CS Soapbox: Should Superman be recast for the DCEU?
As far as we can tell, right now, there is no Superman. One of the biggest questions surrounding DC films is the uncertain future of Superman and whether the DC Extended Universe role should be recast. Justice League’s underwhelming performance at the box office and Henry Cavill’s venture into other projects such as The Witcher have put the character in a precarious position. While 2013’s Man of Steel was vaguely promising, 2016’s Batman v Superman dampened audience expectations. Ben Affleck’s Batman didn’t make it out the other side of Justice League and that Superman may not either. Cavill insists he plans on returning to the role but recent news paints a very different picture.
Michael B. Jordan reportedly met with DC to pitch his vision for Superman earlier this year. There hasn’t been anything signed and there are currently no plans for a Jordan Superman but it’s clear that DC is browsing. In addition to that meeting, rumor has it that the studio reached out to one of Hollywood’s top creatives.
J.J. Abrams recently signed a $500 million deal with WarnerMedia moving his production company, Bad Robot under the former’s masthead. It seems only rational that they would want to talk Superman with the man who resurrected Star Trek. Abrams has only said that “there haven’t been any discussions yet.” All of the above appears to indicate a reboot of the character, one consistent with the DCEU’s original intent: a Man of Steel as their heart and soul.
It’s pretty obvious that in 2013 Warner Bros. had hoped everyone would embrace Cavill’s Superman much in the same way the world drooled over Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man. Tony Stark is the heart that pumped blood into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Superman should tether DC (as he always has). However, when we meet Tony Stark, he’s morally confused—gambling, womanizing, and selling weapons of mass destruction to the highest bidder. The last son of Krypton is widely recognized as the undisputed heavy-weight champ of superheroes. He is physically and morally the best. Naturally, the men who play him have their hands full—how do you play an ideal?
Perfect doesn’t work as an introduction. An argument could be made that Cavill’s Superman wasn’t perfect in Man of Steel; he kills Zod. That may have worked for some, but for others, the moment came off as contrived and out of character. It lacked the necessary development and left audiences scratching their heads. A character who exercises the type of restraint necessary to allow their father to die via a tornado pushes the panic button in the climactic battle? Or you could say that Captain America was damn near perfect, and he was. However, Steve Rogers’ immaculate persona worked within the shadow of Tony Stark’s imperfection—their dichotomy is arguably the reason the MCU’s 23-film arc worked.
That same dichotomy could have been better applied to the DCEU. For example, what if a universe would have been based around Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy? Christian Bale’s Batman, a morally confused, self-righteous, emotionally damaged vigilante, who comes face to face with everything he wishes he were: a Superman. If Batman had Superman’s abilities, he could fix all of his problems; Gotham would prosper and Bruce Wayne could lead a more innocuous life. But he can’t, and he’s constantly reminded of this while in the presence of Superman. He resents him for it, in fact, he’s threatened by him.
Despite all of Batman v Superman’s faults, Zack Snyder tried to do this. That movie didn’t work as well as it could’ve because the audience was more invested in Superman due to Man of Steel. The shifting of perspectives made Affleck’s Batman appear irrational right up until the point he scowled, “Martha. Why did you say that name?” A more contained story (with Batman as the soul protagonist), one that explored Bruce Wayne’s insecurities as a man and “hero,” would’ve benefited everyone.
What the world needed was an unhinged Batman and a damaged Superman. This might have been what Snyder had in mind but most of his narrative plans were axed for being “too dark.” Warner Bros. rejected Snyder’s idea to have Darkseid murder Lois Lane (prompting Superman to turn evil) and reshot almost the entirety of Justice League. Reports surrounding the Snyder cut of Justice League speculate on the nature of Superman’s pet cemetery resurrection.
A lot of fans thought the Knightmare sequence from Batman v Superman, which foreshadowed a dark future, would play a larger role in Justice League. A totalitarian Superman would have made Batman even more of a focal point and probably prompted some interesting character development. Unfortunately, Cavill was barely in that movie. The majority of Superman’s scenes in Justice League were the product of extensive reshoots that coincided with Cavill’s filming of Mission Impossible: Fallout (hence the digital shave). No one really knows how Snyder had originally incorporated Superman or the impact it would have on other characters.
Whether or not Snyder’s cut of Justice League ever comes out is irrelevant. At this point, It doesn’t seem like that character can work in a universe that is swiftly falling apart. Aquaman and Wonder Woman remain but in a very isolated sense. Warner Bros. would be smart to reboot Superman, using Robert Pattinson’s Batman as a new entry point for the DCEU. They could then properly explore those two characters dynamic or, better yet, give us a universe that knows what to do with a flawed Superman.
Man of Steel’s Christ metaphors aside, Superman is not Jesus. The past forty years have bombarded us with mythological antiquity, branding the character a God. In 1978’s Superman, 2006’s Superman Returns, and 2013’s Man of Steel the character has been the same. Superman doesn’t drop the ball, he doesn’t trip—he’s the best of us but he’s not one of us. Except he is; Superman is a direct reflection of not only us but of America. Superman first appears in a comic strip in 1938, the creation of two men of Jewish descent.
Superman is an immigrant; a refugee from a failed state obsessed with genetic superiority. When he comes to Earth (America) from Krypton, it’s his differences that make him special. In the 1920s and ’30s, a “superman” referred to men of great ability, or if you want to go deeper, it’s defined by Nietzsche as a man who forgoes “fleeting pleasures and attains happiness through the exercise of creative power.” Superman is simply a metaphor for the American dream. So bring Cavill back but do it differently or cast Jordan and revolutionize the character. The American dream has changed; Superman needs to change as well.