devoid of good. The best is brought out in “the worst” of the population in this moment. Yet, “the best” of the populace falls into darkness and tries to kill Jim Gordon’s family .
These two comic book movie giants stand high above the pack due to their high quality. The messages they send, villains that bring a viable threat, fantastic acting, direction and more make them the best of the best. Time will tell when the next top tier film of the genre will be but, for now, The Winter Soldier and The Dark Knight lead the pack and demonstrate how to make a viable comic book movie and a high caliber film worthy of awards.