Henry Cavill: A Superman Who Deserved Better

On September 12, 2018, the Hollywood Reporter broke a story that said Henry Cavill was departing the role of Superman for Warner Bros. The report said that WB had no plans for a Superman movie in the near future. Negotiations broke down for Cavill to have a cameo in the upcoming Shazam! due to scheduling conflicts. Conflicting reports are coming out about how much this has to do with the upcoming Netflix series The Witcher – whether he accepted the part because he knew there would be no Superman roles in the near future, or if he accepted it before.

A statement by a Warner Bros. spokesperson read: “While no decisions have been made regarding any upcoming Superman films, we’ve always had great respect for and a great relationship with Henry Cavill, and that remains unchanged.” This essentially left the door open for Cavill to return to the role of Superman, but it seems we won’t see him as the Last Son of Krypton in anytime soon, and could even be used as a soft way of letting the fans down lightly. He is gone but he could always come back.

While the story may have been blown out of proportion into what was basically a contract negotiation playing out in the public spotlight, it did get a lot of people thinking about Cavill’s tenure as the Man of Steel. Despite the films he starred in having been met with mixed reactions, Cavill has always been warmly received as Superman. Many fans claim that Cavill has the potential to be a great Superman given the right material.

Cavill had the makings of a great Superman but was never given the right movie to do so. He starred as the character in 2013’s Man of Steel, 2016’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and 2017’s Justice League, yet it felt like he never really got his moment to shine as the true Superman. Three films worth of building up to Superman. A character that wore an S on his chest but never acted like Superman. Fans held out hope until the end and many thought (and still believe) that his time is over. If the report is true, and Cavill is indeed out as Superman, then this is a rather sad day for fans of the character.

Henry Cavill was cast as Superman back on January 30, 2011, meaning that he has been Superman for a total of seven years. Cavill had lost the part of Superman when Superman Flyby was scrapped in favor of Superman Returns and he was replaced by Brandon Routh. The years following saw Cavill lose the role of James Bond to Daniel Craig in Casino Royale and Edward Cullen to Robert Pattinson in Twilight. Cavill was set to always be the bridesmaid, never the bride. Yet when it happened, he had finally scored the role he was born to play.

On a purely visual level, Cavill is a pitch-perfect Superman. Strong chiseled jawline, a twinkle in his blue eyes, full head of perfect jet black hair, and a smile that could bring a puppy back to life. He had the look for Superman down for sure. He was being groomed as the next big Hollywood actor by the studio, and he risked it on a role that pretty much destroyed the career of every actor who took the role on afterward (no disrespect to Brandon Routh, who is doing great work on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow). They pushed him on all the talk shows in 2013 and made Superman the big talking point of that summer. The trailers grabbed people’s attention for being so different from what anyone expected from a Superman movie, looking more like the popular Nolan Batman films. The trailers teased a massive epic with exciting action for audiences to see Superman fully realized in the modern CGI age like never before.

In 2013 WB and DC did a big push for Superman in the public eye, the biggest since the last time a Superman movie hit the big screen in 2006. Before this DC had put more effort into Batman (who had films and animated series consistently coming out since 2004) and Green Lantern. Yet now the big blue boy scout was getting the treatment he deserved. It was the character’s 75th anniversary, so Superman got a bunch of new comics and a big Hollywood motion picture with the next big star. What could go wrong?

Man of Steel arrived in theaters on June 14, 2013, and was met with mixed reviews from fans and critics. The film was a hit and made a lot of money, but did underperform to the studio’s The Dark Knight-level expectations (WB not getting what made The Dark Knight the cultural phenomenon it was is troubling for a whole lot of reasons). So one month after the release of Man of Steel, WB was in a slight pickle at San Diego Comic Con. They thought they would be entering SDCC as champions but instead had to deal with fans who were upset with a large amount of collateral damage in the movie’s climax and how far it strayed away from the character. Instead of changing the creative team, looking at what made the character such an icon, or rethinking their approach to why exactly they wanted to make these movies, they decided to just throw Batman in there.

WB and DC’s obsession with Batman has always been a major issue, as it appears he is the only superhero WB knows what to do with. (Even that is debatable since they somehow are making Batman movies with massive budgets about characters taking over a city when realistically his films should be the cheapest and easiest to produce). Batman as a franchise has broken the record for the biggest opening weekend of all time three times, more than any other franchise (Batman in ’89, Batman Forever in ’95, and The Dark Knight in ’08). He has been a consistent money maker for them, so it makes sense why they would want to keep Batman around. Yet this meant that they gave up on Superman and Henry Cavill very early on. This Batman over Superman is such a joke it is in the opening credits of The Lego Batman Movie.

