The DCEU‘s poor handling of the iconic hero Superman actually makes Henry Cavill’s the worst movie version. As the DCEU is made up of a number of the most iconic superheroes ever depicted in comic books — most notably, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman — it was always doomed to be compared to the many other iterations that came before and after. This may have prompted the need for innovation with regard to Warner Bros. modern version of Superman, a character whose lasting legacy in pop culture makes him the quintessential superhero.
Before the DCEU, Superman’s story had already been adapted many times for both film and television. Among the most successful of these are Richard Donner’s Superman starring Christopher Reeve, its three sequels, the decade-spanning Superman origin story Smallville starring Tom Welling, and the more casual viewing Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman with Dean Cain in the role. Since the DCEU’s creation, there has also been the Arrowverse version of the character portrayed by Tyler Hoechlin, introduced on Supergirl, who was soon given his own show Superman & Lois. Each version of the character comes with its own good and bad qualities, making it difficult to select any one of them as a perfect iteration.
Though Henry Cavill’s Superman is arguably the most visible thanks to his major role in the DCEU, in many ways, he’s actually the worst version of the character. This is primarily due to the way in which the DCEU has failed Superman in its writing of the character and his origins, and also how he has been used (and wasted) in relation to other heroes. Though Henry Cavill’s performance as Superman is commendable, the way the character has been written in the DCEU simply does not do justice to the iconic hero when compared to other versions.
Man Of Steel’s “Superman” Origin Wasn’t About Clark At All
One of the biggest issues with Superman’s DCEU origin is that it focused far too much on other characters. The opening scenes of Man of Steel Superman features only briefly as an infant, with the focus instead on establishing elements of Kryptonian culture and the characters of General Zod and Jor-El. Man of SteelSuperman story then picked up with an all-too-brief exploration of Clark’s heroics at a young age, with a focus on his adoptive father Jonathan Kent, before reintroducing Zod. The result is an origin for the DCEU’s Superman that simply does not feel fleshed out. By focusing so much on Superman’s father figures, Man of Steel‘s villain, and the character’s Kryptonian heritage, the DCEU made Superman feel like a secondary character in his own movie — to say nothing of Clark Kent’s underdeveloped relationship with Lois Lane (Amy Adams).
This is something that other versions of Superman have done far better. Perhaps the best example of how this can be achieved is the 10-season run of The CW’s Smallville, which avoided the Superman problem by delving deep into the character of Clark Kent in his younger years. Though not all versions of Superman should necessarily have such drawn-out introductions, Smallville proved that there are interesting and important stories to explore in Clark’s younger years and that Superman’s origin story should be focused on his own journey to becoming a hero rather than exploring the people the inspired him. In failing to adequately address Clark’s formative years, Man of Steel set the DCEU’s Superman up to fail from the very start.
The DCEU Has Needlessly Isolated Superman From Other Heroes
Another way that the DCEU has wasted Henry Cavill’s Superman is by isolating him from other heroes. After his introduction in Man of Steelthe DCEU’s Superman returned in the controversial Batman v Supeman: Dawn of Justice, which also introduced both Batman and Wonder Woman into the franchise. However, the film simply pit DC’s two most iconic heroes against one another, and their short-lived alliance ended with Superman’s death. This was made worse by the DCEU’s first team-up movie, Justice Leaguewhich did not resurrect Superman until late in the film, and the character only joined the team for the final battle, once again making him feel like a secondary consideration.
By opting not to thoroughly explore – or even really hint at – Superman’s ability to inspire and lead other heroes, the DCEU has needlessly set Superman apart from the other members of the Justice League. In the brief interactions between the heroes — such as Superman racing the Flash and throwaway lines of dialogue between Superman and Cyborg — the potential for the character to be a more well-rounded member of the team was teased, but there are no signs that this will ever be expanded upon. Instead, the DCEU has already set up its version of Superman as a very separate hero, and this is something that simply does not work in a shared cinematic universe.
Clark Kent Is An Afterthought In The DCEU
Though Superman has been a major character in three separate DCEU movies, his human alter-ego remains severely underdeveloped. Even in Man of Steel, which established how Superman came to reveal himself to the world, Clark Kent is hardly considered a main character. In fact, Clark Kent hardly exists in the DCEU as anything more than Superman’s means of blending in, and Cavill’s version of the hero is instead defined by his more public persona.
In contrast, Superman in the Arrowverse highlights just how important it is to establish Clark Kent’s character as much as (if not more than) Superman’s. Logic dictates that he grew up as Clark Kent before his Superman persona was ever formed, and some of the character’s best stories focus on the difficulty he has in reconciling the two. By making the DCEU’s version Superman above all else and forgoing any significant Clark Kent stories, it weakens his overall characterization and makes him a far less interesting character.
The DCEU’s Superman Is More Alien Than Human – Why This Gets The Hero All Wrong
One of the side effects of the DCEU skimming over Superman’s role in his own origin story and failing to properly establish Clark Kent as a character is that its version of the hero feels more alien than human. This forms a large part of the DCEU’s Superman problem, as failing to explore a major aspect of the hero’s character makes it difficult to properly communicate his motivations. Though Man of Steel tries to touch on the idea, its focus on Kal-El’s Kryptonian heritage makes Clark’s human upbringing seem less important, which contributes to the idea that Superman is more alien than human. This is backed up by Batman’s opposition to Superman, and the entire plot of Batman v Supermanwhich deals with the societal fallout of Superman’s power.
Concentrating on Superman’s status as an alien and how that makes him an outsider makes for an interesting narrative and thematic angle, but it fundamentally misunderstands the character. Superman’s outsider status shouldn’t set him apart from humanity but instead should help establish him as a beacon of hope for the Earth. In missing that key part of the character, Man of Steel doomed Cavill’s Superman by getting him all wrong. As a result, the DCEU‘s version of Superman is actually the worst version of the character, as it gets so many things wrong about the basic nature of his story.
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- Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023)Release date: Mar 17, 2023
- The Flash (2023)Release date: Jun 23, 2023
- Blue Beetle (2023)Release date: Aug 18, 2023
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