It’s impossible not to feel sorry for Henry Cavill, given the news this week that the statuesque Englishman will not be returning to the role of Superman after all. Apparently DC supremos James Gunn and Peter Safran are planning a reboot that will focus on the superhero’s younger years, which sounds like another mighty kick in the kryptonites for the guy who’s been playing him for the past decade.
All this after Cavill returned to the role in a mid-credits scene during the recent Black Adam, which seemed to tee up a future tête-à-tête with Dwayne Johnson’s musclebound antihero. Then there’s the small matter of Cavill having announced his own return to the role as recently as October, having reportedly been given permission to do so by Warner Bros.
So why is everything so chaotic at DC? It appears that Gunn’s arrival may be sparking the slow death of what was once the DC extended universe, then belatedly became known as the Snyderverse, and is now gently rolling towards oblivion. We have also learned this week, via the Hollywood Reporter, that Patty Jenkins’ third Wonder Woman film has been canned, despite the film-maker being keen to make another movie in the series. And there are suggestions that Jason Momoa’s Aquaman is about to take a deep dive for a different role.
Nobody can blame Gunn for wanting to shake things up. DC’s vision for a unified Marvel-style cinematic universe has been a mess ever since the original Justice League and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice failed to wow the critics. Since then, Warner has vacillated between innovative superhero storytelling (The Batman and Joker), and winding back the years to the DCEU era (Wonder Woman 1984, Snyder’s own four-hour cut of Justice League).
Then there was October’s Black Adam, which suggested that Cavill’s Superman might yet have a part to play in the future, but bombed so badly at the box office that any chance of a sequel appears to have been crushed to dust.
DC still has The Flash, Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom, and Shazam! Fury of the Gods set for release in 2023, all of which have connections to the original DC universe plan. But it looks increasingly likely that these will be last hurrahs. The studio could easily explain away the existence of several superheroes with the same name by the impending arrival of the multiverse in The Flash (which will explore the comic-book storyline Flashpoint). But we know Gunn has been brought on board to follow the Marvel blueprint, and that means a series of interconnected movies featuring superheroes jumping merrily from one to another like nodes lighting up on a circuitboard. It does not mean three different actors playing Batman, at least not at the beginning. Yet that is what DC has in play, and sooner or later there will have to be a cull on the mean streets of Gotham City.
Something similar has probably happened to Cavill. To create space for a younger Superman, the older version cannot be left hanging around like an big blue boy scout whose only purpose seems to be to remind everybody of the bad times. It’s just ironic that Gunn’s arrival has brought about a return to the chaotic, stop-start approach that he was drafted in to stop.
Yet fans will tolerate a few more bumps, famous noses being put out of joint and even acting careers derailed if DC makes progress. For those of us who love these comic-book titans, it has been painful over the past few yearsto see them buffeted about on the tide of a disorganised Hollywood studio. If Gunn has a plan – and isn’t out of a job by next Christmas because someone felt the draft script for Teen Superman lacked enough kooky one-liners – we should give him the space to cook up this fresh superhero omelette, even if it means breaking a few more eggs.