A few weeks ago in this space, I wrote an open letter to the new head muckety-mucks at Warner Bros. about what they should be doing with the DCEU. In this letter, I suggested that they needed to make a new Superman movie with Henry Cavill, and they needed to do it sooner rather than later.
Notice that I said the company needed Cavill. I did not say that Cavill needed the company. Because the truth of the matter is that they do, and he doesn’t, and if that doesn’t make your head spin just a little, you don’t know as much about Hollywood lore as you might think you do.
There has always been something of a perceived curse about playing Superman. Kirk Alyn was never more than an itinerant TV actor. George Reeves was famously typecast and died mysteriously at a young age. Christopher Reeve never quite became the star everyone thought he was going to become, and then he was thrown from a horse, broke his neck, and also died young. Dean Cain was washed up almost as soon as he took off the cape and is now a Trump-supporting staple of Hallmark movies. Brandon Routh eventually made a solid career for himself as a working actor, but that’s certainly not what was envisioned for him when he played the Man of Tomorrow back in 2006, and it took him a long time to get there.
It’s a rough road, playing the Man of Steel, but the one man who has clearly risen above the tragic history of playing the part is Cavill, whose post-Superman career has been a study in how to build a movie star and not get caught up in the slipstream of the most famous superhero of them all.
Aside from his three appearances as Clark Kent and his blue-suited alter ego, Cavill has:
- Played the best villain in the Mission: Impossible franchise (Hollywood’s greatest active franchise)
- Produced and starred in The Witcher (one of the biggest streaming hits out there)
- Played Sherlock Holmes in a successful Netflix movie (with a sequel to Enola Holmes on the way)
- Pulled off a flattop in Matthew Vaughn’s upcoming big-budget spy film, Argylle (coming to Apple this year)
- Signed on to star in a reboot of Highlander as well as an adaptation of the bestselling novel The Rosie Project (which will make him a romantic lead, to boot)
That’s a pretty solid run that proves Cavill’s career has continued to trend upwards, without any help from the last son of Krypton.
Which, apparently, is pissing people off something fierce.
At Comic-Con this past weekend, there were a lot of announcements of upcoming films and assorted projects, but conspicuous in its absence was anything about Cavill returning to the role that first brought him to the attention of millions of filmgoers. Fans wanted to see Cavill in spandex again, flying over the skyscrapers of Metropolis, and how dare Warner Bros. and the actor himself not give that to them?
People. Get a life.
Let’s set aside the fact that the three movies featuring Cavill’s Superman didn’t perform all that well. I blame, as you might imagine, the incompetence of Zack Snyder for these failures because Cavill himself was pretty good. But that’s not always how the folks in the executive suites see it, often blaming a film’s underperformance on the people in front of the camera and the concept that they might not be big enough draws to fill theaters. That might be a salient argument when dealing with original characters, but it’s not Cavill’s fault that Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and both versions of Justice League were various degrees of disappointing. He didn’t write or direct any of them, he just brought enormous charisma to dour movies.
That, in and of itself, is part of what has aided his career. Superman as a character is inherently boring. In the first two films released in 1978 and 1980, Reeve’s portrayal had a sense of humor and a humanity that is often missing from the role, especially when that humor is replaced by camp (looking at you, Dean). Cavill’s version was likewise engaging, but with a gravitas that no one else besides Reeve brought to the role, and even he ran out of gas after that second movie.
Now, with all the things Cavill has going on, he has no need for Supes, and while I am on record as wanting to see him don the costume again for a new adventure, I can’t blame him if he’d prefer to pass on the opportunity. He turned down cameos in both the 2019 Shazam! flick and James Gunn‘s Peacemaker series (choosing not to join Ezra Miller‘s Flash or Jason Momoa‘s Aquaman in the latter), and is instead focused on playing more interesting roles that don’t necessarily involve huge amounts of visual effects, or having to sit in a harness for hours on end while pretending to fly.
I think this is terrific, but there are obviously a lot of people who disagree with me, and I think those people need to sit back, put their phones down, and do some introspection because demanding an actor fulfill your wishes for his or her career is not something that actually carries any weight in the real world. Snyder may pander to his fans but that’s not necessarily a good thing. On the contrary, part of the fun of being an actor is to subvert audience expectations and, from time to time, actually act. That means branching out and doing different things, rather than getting typecast in a specific sort of role that is going to limit them in any way.
Cavill is obviously trying everything he can to do just that, and more power to him. Those who wish he would just shut up and do as they say so that they can live out some ridiculous fantasy are the essence of toxic fandom and should have no place at the table.
About 40 years ago, Reeve appeared on The Dick Cavett Show, and he talked about being typecast. He insisted that it wasn’t Hollywood who forced it on actors, but another entity entirely who was guilty of it — the media.
“The question of typecasting has never come up has never come up from Hollywood or New York or the industry,” Reeve said. “The media, on the other hand, finds that, unless they can buttonhole you very quickly, and hang a label on you, they’re stuck. So when you confuse them by playing a cripple or a Nazi or the next thing I’m doing is the movie of Deathtrap where I’m playing a sort of strange kid, they get confused. But thank God there’s no typecasting problem in the public’s mind or with people who do the hiring.”
That seems quaint now. Things have changed markedly since Reeve spoke those words, as it’s less the media that is guilty of such transgressions these days as it is the fans, many of whom feel like they’re owed something because they made the actor famous in the first place. Or something like that.
I have long believed that people, generally, are pretty dumb. We are gullible and easily led astray, and that has never been more true than right now. People hear a rumor they want to believe and they become obsessed with it. Someone suggests that perhaps we might get some kind of announcement that an actor we like is going to return to a role we love — regardless of the veracity of such a suggestion — and we lose our minds, then get mad when it doesn’t come true, and blame the actor in question, regardless of their culpability, or lack thereof.
It’s dumb, pointless, and the essence of toxic fandom, and Henry Cavill, for one, clearly has no use for it. There are a lot of interesting roles in his future, and I’ll bet none of them will require him to wear spandex.
Don’t like it? Get a life.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.