Joss Whedon may be stepping out of the director’s chair for Batgirl, but he shouldn’t be departing the DC Extended Universe entirely. While all parties seem to agree the tale of Barbara Gordon will be better off in someone else’s hands, another DC icon could definitely use Whedon’s touch – Superman.
The last son of Krypton is currently in something of a cinematic limbo; a sequel to Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel has been back-burnered numerous times in favor of escalating the DCEU’s shared universe team ups – namely Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League, the latter of which Whedon infamously oversaw through an extensive and controversial post-production overhaul. In the wake of Justice League’s relative failure, the DCEU’s future is in a state of flux, and ironically the universe’s two biggest heroes – Batman and Superman – find themselves with hazy futures.
But as we’ve argued before, Justice League’s shortcomings were not the fault of any one party, and certainly not Whedon, who had a near-impossible task in front of him. The resulting film may have disappointed in many ways, but it showed a surprisingly clear path forward for Superman, and there’s nobody more equipped to take on that mission than Whedon. That may not be a popular opinion among the vocal DCEU fans who have chosen to lay Justice League’s under-performance at Whedon’s feet, but it’s one that makes more and more sense when put under the microscope in a relatively dispassionate way.
A More Traditional Superman
Zack Snyder’s version of Superman was bold, challenging, visually stunning, and has amassed a passionate, vocal fan base. But there’s simply no getting around the fact that that take was not for everyone, and the dour, self-doubting Clark Kent proved to be far more polarizing than Warner Bros. were hoping. It can be argued this was an overcorrection after Bryan Singer’s dewy-eyed, saccharine Superman Returns – overly reverential toward the Christopher Reeve Superman films of the 70s and 80s – was met with lukewarm box office returns and a cultural shrug.
Warner Bros. is clearly looking for a sweet spot between Singer’s cornball and Snyder’s dark deconstruction. Whedon’s Superman scenes in Justice League – easy to spot due to Henry Cavill’s unfortunate CGI lip – prove he’s the man for that job. That version of Superman feels like a modern day film character without being cynical or brooding, yet also maintains the character’s inherent earnestness without seeming cheesy. That’s a tough tight rope to walk, and one that talented filmmakers have stumbled over with literal years of story preparation, but one Whedon has already shown he can pull off in less than ideal production situations.
Henry Cavill Is Onboard
If he wasn’t a rich, ridiculously good looking movie star, you’d almost have to feel sorry for Henry Cavill. In contrast to some of his fellow superhero actors (looking your way, Affleck) Cavill has always retained a sort of childish glee over the fact he gets to play Superman. Not only that, he’s often been the most eloquent ambassador for the character, articulating the things that people love and value in Superman better than the producers and directors of the films in which he stars. And yet Cavill’s warmth and love for the character was largely obscured in his first two outings in the role, as he was directed to portray a darker, edgier version of the character.
Ever the polite Brit, it seems impossible that Cavill would ever outright dissent with his collaborators, but he’s often lightheartedly suggested that he and Zack Snyder see the character in decidedly different ways, with Cavill wishing his Superman was a more hopeful, inspiring figure than the somewhat gloomy, reluctant hero of Snyder’s films.
Tellingly, while most of the cast of Justice League were parsing their words about the Snyder/Whedon debacle very carefully during the film’s press tour, Cavill enthusiastically endorsed Whedon as a director who fundamentally sees Superman the same way he does. With Zack Snyder almost certainly moving on from the DCEU, it stands to reason Cavill would be thrilled to work with Whedon again to tell a brighter, lighter Superman story.
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