Saturday, December 17, 2022

A Superman For All Seasons

Pour one out for the Snyderverse. Pour one out too for whatever we might have called the Dwayne Johnson-driven version of the DCEU because that's dead too. In one for the "life comes at you fast" files, the latest news out of Warners Bros./DC is that just months after appearing in Black Adam's post credit scene and announcing his comeback, Henry Cavill is officially done as Superman. 

That's a bitter pill to swallow for the actor's fans and surely for Cavill himself whose return to the part seemed assured. But, as we've come to learn, just because there's a post credit scene in a DC movie, it doesn't mean it's going anywhere. As a movie, Black Adam was kind of wobbly but in getting Cavill back, it at least showed that Dwayne Johnson understood you can't have a proper DC Universe if you're leaving Superman out to dry. Clearly new DC Studios co-chairs and co-CEOs James Gunn and Peter Safran felt the same way but had their own ideas on how to deal with that. 

I already thought it was crazy that the post credit scene at the end of Justice League with Deathstroke breaking Lex Luthor out of jail went nowhere but that the Black Adam post credit scene, the thing that was meant to establish the next chapter in the DCEU, is also going to be a dead end is just wild. You would think if you put something big out there, like if you cast Joe Manganiello as Deathstroke and go to the effort of making a letter perfect costume for him that it means you're committed to following up on that but it turns out that, nah, that's not the case. So given that, I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that the Cavill post credit scene will also come to nothing but yet it is. I mean, Deathstroke is one thing but I would think it'd be much harder to slam the door in Superman's face but here we are.  

That said, Gunn and Safran are making the right call in wiping the slate clean. The biggest problem with the DCEU is that it got off on the wrong foot with Man of Steel and everything since then has been about trying to cling to as much as Snyder's vision as possible while at the same time being forced to course correct with every movie. It put the DCEU in a constant state of reacting to its prior missteps, unable to chart a fresh course, free of baggage. Bringing Cavill back, even if you crafted a more fitting Superman film for him, would still be one more course correction. Time to move on. 

Whether Gunn and Safran will have more success than Snyder when it comes to creating a cohesive DC Universe remains to be seen. After all, Snyder had a grand vision too but all it took was for the first film out of the gate to stumble for all of it to unravel. Who's to say if Warners will stay the course with Gunn or panic at the first sign that it isn't clicking? In Gunn's favor (outside of the fact that he's actually the boss now and he only has to answer to himself) is the fact that he really knows these characters and has a true affection for DC. 

Snyder is a brilliant visual stylist but I think a lot of what's essential to the heart of these characters, particularly concerning Superman, simply struck Snyder as being a bunch of naive kid stuff and he believed modern audiences would feel the same. The result of that cynicism was Man of Steel

Ultimately, the choices that were made on Man of Steel torpedoed Snyder's take on the DCEU. It was never going to be safe to put the full weight of a universe on that cracked foundation. As deeply unfair as it may be to Cavill, it is what it is. When your new DC universe starts off with Superman being forced to kill, the whole thing is doomed to fail. Everyone involved should have known this before finding out the hard way but they didn't. 

Over the years, I've always been flabbergasted at the ineptitude of Warners when it's come to their handling of Superman. When it comes to their DC properties, Superman should be considered the crown jewel but they've either treated him like junk or simply shown no aptitude for understanding who the character is or what he's meant to represent. This is a character whose big screen adventures have been on an erratic course since 1983. After the first two Christopher Reeve movies, whose success seems more and more miraculous as time goes on, the franchise stumbled on its third film and has never fully recovered since. For a character of Superman's stature, that's insane. When superheroes are the biggest thing in pop culture and you can't figure out what to do with the #1 character in that pantheon, that's nuts.  

As much as some might insist that Richard Donner's '78 Superman and Christopher Reeve's take on the Metropolis Marvel wouldn't (pardon the expression) fly today, I disagree. People talk about what a jaded era we're living in now but forget that the '70s was a deeply cynical time too. The US was still recovering from Vietnam and Watergate had shaken our faith in our institutions. If ever there was a time when a hero who touted the virtues of old fashioned American ideals should have gone over like a lead balloon, it was then. But Superman: The Movie cut through the cynicism of the '70s and gave people something they were yearning for. 

Superman can still do the same today, if they get it right. The key is not to make Superman adapt to the times. Times change, seasons come and go, but Superman should always remain true to who he is. That's his most enduring super power.

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