How The DCEU Tried To Fix Superman's Movie Problem (And Failed) – Screen Rant

How The DCEU Tried To Fix Superman's Movie Problem (And Failed) – Screen Rant

The DCEU’s approach to Superman might not have paid off in the long run, but the idea behind its version of the character avoided a common problem.
Despite being widely criticized for its handling of the character, the DCEU actually tried to fix Superman‘s long-running movie problems, and though it failed, its approach was actually the right one. Superman is the quintessential comic book hero and is widely credited with popularizing the superhero genre. In spite of his iconic nature, he is often misrepresented and underutilized, most recently in the DCEU, where he should be one of the most important characters.
The DCEU’s failure of Superman is well-documented. Despite Henry Cavill making an excellent Man of Steel, the franchise’s version of the character simply doesn’t do justice to Superman’s well-established legacy. Written to be a darker, more brooding take on the character, the DCEU’s version marked a departure from the established tone of both Clark Kent and Superman. This ultimately led to the superhero struggling to find his place in the franchise, and Cavill’s continued involvement in the DCEU is now seemingly under question.
Related: James Gunn Will Save The DCEU By NOT Being The Next Snyder
While the DCEU’s Superman may not work perfectly within the franchise, the general approach to the character isn’t entirely wrong. By reinventing Superman somewhat, the DCEU attempted to overcome common criticisms of the character. Though the DCEU movies may have made mistakes, their revised approach to Superman was well-intentioned, even if it ultimately failed.
While he remains a fan-favorite character, Superman isn’t an easy character to adapt to the big screen. His iconic nature alone is enough to make live-action adaptations particularly difficult, and capturing the proper tone is always a major consideration. In addition, there has already been a number of live-action Superman actors, and each new addition to the prestigious list is required to bring something new to the role. The character’s over-powered nature also makes reconciling the tone of the character against other heroes difficult, which was another huge consideration for the DCEU.
As Christopher Reeve’s movies had already perfectly captured the more traditional aspects of Superman, and Brandon Routh’s version in Superman Returns proved that retreading that same ground wouldn’t be hugely successful, the DCEU was faced with a major problem. Following the most obvious route to adapting Superman would mean unavoidable comparisons to the magic of Reeve’s version, and the iconic nature of the hero makes it difficult to deviate from the character’s traditional tone. The DCEU’s impossible Superman task was to keep the character comic accurate and still somehow make him feel fresh, meaning that Henry Cavill’s Superman was doomed from the very start.
The film that marked the beginning of the DCEU, Man of Steel, remains divisive for its reinvention of Superman. While it changed very little about the character’s story, Man of Steel reimagined Superman as a more grounded, brooding sort of hero, leaving the film’s tone more gritty and bleak than would generally be expected of a Superman movie. As Superman is traditionally characterized as a beacon of hope to all of humanity, Man of Steel focused more on the way he could be construed as an alien threat and the way in which his Kryptonian background affects him as a hero.
Related: DCEU Superman Deserves A Reboot Movie (With Or Without Henry Cavill)
As the franchise’s first film, Man of Steel set the tone for the DCEU. This meant that the film’s pensive, darker take on Superman carried over into the controversial Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and beyond. However, Man of Steel‘s gentle reworking of the character’s nature was less obvious than in subsequent installments, making Snyder’s initial reimagining of Superman an interesting way to subvert expectations while still showing reverence to the source material.
Perhaps the turning point for the DCEU was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which marked the continuation of Superman’s story and the introduction of DC’s two other most recognizable heroes: Batman and Wonder Woman. Pitting DC’s two longest-standing heroes against one another in a story that promised to break each of them down to their constituent parts was ambitious enough, but once the introduction of the DCEU’s Lex Luthor and Doomsday is factored in, the film becomes one of the franchise’s most significant. As controversial as the film may be, it should be commended for doubling down on the DCEU’s version of Superman.
It would have been relatively simple to make the DCEU’s Superman more in line with his traditional counterpart after Man of Steel, but Snyder opted to continue with the established narrative arc. After killing General Zod in Man of Steel, Superman is identified as a threat by Ben Affleck’s Batman – continuing the DCEU trend of treating Superman as an alien first and a hero second. While the film itself may have been poorly received, it didn’t shy away from the darker characterization of Cavill’s Superman after he was forced to kill General Zod in Man of Steel, which continued the tone of Snyder’s first DCEU film.
One of the DCEU’s biggest Superman problems isn’t actually the way the franchise has used the character, but rather the way it has used his villains. While Henry Cavill’s Superman is slightly different from more traditional takes on the character, the DCEU’s versions of some of his iconic villains have left much to be desired. After the bold move of having Superman kill Zod in Man of Steel, the introduction of both Lex Luthor and Doomsday in Batman v Superman was disappointing. Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor was written as a distinctly different take on the villain, and Doomsday’s origins were rewritten to be directly linked to Luthor.
Related: Why So Many DCEU Villains Are Aliens
By making changes to some of Superman’s best villains, the DCEU subtly changed its version of the hero, too. By tampering with the villains’ origins and characterizations, it confused the nature of their dynamic with Superman. While this alone isn’t a particularly heinous transgression, the slightly revised nature of Cavill’s Superman made the DCEU’s approach to the characters feel recklessly rushed, which ultimately hurt the hero even more.
While it’s easy to dismiss the DCEU’s Superman as a failure – particularly as the franchise appears to be moving on without the character – the approach taken was ultimately the right one. Though the gamble taken on reimagining the tone of Superman didn’t pay off, Snyder’s vision for the character was an interesting way to introduce something new to Superman movies. As the character had already been faithfully adapted on multiple occasions, reinventing Superman as a grittier alien hero was the best possible choice.
Had the DCEU played it safe with Superman, he likely would have been dismissed as too boring to lead the franchise. While certain missteps ultimately led to the character’s failure in the DCEU, the initial approach itself was sound, as evidenced by the generally positive reception to Man of Steel. Though the DCEU has so far been unable to make its Superman work the way the character deserves, its revised approach to the character was taken in the hopes of avoiding the common problems of his adaptations.
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Niall Gray is a features writer for Screen Rant covering just about every film- or TV-related topic he’s loosed upon. When he’s not busy putting words together in various places for various reasons, Niall can usually be found filling his brain with an endless stream of pop culture trivia, teaching children to box, or simply hiding with his nose in a book.

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