What’s Next for Henry Cavill’s Superman in the DC Extended Universe
According to reports, Warner Bros. wants Henry Cavill back as Superman for Man of Steel 2, Dwayne Johnson wants him for Superman vs. Shazam, and more. So what's next for him in the DCEU?
Warner Bros. is finally planning to bring Henry Cavill back as Superman, and according to a recent report, they have an “intense desire” to make a movie “that would essentially be Man of Steel 2.” So basically, exactly what they should have done in the first place. But hey, the past is the past, right! Onward and…well, let’s say “up, up, and away” instead!
Of course, a lot has changed since Man of Steel was first released in 2013, not just for Warner Bros. and DC, but for the superhero movie landscape in general. The DCEU has had its ups and downs and some more downs in that near-decade, and WB’s chief competition in the superhero movie market, Marvel Studios continues to redefine what audiences expect in terms of a shared universe. So what’s a beleaguered studio exec (who, it should be note, as of now still has not been made in the wake of Walter Hamada’s exit from the company and overseeing DC Films) to do?
Well, as you probably guessed, we have some ideas. And just because a movie is a standalone Superman adventure, it doesn’t mean that it can’t tie heavily into the wider DC Universe. Heck, a Man of Steel 2 today can probably do exactly what it should have done had it been released circa 2015 or 2016: further Superman’s place in the universe while introducing characters who would have a unique relationship with him.
There are lots of Superman villains who haven’t had their due on the big screen yet, but none would make more sense for Superman’s return to solo movie action than Brainiac. He’s the character who somehow was never used during the Christopher Reeve movies (although there’s a terrific comic book sequel called Superman ’78 that you should totally check out, which “casts” David Bowie as Brainiac opposite Reeve’s Superman), and he’s only been done properly in live action once, on the brilliant and gone-too-soon Krypton TV series. Hell, a big screen Brainiac’s biggest challenge would be bettering the version that we got on Krypton, to be honest!
Making Brainiac the baddie of Man of Steel 2 would help keep the thematic ties to the first film. Brainiac has deep ties to Krypton, and some of the best stuff in Man of Steel was the worldbuilding applied to that element of Superman’s origin story. Just like the first film dealt with a threat from Krypton coming to Earth to remind Kal-El of his alien heritage and wreak havoc, so, in a sense, would Brainiac. Only this time, the baddie would be facing a far more experienced Man of Steel.
Make it happen, ignore the nameless journalist who was supposed to be Jimmy Olsen that was executed in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and build out The Daily Planet supporting cast, find a director who can handle both the serious sci-fi worldbuilding that any Superman story worth its crystals thrives on, and turn ’em loose on one of the best villains in comics. And hey, even though there’s not a crystal’s chance in a red sun that Zack Snyder will be back to direct this one, Snyder fans will be able to take solace that this was the director’s original plan for the sequel.
But Brainiac isn’t the only option…
Superman vs. Black Adam
Dwayne Johnson has been teasing a conflict with Henry Cavill’s Superman for years now, and in the leadup to the release of Black Adam, when asked whether he wants to make a Superman vs. Black Adam movie, he just came right out and told CinemaBlend: “Absolutely. That is the whole point of this.”
If Black Adam is a box office success, it seems inevitable that these two will throw down at some point…only to then team up later in the movie to fight a bigger threat. Although, if they really want to get cool with it, they should involve Shazam, as well. Check out the Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam animated movie for a natural way to let these characters bolster each other. Superman can be a mentor to the Shazam kids, everyone can throw down with Black Adam, and then on to the real threat of the movie. OK, not exactly a Superman solo flick, but it would be a blast!
But there are other DC heroes (and villains) that would make for even more interesting stories and allow for the Superman cinematic paradigm to be challenged further.
Introduce the Green Lantern Corps
OK, to be fair, doing this thing and making Brainiac the villain aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but for the sake of this argument, let’s assume that properly introducing the Green Lantern Corps in a Superman movie would involve taking Superman off world and into space for most of the flick.
The DCEU hasn’t been shy about playing up Superman’s inherently alien nature and the “stranger in a strange land” elements of the character. Getting him out of Metropolis and out into the cosmos where he can cut loose will help mitigate any fears that audiences won’t accept another “traditional” Superman movie centered around Clark, Lois, The Daily Planet, and whatever else. By doing this, Warner Bros. could help reinvigorate an even more radioactive franchise.
Green Lantern Corps has long been in development as an HBO Max series (and at one point was slated for a 2020 release as a feature film). Of course, given the state of things at Warner Bros. Discovery right now, with an executive who seems to primarily be interested in the cost-saving “wonders” of reality television, who knows if we’ll ever actually see this show make it to our screens. But why not use the character who kickstarted the DC Universe as a way to introduce the new screen Green Lantern mythology?
