When Henry Cavill came to Man of Steel, the actor was not a household name, and there was not much known about how Zack Snyder -- the bombastic director behind movies like 300 and Watchmen -- would tackle the Last Son of Krypton. By the time Cavill next appears in Snyder's cut of Justice League, which will come to HBO Max in 2021, it will have been nearly ten years sinec that inauspicious beginning, and now seems like the perfect time to get more of Cavill's verson of Superman. Things have changed significantly, with Cavill a huge star (partially because of Superman, and partially because of the success of The Witcher) and Superman's arc seemingly coming to a close.
Zack Snyder has said in the past that the goal of his approach to Superman was to "explain" how someone becomes the all-American, flawless demigod that Clark Kent eventually morphs into. Snyder was, it seems, more interested in examining the bumps in the road and how they shaped Clark into Superman, than he was in doing a more straightforward Superman movie.
But between Justice League -- which gaves fans "a" version of Clark's evolution into Superman -- and the forthcoming Zack Snyder's Justice League, which will give fans more insight into what Snyder's plans for the character were, Cavill's Man of Steel now seems to be nearing the end of his journey of self-discovery. Couple that with his appearance in Shazam! -- where he seemed universally beloved and understood to be the biggest and best superhero in the world -- and you have something approaching the dynamic Superman fans are used to in the DC Universe.
In a way, that gives Cavill a clean slate going forward. It isn't a reboot, because he still has those stories behind him and informing his take on the character, but for fans who love Snyder's vision for the DC films, giving Cavill a place of prominence in the post-Snyder DC movies is its own reward. For those who don't care for Snyder's take, think of it like Thor: Ragnarok. Even with the events of Thor and Thor: The Dark World behind him, the character can still incorporate that into something that's tonally new and visually exciting on its own merits.
Cavill is rumored to have struck a deal with Warner to return in supporting roles in a number of upcoming DC projects, and that might be just what the doctor ordered for now. He's #1 on the call sheet for The Witcher, which would make a Superman solo movie hard to do even if Warner Bros. wanted to (and from wall the rumors going around, they are not sure they're up for it yet).
Fans who loved the Snyder films and those who didn't almost all agree: Henry Cavill gave a great performance as Superman. And now that the "runway is clear," so to speak, there's nothing stopping him redefining the character for our times.
And our times need a Superman.
Joke all you want, but the "on my planet, it means hope" moment in Man of Steel set out a mission statement for Superman that the character arguably didn't really get to follow through on because Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League were so busy trying to make the DC Universe come to life. But at his core, Superman is a bringer of hope. He's a fundamentally decent person who always does the right thing because it's the right thing, whether it's easy or not. And that's the kind of person 2020 could use more of.
That isn't to say that Cavill should ignore the thoughtful, layered take he brought to the character in the Snyder films. Instead, he now has an opportunity to incorporate those elements of Superman into someone who has to step up to the responsibility that wearing a big red symbol of "hope" demands of someone.
It wasn't that long ago that fans routinely questioned whether we needed a Superman at all in the 21st century. It was a pervasive theme in comics like Kingdom Come by Alex Ross and Mark Waid, and found its way into Superman Returns. There was this sense that Superman was too powerful, and too good, and that the world didn't want or need that anymore.
But the thing about hope is, it's incredibly powerful. Everybody wants it, at the end of the day, and so with a world that seems to be on the brink of so many different disasters, there's something really appealing about somebody powerful enough to stand there and take all those blows and not fall down. In a world where every day on the news there's a never-ending series or amoral hucksters who lack any sense of empathy and seem to be determined to step on anyone in their path to get ahead, it's easy to gravitate toward someone who isn't self-conscious about doing the right thing.
Right now is Superman's moment -- and Henry Cavill has the rare opportunity to seize it.