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Is Henry Cavill’s return as Superman a good thing?

In only a few days, the DCEU has received two major shakeups to its ever-shifting cinematic universe. First, the ending to Black Adam featured the return of a fan-favorite actor whose return to the franchise has long been a matter of debate. Over the weekend, Henry Cavill took to Instagram to celebrate his cameo in the film, promising he is indeed back as Superman and thanking his fans for their patience and loyalty. His video was short but meaningful, with Cavill seeming genuinely thankful for the chance to step back into the role that made him a star. His fans responded accordingly, ensuring he trended over the weekend and well into Monday following his announcement.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, the DCEU got yet another major update when The Hollywood Reporter announced James Gunn and Peter Safran would act as co-chairs and co-CEOs of the blossoming DC Studios. The duo will oversee the film, television, and animation efforts of this newly formed division, reporting directly to David Zaslav. The development stunned even those well-versed in industry issues, seemingly coming out of nowhere.

Many of the DCEU’s loudest fans won’t be happy with this news. After all, a select, seemingly small, but extremely vocal part of the fandom will never stop clamoring for a certain filmmaker to return and restore his original vision. But recent developments let us know the DCEU is officially moving on, and it’s not looking back to what came before; instead, all eyes seem to be on the future. And who’s better to headline this new chapter of the DCEU than the Man of Tomorrow himself?

Now that Cavill is officially back, and with a genuine DC lover like James Gunn at the helm, it only makes sense for Superman to take back his place as the heart of the DC universe. Cavill’s previous films never got to show Superman’s gentle and hopeful side, instead opting to portray him as a stoic and stiff man-god, more similar to Doctor Manhattan than Kal-El. In a way, Cavill’s next picture will be his true introduction to the character, a chance for him to step into the red and blue as if it was the first time. Dare we dream of a Gunn-overseen, Cavill-starring Superman film? It sounds like a dream come true for comic book fans, and the possibilities are truly endless.

Must there be a Superman?

Superman looking serious during a fight in Man of Steel.

For years, fans and critics have been arguing whether there’s still a place for the Last Son of Krypton in an increasingly cynical DCEU. However, years of non-Superman projects where the conversation still revolved around Superman should be proof enough that, yes, there must be a Superman. DC needs the Man of Steel. Superman is the most powerful DC superhero, but it goes far beyond that. The company needs Kal’s spirit, his relentless faith, his intense-bordering-or-ridiculous positivity. Superman is DC Comics, and that’s the truth.

So now that we know the Man of Steel needs to be present for the DCEU to succeed, what will be the franchise’s next move? Without angering or disrespecting anyone who thinks otherwise, my guess is that Cavill, Gunn, and everyone involved in the upcoming project would want to steer away from the series’ previous portrayal of Superman simply because that’s not Superman. And considering how long and troubled the road was to even secure another Kal-El-centric project, chances are those involved will want to embrace tradition rather than snub it. Thus, a more accessible and wholesome take on Superman would probably be the safest and best way to go about it.

Cavill is up for the task. Although he’s become more closely associated with stoic characters over the years, arguably due to his performance in Man of Steel, and he undoubtedly excels at playing them, Cavill is a charming guy. Anyone who saw The Tudors or his short intervention in Whatever Works knows he is more than just a stony face and deep voice.

However, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is the biggest proof of his superstar charisma. Say what you will about Guy Ritchie, but the man knows his style, which suits Cavill perfectly. As Napoleon Solo, Cavill is dashing, funny, witty, and charming. God knows why neither he nor his agent pursued more roles like that, but they should. Cavill is starving for the chance to play the Last Son of Krypton in all his boy-scout glory, and he should be allowed to; what’s so funny about truth, justice, and a mama’s boy Superman?

Will James Gunn get involved?

The cast of The Suicide Squad standing in the jungle.

With Cavill in place, we turn our eyes to James Gunn. The man loves his R-rating; he enjoys blood, cursing, and the occasional fart joke. However, his projects have an abundance of heart that makes them unique in a genre that’s often too cold and detached. He made us care about rats and trees, for crying out loud!

At their core, Gunn’s films are about human connection and family, be it between non-traditional yet still heroic characters like the Guardians or straight-up murderous freaks like the Suicide Squad. Gunn is as interested in the man as he is in the suit, which separates him from most other directors working in the superhero genre. Gunn likes the Super, but he loves the man.

It’s unlikely that Gunn will direct the Superman movie, and he shouldn’t; DC needs a strong creative force overseeing the struggling universe. His input and guiding hand should never be far from the film; if Gunn is in DC to create, let him. There’s no shortage of directors to make a great Superman film, and with an all-new leadership behind DC, courting them should be easier than it was five years ago.

Perhaps no one has a more daunting task than Cavill, especially because this will be his last shot with the part. Unlike Man of Steel, where fans didn’t know what to expect, and DC was starting on a clean slate, this project will come after years of lobbying and anticipation; it needs to be the best it can be — anything less will be disappointing.

What’s so funny about truth, justice, and a better tomorrow?

