Recently, fans of Superman, superhero movies, and DC Comics got some sad, but unsurprising news. In light of the new regime at Warner Brothers Discovery headed by James Gunn, Henry Cavill will not return to play Superman. This news came less than a month after he made a surprise cameo in a post-credits scene in “Black Adam,” which initially renewed hopes that he would return as part of a new direction for the DCEU.
Now, it seems that same DCEU that initially began with Henry Cavill’s Superman in “Man Of Steel” is officially over.
As someone who saw that movie in theaters the week it came out and was convinced that Cavill was the right man for this icon of icons, I’m quite disappointed, even if I’m not too surprised. I don’t deny that movie had its flaws. I also don’t deny that the DCEU has had many flaws since its inception. It tried very hard to catch up with Marvel Studios. And while it certainly had some hits like “Joker” and “Wonder Woman,” it had far too many misses.
But I’d rather not dwell too much on everything that went wrong with Warner Brothers, DC Comics, and how they went about making these movies. I’m sure there will be plenty more said and revealed in the coming years about how it got to this point. From the origins of “Man Of Steel” to the drama surrounding “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” I suspect we still only know part of that story.
But regardless of what the full story might be, Henry Cavill and his approach to playing Superman was not the issue. He truly embraced the character. He really did seem to appreciate the spirit and importance of Superman and everything he stands for. Now, someone else will be wearing that iconic costume in the next Superman movie. We can only hope that, whoever it ends up being, he appreciates it just as much as Cavill.
That kind of appreciation for a character is not a trivial matter. I know you could say that about a lot of iconic characters that have made it to the silver screen, but Superman is different. Superman is unique with respect to his place in the world of superheroes, pop culture, and our collective imagination. He represents far more than simply being the prototypical hero by which all modern heroes are measured.
That may just sound like the inherent bias of someone who loves comic books and superhero media, but I promise there’s substance to that sentiment. And whenever I hear Henry Cavill talk about Superman, I get the sense he understands that substance more than most.
To appreciate it, you need only take a step back and look at who Superman is and what he represents. It’s not just that he’s perfect manifestation of our modern heroic ideal. Superman is a character who essentially casts a purifying light on a cynical world. For both the audience, as well as the fictional world he inhabits, he is someone whose power is great, but his motivations are simple.
He just wants to help.
He just wants to do the right thing.
There’s nothing complicated, nuanced, or elaborate. There doesn’t have to be with Superman. He is just a big, strong boy scout. He’ll engage in an epic, multiverse-spanning fight Darkseid one day and save a cat from a tree the next. Both are equally important to him. He doesn’t even see it as being a hero. Being good, being kind, and doing the right thing is just part of who he is.
He wasn’t born on our planet, but he embraces Earth as his home.
He’s not human, but he embodies true goodness of humanity to the utmost.
You can call him corny, basic, overpowered, or any number of things that are born of cynical outlooks. But that doesn’t change who Superman is or why he matters so much. Whether he’s played by Henry Cavill or the late Christopher Reeves, his presence offers light in a world that seems so dark. His inherent goodness reminds us that there’s real power in kindness and compassion.
It doesn’t matter how overpowered he is or how much those powers have changed over the decades. You could keep giving him more and more powers. It still wouldn’t matter. Superman would still use them to help people. He would still use them for good. He’s a direct counter to the notion that power will always corrupts or heroes will always become jaded or bitter. Superman will keep doing what he does. He’ll never let the worst of humanity outshine what makes them good.
That, more than anything, is what makes Superman such an important character. He dares us to believe that doing good is more powerful than any feat of strength. The world might have changed a great deal since his creation in 1938, but the importance of doing good hasn’t. Even if Superman is perfectly good, the world around him is not. And his willingness and ability to do so much good with this vast power he possesses offers others perspective, as well as a beacon for hope that we can be better.
You could argue how much or how little “Man Of Steel” embodied that spirit. But you can’t argue that Henry Cavill embraced the hope that this character embodies. I also believe the world will need that hope for whenever the next Superman movie comes out, whoever ends up playing him.
Superman has endeared for as long as he has because what he stands for still matters. The world today has plenty of issues the likes of which Superman’s original creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, never anticipated. We’re a world so divided and torn, struggling to see the forest from the trees at a time when everyone insulates themselves in their own comfortable bubbles. But Superman’s inclination to just help people and do the right thing transcends all of that. The hope he inspires goes beyond arbitrary divisions.
We need that hope now more than ever.
We need a character like Superman to remind us that a man can fly, move worlds, and save the day for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do.
Henry Cavill did his part for this character. For that, an entire generation of fans will be forever grateful.
But as sad as it is to see him move on from the role, let’s be ready to embrace a new version of Superman for a world that still needs him. I certainly am and I hope he can continue being that beacon of hope we’ll always need, inspiring us to both do better and be better.