How The Superman Reboot Can Avoid DCEU's Man Of Steel Mistakes
A new Superman reboot is on the horizon. Here's how the next Man of Steel can avoid some of the problems that Henry Cavill's DCEU Superman endured.
A new Superman reboot is on the horizon, which means there's an opportunity for the next Man of Steel to fix the problems Henry Cavill's DCEU Superman endured. With the news that J.J. Abrams and Ta-Nehisi Coates are developing a new Superman film, fans are understandably curious about what the future holds for the DC icon.
Details so far are scarce, but the film will likely not be connected to the larger DC Extended Universe – much like the upcoming The Batman and 2019's Joker – and may cast an actor of color in the role of Superman. Talents like Coates obviously don't need guidance on how to tell a story, but anyone working on a new installment would be prudent to take a look at the cinematic era of Superman that is seemingly ending to understand why the character has failed to resonate with so many moviegoers in recent years.
Henry Cavill's Superman unquestionably has a robust fan base, but his version of Clark Kent simply never became the sort of universally beloved hero that Warner Bros. was counting on. There's no guarantee that what Coates and Abrams have in mind will lead to a broader fan base, but it stands to reason they won't be making the same mistakes that plagued Cavill's Superman over several films.
As soon as Henry Cavill's Superman debuted, he was controversial. In 2013's Man Of Steel, audiences were introduced to a more somber, less self-assured Superman, a man who was unsure of his place in the world and whether humanity was even worthy of his help. This was a Superman who allowed his father to die (though at his father's explicit request) and snapped General Zod's neck to stop his rampage across Earth. This was a dark, conflicted character, and he immediately rubbed Superman traditionalists the wrong way.
Cavill's Superman doubled down on the melodrama and insecurity in 2016's Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, a polarizing film that saw the last son of Krypton take on Ben Affleck's equally grim version of Batman. Superman was a lighter character post-resurrection in 2017's director Joss Whedon, not Zack Snyder - but that film bombed at the box office, and by that point it seemed like the damage to Cavill's Superman may have been unredeemable.
Cavill's version of Superman has burned through a surprising amount of the character's mythos in a fairly small window of time. He's engaged to Lois Lane, who knows he's both Clark Kent and Superman; he's already had his big face-off with Lex Luthor, who also knows his secret identity; he's faced off against General Zod in an effort to save all of humanity; he's even died at the hands of Doomsday, only to be resurrected. That version of the character isn't exactly a storytelling dead end, but it seems like audiences have experienced most of the iconic moments of the character's history through the prism of this Superman's dour reality.
A new Superman would provide a fresh spin on some of these stories, not all of which were executed perfectly. For one thing, a deeper exploration of Clark Kent would be appreciated by the fandom, as Cavill's Superman barely spent any time as the intrepid Daily Planet reporter. It would also be prudent to play a longer game with its versions of Lex Luthor and Lois Lane, letting the mystery of Clark's secret identity simmer for a few movies.
If there's one key criticism of Cavill's Superman, it's that he seems to view being Superman as something of a burden, rather than a privilege. Framing the character as a younger, more wide-eyed, and optimistic Superman would solve this problem, though it would definitely raise criticisms from those who believe Cavill's Superman was a necessary evolution of the character for the more morally complex world of 21st-century superhero stories.
That's a risk Warner Bros. should be willing to take. There are roadmaps for making modern superhero films with earnest, optimistic leads, like Captain America and Wonder Woman. Superman is traditionally a paragon of virtue, the hero other heroes look up to. Cavill's Superman never quite became that, which is perfectly fine; that's not what they were trying to do with the character in those movies. But it's time to get back to that optimistic take on the character again, a man with an unassailable moral code and a drive to help people at all costs.
As Cavill is the Superman of the DCEU – the shared universe portion of DC's current film output – it seems unlikely the new Superman would crossover with other DC heroes like Wonder Woman and Aquaman. But that doesn't mean he wouldn't fit into the larger framework of the DC Multiverse. That concept, which originated in the comics in the 1960s, suggests there are countless alternate realities in which the DC superheroes exist. Matt Reeves' upcoming The Batman is set outside the DCEU, as Robert Pattinson's Batman has no relation to version of Batman. Similarly, the standalone Joker film has no other DC connections, existing as its own self-contained story.
The Multiverse is set to be explored more explicitly in the upcoming DCEU The Flash movie, which will feature Michael Keaton's Batman from the classic Tim Burton films, as well as other characters from outside the DCEU. It seems unlikely that the new Superman could play a significant role in that film, but a hint that there are other versions of Superman out there could be a nice way to lay the groundwork for what's coming. There's still plenty unknown about the next Superman film. There are no actors attached, nor even a director at this point. But the film can jump ahead of the curve by analyzing what went wrong with the character's recent adventures and attempt to course-correct Superman into a more universally likable iteration.
Next: Henry Cavill vs Tyler Hoechlin: Which Superman Is Better