MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – MARCH 19: Henry Cavill during the Batman v Superman Premiere at Auditorio … [+]
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It looks like the DC Extended Universe has continued to make headlines during these coronavirus times, as Deadline reports that Henry Cavill is in talks to returns as Superman in future Warner Bros. superhero projects.
Which is…interesting news. Because, as Deadline notes, there are no current plans for a sequel to Man of Steel. That means Superman would only return to the DCEU in cameo or bit parts in movies like Black Adam or Aquaman 2. Which, as Scott Mendelson points out, would liken Superman’s role in the DCEU to Hulk’s role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. No standalone movies—just supporting roles in other superheroes’ movies.
At first, that news might be a bit upsetting for fans of DC. Because while those fans are undoubtedly happy that their big movie star is returning to the DCEU, the fact that Cavill’s role will be lessened is strange.
But given the latest movement from Warner Bros. regarding the DCEU, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it could be the key to reviving Zack Snyder’s fabled vision for the DC Extended Universe.
You might remember that last week, Warner Bros. finally gave the go-ahead for Snyder to finish his long-rumored director’s cut of Justice League, which will hit HBO Max sometime in 2021. This came after two years of incessant hashtagging from fans of Snyder and DC alike. On the second anniversary of Justice League, the hashtag #ReleaseTheSnyderCut became so viral that Warner Bros. chairman Toby Emmerich called up the director himself and asked for the Snyder cut to be realized.
But as exciting as that entire ordeal was, one detail is still clearly missing: what will Snyder’s role in the DCEU be moving forward? Is Warner Bros. simply giving life to Snyder’s cut of Justice League? Or does all of this indicate that the studio is open to the idea of Snyder’s original vision for the DCEU?
And if Warner Bros. is in fact interested in making Snyder more involved? Then Henry Cavill’s return as Superman isn’t just another news tidbit—it’s the most crucial component of Snyder’s DC Extended Universe, and would finally give DC the chance to compete with Marvel.
Don’t get me wrong: I would love another solo Superman movie starring Henry Cavill. But based on the overarching storyline Snyder intended for the cinematic universe, I don’t think it’s super essential at the moment to guarantee Cavill his own standalone sequel. Because Superman served as much more than a character—in Snyder’s world, Superman was a symbolic representation of humanity that carried from film to film.
I am about to embark on a very long explanation of exactly what I mean by that. So, please, bear with me on this one.
Originally, Snyder had outlined a five-movie arc for the DCEU that featured Superman as the driving force. That five-movie outline started with Man of Steel, then carried into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It was then was meant to be closed out with a Justice League trilogy.
Man of Steel introduced Superman to the world in 2013. Except he was not just some guy named Superman—he was an immortal amongst men. In Snyder’s realm, Superman was an undeniable, indestructible, otherworldly entity.
He was—if we’re just going to get to the point here—a manifestation of God.
But we limit Snyder’s commentary when we limit “God” to a likeness of man. Superman is, metaphorically speaking, the threat of the unknown. He is the idea that there is a higher power than ourselves, that we ultimately do not decide our own fates.
As opposed to a creator, think of “God” in Snyder’s universe as the source of creation itself. God doesn’t have to be a physical being. Instead, imagine God as a reflection of the state of the world and the energy you put into that world. Goodness will prevail if you believe in the goodness of “God.” Thus, Superman/God comes to represent the state of humanity.
General Zod, then, is the contrast to Superman’s idealism and belief in humanity. So when he battles Zod and his crew, Superman isn’t just battling the Kryptonians—Superman is battling the pessimism, the brutality, the narcissism of mankind. “You have developed a sense of morality and we have not—which gives us an evolutionary advantage,” Faora tells Superman as she beats him. “If history has taught us anything, it’s that evolution always wins.”
Except Superman does win—and, thus, so does the goodness of man. If Superman is the manifestation of mankind’s positive energy and morality, then it is the goodness of mankind that has put the world in a better place, and not some grand creator.
A similar dynamic then plays out in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Except now we’ve gone from pure metaphor to intimate character journey. The Kryptonians’ cruelness is now represented by two humans: Batman and Lex Luthor. So we go from purely spiritual commentary to a reflection of mankind’s reality.
In Batman v Superman, Superman still carries the meaning he had from the first film. If Superman can overcome a great evil, and if Superman is a reflection of man’s embracement of a greater, moral force, then Superman ultimately comes to represent meaning—the meaning we as individuals and as a society place on our existence and on humanity.
Lex Luthor, on the other hand, is the other end of the spectrum—he despises meaning. He is, in fact, meaninglessness personified. As a nihilist, Lex’s ego is threatened by this otherworldly force known as Superman that can evaporate Lex and the rest of humanity in the blink of an eye.
Batman, then, is caught in the middle of those two spectrums. After losing his parents to a murderous robber, Batman went out to fight evil and force justice. When he looks out into the world, Batman doesn’t first see goodness or morals, but instead ugliness and injustice that must be corrected.
Batman then reflects a darker side of humanity that’s in opposition to Superman. While Man of Steel concerned itself with spiritual and philosophical ideologies, Batman v Superman focuses specifically on one man’s struggle to accept this impossible force that can destroy mankind. At one point, Batman even sides with Lex’s ego and chooses to kill Superman.
But everything changes when Superman utters “Martha.” When Batman learns that he and Superman share a mortal mother of the same name, it then reveals the humanity of Superman and the inhumanity of killing someone else. And that’s when Batman makes the turns and vanquishes the ego of Lex. By siding with Superman, Batman chooses the greater good over himself—a crucial turning point as he becomes part of the Justice League.
Which brings us to the film itself: Justice League. Because of the story Snyder had built, the superheroes of the DC Extended Universe went from faceless superheroes to reflections of humanity. Because of the storyline Snyder had crafted, the Justice League team’s fight wasn’t a spectacle we all sat idly by and watched—we became an inherent part of that existential battle.
And, seemingly, everything was in place for that grand DCEU vision from Snyder to be carried out—until Warner Bros. ripped the first Justice League film from Snyder’s grasp, leaving his vision in shambles. Snyder then seemingly exited the DCEU forever and moved on to other projects.
But then, as we saw last week, Warner Bros. pivoted. The studio realized that the thirst for Snyder’s cut of Justice League was more than rabid fandom—it was a downright movement on social media. People just weren’t rooting for the underdog, but rooting for Snyder’s original vision to be realized.
And, for all we know, that could still happen. Warner Bros. might go all-in on Snyder’s original outline for the DCEU—which makes Superman the most crucial component of the entire franchise.
Because in Snyder’s world, Superman won’t just be a side character with a random bit part in Shazam! 2 or Black Adam or Aquaman 2. The existential meaning Superman carried during Man of Steel and Batman v Superman will then spill over into Snyder’s restored cut of Justice League.
And if that’s the case, the DCEU can then go from just another cinematic universe to a profound reflection of society.