Cavill: Featured, Putting a Brave Face on It

Henry Cavill, a handsome man of good physical form and above average height, has been let go as Warner Bros’ latest big screen live action Superman. He will be mourned until he is joined.

Personally, I feel pretty bummed about the whole thing.

Cavill: Shocked Superman
He was, he was, he was Superman and he knows what’s happening. (Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures)

A Surprising Ally For Cavill Emerges

Cavill played the Man of Tomorrow in three films all directed, at least in part, by Zack Snyder. These movies, predominantly, met with negative reviews from critics and fans alike. The fans that did enjoy the movies tended to do so loudly and with great gusto. A smaller subsection of these fans expressed their appreciation with such fervor they decided to declare war on critics, other fans, Marvel Films, and any other individual or group who deemed to assert,

“Those movies are poor.”

I am a critic. While I have never reviewed a Warner Bros DC Comics movie for pay, if I had the three films with Cavill would have all received less than positive marks. I am a Marvel Films fans and even, now and then, get a paycheck from the House of Ideas. I have zero use for the rabid DCEU fans and think the idea of the MCU v. DCEU battle for supremacy is a.) dumb, dumb as hell and b.) so obviously not a contest.

Moreover, in talking to my friend who likes MAN OF STEEL and DAWN OF JUSTICE I repeatedly characterize the Superman of DAWN as a forever couch-bound fella who complains constantly how the media is so mean to him. He only leaves the couch to punch a man without superpowers in the face and die. This is obviously a GROSS simplification. My point is, I think his Superman was really badly written in DAWN.

Anyway, despite all this, I say we never really got to see what Cavill could do.

Cavill: Superman in front of the cameras
Sometimes I despair the DCEU world will never see another man like Henry Cavill. (Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures)

Cite Your Evidence, Sir!

The first and most direct example comes from the last 15 or so minutes of JUSTICE LEAGUE. First, to be clear, JL is not a great movie. It’s a mess of tones. It is one of those super expensive movies that often looks bizarrely cheap. Steppenwolf…well…I can’t bring myself to say a bad word about Steppenwolf. What an incredible CGI creation (yes, I am kidding). However, amongst the bored Batman and the Flash who doesn’t understand humor yet is the clown of the team and the Cyborg who is trying so hard but has zero material, we finally got a glimpse. A glimpse of a Superman that felt like the character should. Smart, funny, committed, with a giant heart.

The specific moment for me was after he and Cyborg successfully ripped the Mother Box trio apart. As the two lie prone on the ground, he makes a joke about maybe wishing he was dead again after surviving that explosion. The joke itself is whatever, but the way Cavill tells it, the way he smiles and laughs, and the way he connects with his fellow hero at that moment…that WAS Superman. Not the joyless tortured dude we got in MAN OF STEEL.

Not the dumb feeling sorry for himself mope of DAWN. No. This time Cavill showed he could be Superman. He understood Superman. He just needed the script to give him something to bring the Man of Tomorrow to life.

Cavill: Superman looks to the sky
Henry Cavill can’t stand to fly, he’s not that naive. (Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures)

Do You Have Any Other Exhibits To Present?

Perhaps you heard of a little movie called MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE—FALLOUT? There, Cavill plays a pretty excellent thug on the side of the CIA. And yes, that much-ballyhooed mustache was quite excellent too. A film you probably didn’t hear or almost certainly didn’t see is THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. I don’t want to make you feel bad, but that is a big shame. You should rectify it immediately.

In the period piece — based on the TV show of the same name — Cavill played a charismatic cad of a secret agent at first saddled with and then wonderfully connected with a KGB agent played by Armie Hammer. Now are either of these characters Superman? No. Are they even Superman-like? Not particularly. However, there are pieces of Superman in each. The physical grace, the commitment, the smile, the charisma, and so on.

What they demonstrate is that Cavill has range. He can be more than dour and glowering. He has the capacity to play a character of intelligence fueled by something more than rage. In other words, they offer evidence that the three DCEU films he appeared in may not have done a particularly good job of showcasing the skills he could have brought to portraying the Big Blue Boy Scout.

Cavill: Backlit Superman
There goes our hero, watch Henry Cavill as he goes. (Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures)

Closing Arguments

From the beginning of its conception, the DCEU has struggled to find a path to follow. MAN OF STEEL was praised by many — read: me — for being Zack Snyder’s best directing effort to date. It was also criticized by many — again, me — for being a singularly depressing vision of Superman that cast him as often an ineffectual and violent thug who already approached the idea of heroism with a world-weariness that seemed antithetical to the character’s core.

Then, we were treated to the nadir of the whole thing the ugly, dumb, and dull DAWN OF JUSTICE. Close behind came the aesthetically ambitious but terribly assembled SUICIDE SQUAD. WONDER WOMAN provided a respite with an excellent film that also had the good taste to be the first solo woman superhero film of this era. Finally, JUSTICE LEAGUE completed this cycle with its mediocre too many cooks in the kitchen effort.

I don’t offer these observations to rub it in but rather to point out that Cavill, like Routh before him, had the misfortune to be cast as Superman while Warner Bros seems to be in a period of being unable to figure out how to bring their icons successfully to the screen in a way that delights more than a small very vocal group of fans. When we look back on this period, there will be a temptation to put it on Cavill’s shoulders, to argue he was not equal to the task of being Superman. This is nonsense.

The casting was strong. Cavill did not let down Warner Bros. They let him down.

So I take a moment of silence for another fallen Kryptonian. May angels bring you home, our fair hero, you were just too good for this DCEU.


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