Superman is the quintessential superhero. He’s the character that quite literally defined the superhero genre as it exists today, and the success of his publication history speaks for itself. Moreover, Superman boasts a cinematic legacy that’s almost equally impressive, pre-dating any notions of a shared movie universe by a staggering margin.
It’s only fitting that Superman should have been the one to start the DCU (or the DCEU, as it was then known). Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel got things off to a reasonable start, even if his ideas for the character were somewhat controversial. Continuing with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the DCU found itself on even shakier ground, with the film dividing critics and fans alike. Then 2017 brought the Justice League controversies and Zack Snyder’s departure from the franchise, and all hope seemed lost for Superman and the DCU.
Superman’s five-year hiatus from the screen didn’t go unnoticed. He left a very muscular hole in the middle of the DCU, with the wider franchise being built around his incredibly conspicuous absence. Even after Zack Snyder’s departure, the DCU had a near-perfect Superman actor established in its continuity, so it seemed odd that he wasn’t being used. Then he returned with a mid-credits cameo in Black Adam, and it seemed that all was well. But all was not well, and Cavill was senselessly axed from the role within months.
Why The DCU Can’t Seem To Fix Its Superman Problems
As disappointing as the decision to oust Cavill may be, it’s pretty clear why it was made. Cavill represented the cornerstone of the Snyderverse, something which James Gunn and Peter Safran are clearly trying to distance themselves from. Continuing with Cavill as Superman would have continued comparisons to Snyder’s early DCU movies, which has been one of the issues plaguing the franchise since his departure. However, fixing the problem isn’t as simple as removing Cavill, and the DCU still has a huge Superman problem.
Bringing Cavill back for a brief cameo was one of 2022’s biggest and best surprises, while his subsequent departure was one of its worst. Henry Cavill was an excellent embodiment of the character, which means it will be incredibly difficult to replace him without unfavorable comparisons. What’s more, his version of Superman was integral to the introduction of other DCU heroes, meaning that simply swapping him out will be narratively messy (or cheaply glossed over with some of James Gunn’s characteristic irreverence).
Put simply, there’s no good way for the DCU to extricate itself from its Superman drama. The problems essentially started with Man of Steel, because Snyder’s unique vision was one only he could truly follow through. After Snyder’s departure, things went from bad to worse, because no one knew how to handle Cavill’s Superman in a narrative sense, and the five years of stagnation did nothing to help the issue. It’s now been too long to properly salvage the situation, so Gunn and Safran have seemingly cut their losses. However, casting a new Superman isn’t going to be an easy sell either on or off the screen, so it would seem that the DCU is now doomed to limp on dragging its Superman issues behind it like a gangrenous limb.