Warner Bros. went to Henry Cavill to discuss filming a Superman cameo for Shazam. They left with no cameo and, in fact, no Superman.
The Shazam cameo broke down because of scheduling. After that, it became clear WB had no plans for any further Superman appearances for at least a couple of years. The only Kryptonian WB is interested in right now is Supergirl, who will be getting her own movie pitched as an origin story focused on the character’s teenage years. So, Cavill took the lead role in Netflix’s forthcoming adaptation of The Witcher and opted out of his deal with WB, following Ben Affleck right out the door (though not also straight into rehab like Affleck, whose life has pretty much gone to shit from the second he first agreed to play Batman).
This means Cavill exits without ever having had the chance to make a truly great Superman movie. He was robbed of the chance to pull off what most other superhero franchises manage: produce a vastly superior sequel after a good, but not great table-setting origin story.
There’s a moment at the end of Man of Steel where I thought that’s where things were heading:
Cavill’s Kal-El, newly battle-tested and determined after his rock ’em, sock ’em Kryptonians fight with Zod, enters the Daily Planet wearing his signature Clark Kent glasses.
Why nobody notices his stunning resemblance to Superman, well, what do you want from them – that’s just part of the deal. Also, how exactly he even got this job considering his complete lack of reporting experience is one of those questions you’re not supposed to ask. Just go with it. Don’t nitpick.
Anyway, he briefly interacts with Laurence Fishbourne’s Perry White, crosses paths with that character we assumed was supposed to be a female Jimmy Olson (who turned out, oddly, to never be seen again), and does an “aww, shucks” back and forth with Lois. “Lois Lane, welcome to the Planet,” she cheekily offers up, leading him to smirk, pausing in appreciation of the double meaning of her line, before responding, “Glad to be here, Lois.”
There was so much promise there. Here’s the classic Superman team gathered together. Among them, you’ve got two Oscar nominees (Amy Adams, multiple times, and Fishbourne the one time for playing Ike Turner in What’s Love Got to Do With It?) and a leading man who certainly looks the part but hasn’t yet fully embodied the character. The next Man of Steel will be more like the classic Superman stories we’ve known, they seemed to be shouting, except this time around Lois knows Clark’s secret.
I love that ending. I have my share of problems with Man of Steel, but I came away pleased enough to want to see that promised sequel. I walked out of the theater betting Cavill could indeed become a fascinating, more hopeful Superman if directed by someone who actually likes the character and doesn’t just view him the way Alan Moore did when he created The Watchmen.
That obviously never happened. The shortsighted people at WB, almost all of whom now no longer work there, instead jumped straight to a team-up movie and fell back on the security blanket that is Batman. Director Zack Snyder, who seemed to always wish he’d been making a Batman movie instead of a Superman movie anyway, doubled down on the Jesus metaphors and further degraded the Big Blue Boy Scout into an Ayn Rand figure who sees an entire courtroom explode around him and seems to think, “Gosh, it’s so hard being me.”
Then along came Justice League, a film constantly at war with itself between Snyder’s somber musings and Joss Whedon’s more Marvel-like levity. Because of everything which went down behind the scenes there, Cavill’s lasting legacy as Superman might just end up being his re-shoot CGI upper lip covering his Mission: Impossible-Fallout mustache.
I’m sad we never got a proper sequel. After Mad Max: Fury Road, there was some talk of George Miller taking a crack at a Man of Steel 2. Instead, we got BvS and the wildly schizophrenic Justice League movie. Henry Cavill deserved better. Man from UNCLE and the latest Mission: Impossible made far better use of him than the DC Universe ever did.
Maybe Superman doesn’t translate as well to a modern audience as he once did in simpler times. Maybe his godlike powers are an enemy to good drama. Maybe Cavill has shown he’s actually better suited to playing sauve-cool spies and domineering villains, not boring paragons of virtue. And, if we’re honest, Cavill and Adams never completely worked together as an onscreen couple.
But I can’t help but feel like the people at WB simply never gave them a fair shot after Man of Steel. For a brief moment, there was a chance that Henry Cavill, Amy Adams and crew would get to make a proper Superman movie. Instead, they ended up co-stars to the Batman show.
That Cavill now departs without an actual on-screen exit, even though his character has died and been resurrected, and Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, and Jason Mamoa are now left to lead a Universe without a Superman or Batman is emblematic of just how chaotic things are right over at WB and DC. They’d be better off wiping the slate clean almost completely and moving forward with standalone WW movies and left-of-center projects like Shazam. It seems like that’s exactly what they’re doing, but it’s still awkward. Just a couple of years ago, Batman and Superman headlined their own movie which grossed nearly $900 million worldwide. Now both of those actors are out and their characters retired for the time being.
Thank God they have Wonder Woman: 1984.