Summer 2013 marked the announcement that the Man of Steel sequel would instead be Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. At first, it seemed like it would still be a Man of Steel sequel that also had Batman in it, but as fans later saw it was far from that. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of a film. One part Man of Steel sequel, one part Batman movie, one part Justice League prequel, one part apology for Man of Steel, and one giant ad for future films. Superman (and thus Henry Cavill) gets less to do and say in Batman V Superman than before, even though he is one of the title characters. He barely speaks, and instead of being the bright sunny Superman teased at the end of Man of Steel, BVS continues to play Superman as depressed. A Superman who seems to have a problem with saving people, which shows that they didn’t quite get the character and wasted both him and Cavill.

Cavill is one of those actors that Hollywood sees as so good looking that they try to force him into being a leading man by casting him in super serious roles, when in fact he has a real knack for light-hearted comedy. See also Chris Hemsworth and how much better Thor is when he is allowed to cut loose, or James Marsden who is a boring Cyclops but a revelation in Enchanted. The scenes where Cavill got to actually crack a smile, being a charming and classic Superman are few and far between in his three films, but they do shine through and give you a hint at what might have been.

The scripts never gave Cavill the potential to really be Superman. Everyone involved in his movies seemed to be embarrassed by Superman and tried too much to change him. One universally agreed part about Justice League that people liked was that they finally got Superman right. He was light-hearted, warm, and cracking jokes like you expect Superman to do. It is a real shame this may be the last we see of him as Superman because now that near-perfect performance is saddled with having the strange upper lip.

Justice League is another example of WB doing Superman and Cavill dirty. Even though everybody and their mother knew Superman was going to be in Justice League, WB decided to try and keep him out of the marketing to keep the mystery alive. Superman was left out of all the posters and trailers, until a week after the film’s release. The fact that Cavill was still doing all the press tours for the film but wasn’t allowed to say he was in the film was one of the weirdest decisions. Had WB pushed Superman from the beginning in Justice League, they may have scored a bigger opening weekend.

WB’s decision to move on from Superman is troubling. Focusing on Supergirl isn’t a bad idea, although it does raise questions about why they can’t have both movies. They seem to have no problem making seven different Batman films (Matt Reeves Batman film, A Nightwing movie, A Batgirl movie, Gotham City Sirens, Birds of Prey, and two Joker movies are in varying stages of development at this moment), but two Kryptonian superheroes are too much? Why does Superman not have a role in a Supergirl film? Since Kara arrives on Earth when Clark is an adult, it provides a perfect chance for Superman to have a supporting role in her film.

A Superman movie seems more relevant now than ever. An alien immigrant/refugee who is also a truth-crusading journalist, whose archenemy is an evil businessman who in the comics eventually becomes president? That’s not timely at all I guess.

Even holding off on Superman as a movie franchise could be a good thing, and one Cavill could return to in the near future since that is what the statement by WB and his management seemed to confirm. Cavill could go on to make other movies and television shows for like five or six years, then maybe return as Superman in a new film after some time has passed. Do a Thor: Ragnarok style sequel that still keeps the continuity of the previous films, but shoves them aside early on and establishes a new status quo. Adapt the DC Rebirth storyline of Superman and Lois being parents. Open up new storytelling avenues and allow for a different type of superhero movie, while allowing Cavill to come back to the property at any time.

Cavill leaving Superman seems fittingly sad in 2018. This marked the 80th anniversary of Superman’s debut in Action Comics Number 1 (which recently published its 1000th issue) and it marks the 40-year anniversary since the release of the Christopher Reeve Superman: The Movie. That this is a year of celebration for Superman…and one where fans say goodbye to a Superman.

Superman is a character who is bigger than any one actor. The character will be fine. There have been Supermen before, and there will, of course, be a Superman after. Time heals all wounds. If he looks different, it will take some time to get used to but it will happen. We can remember the good times. The initial excitement when we saw him in the suit for the first time. Those early trailers. The hype around Man of Steel. The hype before Batman V Superman. When he showed up in Justice League like we imagined. If you liked any of those movies, remember that.

Cavill will be fine as well. Mission: Impossible – Fallout has given his career a much-needed boost and probably a bigger one than Man of Steel ever did. He has a potentially huge television series for Netflix on the way based off a popular series of books and video games in The Witcher. We will think back on what could have been, how Cavill had the potential to be a great Superman if he was given better material. The right Superman at the wrong time.

Superman will return, because like the sun even when it is gone, you know it will rise again.