To say that Warner’s DC films have had a rough go of it is about as close to a self-evident statement as you’re likely to find in this business. While each of the five films to date has made money, their reception from critics (and, increasingly, audiences) has been another matter altogether. Whether this was a matter of Zack Snyder being a poor fit for the material or of fans simply not “getting it” is an argument that I’m sure will rage on for years to come, but whatever the culprit, at the end of the day something clearly wasn’t working.
But while that became impossible to ignore after the release of ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice‘, at least some of the writing had been on the wall ever since the whole endeavor kicked off with ‘Man of Steel‘ in 2013. In that case, the controversy largely centered on Superman’s characterization, with the biggest sticking point being his climactic decision to kill General Zod. Speaking with Square Mile ahead of the upcoming release of ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’, Superman actor Henry Cavill addressed the intent and controversy around Zod’s death:
“The killing of Zod would have led to a wonderful reason why Superman never kills. Not, he never kills just because his dad said so one day. He made the decision himself because of an impossible scenario, to which he then said, “I don’t care if it’s impossible again, I’m gonna find a way to make it possible in the impossible.”
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. If Snyder’s intent was for Zod’s death to be a formative event in Superman’s life, we certainly never saw much evidence of that. ‘Batman v Superman’ portrayed the Last Son of Krypton as very much the same sullen so-and-so that he was in ‘Man of Steel’, with nothing in particular to suggest that he wouldn’t snap an adversary’s neck if he deemed it necessary. And of course, Snyder would ultimately depart the franchise midway through production of ‘Justice League’, leaving much of the tone and style of the finished film in the hands of his replacement, Joss Whedon.
And Cavill acknowledges that failing, which he attributes to the fact that both ‘Justice League’ and ‘Batman v Superman’ are ensemble films, more focused on developing the universe than the characters that live in it.
“We didn’t get the opportunity to show the other side of it, the “I’m ready to be Superman now and I’m ready to show the world the best examples.” That’s where the joy and glee comes from, and that sense of warmth from the character, which is his real superpower – he makes people believe in themselves. It was a shame because it would’ve been nice, and it would have been a lovely coupling with the seriousness and the depth of ‘Man of Steel’.”
Of course, Warner may yet have a chance to right that particular wrong. Though it represented a sudden and drastic shift in the character’s portrayal, one of Joss Whedon’s most significant contributions to ‘Justice League’ was the (re)introduction of a much more familiar, much less gloomy take on Superman, something closer to the “joy and glee” that Cavill describes. And while Warner’s plans for their DC films have been in such a state flux since ‘Justice League’ underwhelmed at the box office that you can find rumors to support pretty much anything you hope to see going forward, the fact is that talk of a proper follow up to ‘Man of Steel’ (that is, a solo feature rather than a team up film) has persisted for five years. This despite the lack of any obvious plans. And certainly, Cavill doesn’t seem quite ready to hang up his cape just yet…