Animated Superman ripping his shirt to reveal his suit.

Superman is at a weird place in the current DCEU. He has been a headless figure for over five years, receiving no development and becoming something of a myth even within the universe’s lore. This new film needs to re-introduce him while confirming him as the brand’s undeniable leader. As such, it needs to avoid three things: firstly, it should stay away from the shared-universe aspect of the DCEU.

The film will be Superman’s grand re-entrance, and it should be treated as such, meaning he and he alone should be the undisputed star. This means no Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, or anyone else who can take the spotlight away from him. If you’re going to do a Superman solo outing, let Superman shine; no team-ups, no heroes popping by to assist.

This choice would effectively rule out adapting storylines like Kingdom Come or For the Man Who Has Everything, and that’s fine. While those are incredible chapters in Superman’s ongoing journey, they rely on other characters to tell a comprehensive story. Sure, the film could adapt them into solo Superman outings, but they worked in the first place because of Superman’s dynamic with other heroes. Changing that would mean depriving the stories of their thematic resonance.

Secondly, the film should not go anywhere near origin stories. A shame, considering some of Superman’s best tales — Superman for All Seasons, Birthright, Secret Identity — explore Kal’s past and struggle to come to terms with his powers. However, this isn’t a reboot, and for all its flaws, Man of Steel is a pretty great origin story. Messing with it would introduce unnecessary complications and drama, on and off screen; why invite trouble when the journey has already been bumpy enough?

Lastly, the film should avoid the evil Superman trope at all costs, meaning no Red Son, no Dark Side, and especially no Injustice. The power of evil Superman stories relies on the perversion of DC’s brightest force for good; how can the ultimate boy scout become evil? However, all that is lost with the DCEU’s version of Superman; he is already a seemingly emotionless god capable of killing, and we would have zero trouble believing he could turn evil at a moment’s notice. On top of that, the abundance of evil Supermen in our current landscape means the trope is slowly becoming unimpressive. We already have Homelander and Omni-Man; let them be evil, and let’s keep Superman, Superman.

Superman looking up at a memory of his father in the comic book Superman Last Son.

So, where does that leave us? Well, with plenty of great Superman storylines to explore on the big screen! Perhaps the most obvious choice would be Brainiac, the 2008 arc that redefined the classic villain, turning him into one of Kal’s most sinister villains. Featuring Brainiac as the antagonist would allow for a unique Superman adventure, especially considering the villain has never faced the Man of Steel on the big screen. Stories like Must There Be a Superman and What’s so Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way? could also work with the DCEU’s version of Superman, providing a logical progression to his storyline while allowing for the change to a more wholesome version of the character.

Then there are those lesser-known stories that would make for a more intriguing outing. Think Last Son, which finds Clark as a father figure to a newly arrived Kryptonian boy, or Up, Up, and Away, which sees him losing his powers after yet another Crisis-like event. What about On Our Special Day, which focuses as much on Clark as it does on Lois, allowing Amy Adams to finally get something to do in the DCEU? And Up in the Sky, which sees Superman going on a lengthy universal trip to save a young girl’s life, would showcase the kind and selfless side of Superman the DCEU desperately needs.

Henry Cavill: the Man of Tomorrow

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Perhaps, however, the DCEU should be bold once in its life and try its luck by adapting either of the two absolute best Superman stories: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? and All-Star Superman. These two are the very best the Man of Steel has to offer, overflowing with heart and meaning while simultaneously cementing Superman as the best superhero of all time, Marvel or DC.

Sure, they are stories about Superman dying, but perhaps the notion isn’t so far-fetched. We have been waiting for another Superman film for ages; who cares if it’s the last one? Wouldn’t we rather see Superman fly high and proud, even if it meant saying goodbye to him at the end? Getting Cavill back only to lose him would be tragic for sure, but it would also allow for a film that went all-out on the Superman mythos because it would know it only has one chance.

Alas, DC will not kill Superman, especially because it already “killed” him once, and the result was absurdly anti-climactic. Still, that doesn’t mean Whatever Happened and All-Star Superman can’t work without the death aspect. A well-done adaptation can maintain both stories’ sense of finality while avoiding offing Superman for good; there’s a “Twelve Labors of Superman” story begging to happen. Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? in particular, would make for an excellent bridge between the stoic Superman and the newer, more wholesome incarnation; after all, it is a story about one version of Superman ending for another to begin.

Whatever the DCEU decides to do with Superman, the important thing is that they are doing it. The Last Son of Krypton spent too long away from the spotlight for no apparent reason. We live in an age where superheroes dominate the cultural landscape, and it’s unbelievable that the greatest hero of them all is nowhere to be seen. But a shift is coming, and the hierarchy of DC is really changing.

It’s time for Superman to return in all his red and blue glory, and we are more than ready. But it needs to be the right kind of Superman; no more steely expressions or intimidating looks; leave the quiet brooding to Batman and give us the Superman we deserve. We already had the Man of Steel; now give us the Man of Tomorrow.

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