Comics writer Elliot S. Maggin often played with the idea that Superman was a source of fascination for the Guardians of the Universe on Oa, and his classic Bronze Age story “Must There Be a Superman?” in which the Guardians worry that Superman is interfering with the proper development of human civilization, would be the perfect jumping off point to get Supes into space. There’s your first act, and then Kal-El and the Corps can go to town on the alien menace of your choice.
Adding the Green Lantern Corps to a Superman sequel (I’m not suggesting giving him a ring, calm down) hits three important DCEU notes. Moments of it can be a loose adaptation of a classic DC Comics story, it removes Green Lantern Corps even further from the DOA 2011 Green Lantern movie, and the theme of Superman wondering whether he can do more good out in the cosmos rather than potentially stunting humanity’s growth would be in line with the occasionally somber tone of the DCEU.
Darkseid and The New Gods
On a similar note, WB could use Superman to solve one of the problems they caused in Justice League. Steppenwolf was a woefully underdeveloped villain, and Jack Kirby’s epic (in the actual sense of the word) Fourth World and New Gods concepts weren’t well served on screen. And while plans for an Ava DuVernay New Gods movie (with a Tom King screenplay!) sadly were scuttled before gaining any real ground, we need to care about the war between the planets New Genesis and Apokolips, and it might not hurt to give audiences a feel for their place in the wider DCEU. Plus this has the added bonus of letting a certain segment of fans feel that “the Snyderverse” is alive, well, and being suitably honored without any of actual Snyder’s “subtext is for cowards” directorial style, since the cliffhanger Darkseid ending of Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
From a source material standpoint, several of Jack Kirby’s earliest Fourth World stories involved Superman coming into contact with various New Gods and Forever People, and his longing to be among beings who are more like him. Let Orion and Lightray come to earth to enlist Superman’s aid in their cosmic war, similar to how these concepts were introduced in Superman: The Animated Series. Superman becomes the audience’s POV character, we no longer have to worry about him automatically being the most powerful person in the room all the time, and the DCEU can properly introduce Darkseid without having to stage yet another invasion of Earth, since almost all the action will take place on New Genesis or Apokolips. Remember how much everyone loved the visuals when Thor left bland earthbound adventures for the Kirby-esque splendor of Thor: Ragnarok? Yeah, that.
The Warworld Saga
Folks, if you haven’t been reading Superman comics over the last year or so, specifically Action Comics, holy moley are you missing out on one of the best Superman stories of the century so far. Philip Kennedy Johnson and a murderer’s row of artists have powered Superman down, taken him offworld, and made him a revolutionary figure in the gladiatorial pits of Warworld, redefining one of DC’s more interesting cosmic villains in the process. It’s an epic in the truest sense of the word, and bears little resemblance to “traditional” Superman stories…other than the fact that the spirit and values of the Man of Steel himself are perfectly represented, showing that even when he’s a true underdog, he’s still Superman.
For my money, this is the one modern story that any new live action Superman tale should take its cues from. The perfect blend of Golden Age Superman toughness and grit and modern sci-fi elements and philosophizing. Honestly, the PERFECT tone for the DCEU.
For The Man Who Has Everything
While Justice League 2 sure doesn’t look like a priority for Warner Bros…and may never be…my personal dream would be to re-team Superman with DC’s two safest cinematic bets: Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Batman (and yes, bring back Ben Affleck for this!). The DCEU loves adapting the broad strokes of classic comic stories, so a big screen version of the Watchmen creative team of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “For The Man Who Has Everything” would tick all the appropriate boxes, without the pressure of it being a full blown Justice League sequel.
“For the Man Who Has Everything” is the superhero story that has everything. A powerful alien puts Superman into a hallucinatory coma, causing him to live in a dream world where he grew to maturity on a Krypton that never exploded, all while Batman and Wonder Woman fight for their lives. This could play almost like Inception (or a Twilight Zone episode) with superheroes, and it would allow another big screen appearance for Krypton, the visual and world-building highlight of Man of Steel. In a way, this story, which forces Superman to confront and make peace with his guilt at being the sole survivor of his world, would feel like a fitting sendoff for Cavill’s Superman.
Justice League 2
Sorry, folks. Don’t hold your breath. I’d bet that if it does ever happen, it’ll be more along the lines of the kind of team of misfits we got in the late ’80s, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that would be perfect for James Gunn’s next DC movie. I’d be shocked if we ever get another Justice League movie with Cavill’s Superman, but hey, there’s nothing I’d rather be wrong about. That being said, if they want to make Man of Steel 2 about Superman assembling a new Justice League (or reassembling the old one) you absolutely should check out a story called Panic in the Sky, which is one of the great Superman comic book epics of the ’90s. Plus, we have a theory that Black Adam technically makes Zack Snyder’s Justice League DCEU canon!