James Gunn and the DCU- A Few Thoughts

Wow. That was eventful.

When you compare where we are now to where we were just a short 90 or so days ago- Black Adam was released with a Superman cameo, Henry Cavill was doing interviews galore promoting Enola Holmes and announcing his return to Superman, the Rock expressing his desire to “build out” the DC Universe on film- the differences are great indeed.

It feels as if announcements about the future of the DCU have been coming out every day, and nearly all of them will affect a certain Kryptonian’s future in every medium. While it is far, far too much information to analyze in this space, at least in the entirety of the last few months, I do have a few opinions about where DC goes from here, which in general I think is positive.

Let’s start with the obvious.

The Road Less Cavilled

I have been one of Henry Cavill’s biggest fans for many years now. I was lukewarm to Man of Steel and BvS, but Henry’s casting won me over enough to feel passionately that he needed a shot at another Superman movie. I still believe to this day that if given the right material, his portrayal of Superman could have become legendary. His casting and other casting choices by Zack Snyder and company were far and away the greatest strengths of that director’s time with the characters, and it always felt as if they were never given a fair shot.

When Cavill’s cameo in Black Adam was released I was ecstatic, and really only saw that film because of it. Henry and Dwayne Johnson announced everywhere on social media the following week that it was the start of much, much more content with the character to come, and everything seemed right in the world! However, as time wore on, and talk started of a direct sequel to Man of Steel, while WB was in the midst of several other Superman projects with varying interpretations being developed, the path forward for Superman and the DCEU became far less clear.

For starters, as of this year, Man of Steel came out a decade ago! With no director, script, or any aspect of production of a Superman movie confirmed to be in the works yet, the earliest we would have been looking at a Man of Steel 2‘s release would have been… 2025? Essentially, if DC and WB decided to proceed with a ton more Cavill content as Supes, how much could he realistically do before age became a factor, given that the actor would now be in his 40s? One only has to look at the eleven year history of Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, and the eight year history of Chris Evans as Captain America before their “retirements” to wonder how long was too long to wait with Henry Cavill. Time was of the essence, and unfortunately the previous regime sat on the character for far too long to make an epic franchise of films realistic.

Second, despite all the lobbying for another Superman movie with Henry Cavill, I personally wasn’t looking for a Man of Steel 2. I know the movie has its fans, but there would have been multiple problems with a direct sequel. For one, I was never big on the supporting cast, although fine actors in their own right. Amy Adams was to me too cutsie-looking to be tough, his-girl-Friday reporter Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen was killed before being on screen five minutes, and I never, ever was excited about Snyder’s Mark Zuckerburg interpretation of Lex Luthor. Candidly, another movie with Jesse Eisenburg would have tried even my patience.

I also don’t think the gloomy tone and somber visual palette of Snyder’s movies would have been well received by audiences if it were in every movie, in my opinion, and of course, despite the fact that it has been debated ad nauseum online everywhere, the question about where the character would have gone after having taken a life would still remain. If we thought that Superman having a son in Returns essentially wrote the character into a corner and killed the possibility of a franchise, how would this be any different? Snyder meant for it to be a coming of age moment for Superman, but I never saw that as a real possibility if the goal was ultimately to give fans a traditional version of the character.

The best case scenario in my mind would have been bringing in another director who could have worked with Cavill- a la the Christopher MacQuarrie rumors of a few years ago. If that were still not possible, then perhaps fast tracking of a Justice League Part 2 after the success of the Snyder cut in 2021, which even contained some new scenes shot just for its release. The scenes of Batman’s nightmare and a planet earth completely subjugated by Darkseid would have been interesting, even if Snyder’s plan was to have an evil Superman as the villain.

If that also were not possible, I wouldn’t have even minded a Superman whose role was now a series of cameos in each DCEU film which could have glued the universe together cohesively. Even when Superman is not the title role, his presence elevates a story in ways no other character can (even if it probably wouldn’t make much financial sense).

Alas, none of these scenarios were to be.

Gunn’s Blazing

With the appointment of David Zaslav as CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, in conjunction with sinking stock prices and financially viable franchises that were merely treading water, change was coming and everyone knew it. Love him or hate him, Zaslav has made it his mission for his company to make money.

Among other decisions, this meant that WB had to look into its IP portfolio and pull out ideas that could be developed in a big way. Wisely, Zaslav and his people assessed that DC Comics characters- especially Superman- had a lot of room for growth at the box office, and a guiding force was needed to build up the brand. Up to that point, neither Zack Snyder, Geoff Johns, nor Walter Hamada had been WB’s answer to Kevin Feige, and the bold decision was eventually made to bring in James Gunn and Peter Safran to try again.

Whether they were the right choices or not, and whether they succeed or not, we’ll have to wait and see.

Nevertheless, I absolutely loved how Gunn’s first act was to broadcast on social media that the project he was going to focus his attention on first was a Superman film, something we fans had been waiting to hear for far too long. Recent tweets by Gunn have revealed that he was hired to write the script for Superman: Legacy six months ago, so it’s been in the works long before he was appointed head of DCU, but really emphasizing Superman’s importance in this new vision makes it a great start just the same.

What exactly James Gunn has planned for Superman, and if it will fly (see what I did there?) remains to be seen. In Gunn’s informative video announcing the slate of films to come, he mentions that this new film will be about a young Superman still getting his bearings as a hero and reporter in the big city. We don’t know any more details than that, other than that it will use All-Star Superman and the animated series of the Timm-verse as at least some inspiration. One detail we do know, however, is that a new actor will be cast as the Man of Steel.

As bad as I feel for Henry Cavill, who has been nothing but class during the entire ordeal of the last decade and who deserved better, I can see why this move makes sense for all the reasons mentioned above. Whether you’re starting from square one (and if this is the case or not remains to be seen) or just making a “year one” story, with room for more films if it’s successful, a new actor is the way to go. This is absolutely no knock on Cavill, it’s simply a question of what is ultimately going to serve the character better in the future. Gunn even axed a Patty Jenkins/Gal Gadot Wonder Woman movie in development, among others, so right off the bat it seemed as though his DC universe would be a hard reboot.

Whatever Happens to the Man of Tomorrow?

Fans have a lot more questions that remain unanswered. One that I have genuine hesitation about is if Gunn can pull off a more serious, less campy tone than Guardians of the Galaxy across many different types of stories, universe-wide? Another is will Cavill return one day as part of the DCU’s “Elseworlds” series of films, which will allow different interpretations across a multiverse? This seems less likely as part of bringing all of the DC universe under the guidance of one studio boss is to get the branding consistent- something Gunn has also said is a priority- and having multiple actors playing similar Supermen cuts against that grain (even if Batman doesn’t seem to have that same problem). As for the former, one would think the answer is yes, but we’ll have to wait and see.

All in all, I am happy that this universe is finally being addressed, and am optimistic about its future. I have never bought into the belief about superhero movie fatigue that some art house directors have talked about in recent years, and think the lukewarm reception of new MCU offerings is more because of quality and drift from the source material. The huge box office of Spider-Man: No Way Home, even without a China release, speaks to that. If DC plays its cards right, and puts out good product that is faithful to the material, I think general audiences and fans will be ready for fresh superhero content, and especially Superman.

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