Let’s Talk Superman, And The ‘Aquaman Effect’
Over the weekend, Henry Cavill went on Instagram to do something he hasn’t done in a while: He posted something related to Superman.
The last time he did that was during the evening of September 12th, and it was in response to The Hollywood Reporter’s claims that he was out as Superman, in terms of ever reprising the role again in a DC Entertainment film.
This came after several months of reports that a Superman sequel with Cavill was being discussed behind the scenes. From myself, to Collider, to THR, to Cavill himself, there were several points throughout 2018 where it looked like we may finally get a proper solo film for the Man of Steel. Heck, I even once had a source say the target year for its arrival was 2020.
Even just this past weekend, THR revealed that James Gunn had been offered a Superman film as one of many options, after being fired from Marvel Studios at the end of last July in 2018.
But then negotiations between Cavill and the studio hit their seemingly final snag during a meeting held on September 11, 2018. The next day, THR published a report claiming it was all over. They confirmed an early scoop of mine about there being plans for a Superman cameo in Shazam!, but essentially said that the studio had just decided to move on.
In response to this, Cavill’s manager issued a statement claiming that he’s still Superman, and that “the cape is still in his closet.” Then WB chimed in, issuing this statement:
“While no decisions have been made regarding any upcoming Superman films, we’ve always had great respect for and a great relationship with Henry Cavill, and that remains unchanged.”
Then, hours later, that whole chapter seemed to end with Cavill adding a comedic Superman post onto his Instagram that night.
And that’s basically where things have been since September.
But a lot’s changed since September over at DC Entertainment, with the biggest thing being that Aquaman has become the highest-grossing DC Comics film of all time. The importance of that cannot be over-stated.
The Aquaman Effect
See, after Justice League, DC Entertainment had no idea what to make of the strength of their brand. They sent out a half-baked version of Justice League, thinking that fans would flock to it simply because of the monumental nature of the story- which would act as the first time we ever got to see titans like Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg uniting to fight one enemy.
But that didn’t work out.
Rather than being the peak of the series, which would then give way to more solo films and occasional team-ups, it became the lowest grossing DC film since 2011’s Green Lantern.
So when Walter Hamada came into power at DC in January of 2018, he didn’t really know what he had on his hands yet.
Had Justice League sunk the DC ship?
Were all of the characters from it now tarnished and doomed to never find true success?
Would DC’s return to the top of the mountain take years to happen, or were they one good movie away from rebounding?
Would audiences forgive the studio for all of the behind the scenes drama and tampering regarding Justice League Zack Snyder’s exit and the fact it led to a film that was roundly given the cold shoulder?
These are the kinds of questions DC and Hamada had to consider, coming off of the lowest-grossing entry in the modern, cinematic DC Universe. And they knew they wouldn’t get answers to these questions until James Wan’s Aquaman came out at the very end of 2018.
Until then, they’d have to have plans and contingency plans in place. Especially since they were already handcuffed to Aquaman by the sheer virtue of their insanely stacked production slate. So it was coming one way or the other (but likely wouldn’t have even been made if they’d waited to see how Justice League would perform first).
If the film bombed, things would go one way.
If it triumphed, it’d go another way (or there’d at least be more flexibility).
And triumph it did.
Similar to what happened with Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman in 2017, which had a phenomenal run- winning over audiences and critics alike- and turned a tremendous profit for the studio after a bruising and polarizing 2016 (the year they released both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad), DC learned that audiences have a short and forgiving memory.
That’s why, when I refer to the “Aquaman Effect,” I’m really referring to the latest evolution of the “Wonder Woman Effect.” And in case you’re not sure what either of those mean:
It’s the studio seeing that general audiences are still willing to embrace the characters introduced during the early years of this shared DC Universe. And not only embrace them, but power them to astonishing heights like they did with Aquaman.
That means that they now have two verifiably great examples of how a well-received solo movie can fix everything. It’s why I shared with you last week how the film’s success is lighting fires under all kinds of other DC projects, which was proven true the next day.
With that in mind, Aquaman’s success could bode quite well for Henry Cavill’s Superman. If the studio really feels that Superman can soar to new heights with the right team of talent behind him, and a more crowd-pleasing tone and story, then that creates an opportunity few thought possible after September’s skirmish.
That’s why it’s important to remember where things left off publicly.
Despite all of the reports that came out around the time of their falling out, and all of the attempts to properly contextualize the activities of THR, Dany Garcia, Warner Bros., and Henry Cavill on September 12th, the bottom line is that, as far as the public record goes, the cape remains in his closet, the studio’s relationship with Cavill remains unchanged, and the only hang-up was that there wasn’t a Superman movie on the horizon, so there was little reason to make a decision about his future.
We know better (which you can read about HERE), but let’s stick with the public record.
Now that Aquaman has proven that the DC brand is strong, that Zack Snyder’s DC characters can still have box office clout, and that audiences love the solo films they’ve released of late, this creates an opportunity for the Man of Steel.
And I think his Instagram post is proof that his management team, spearheaded by Dany Garcia, sees that opportunity, and are trying to strike while the iron is hot (and while Aquaman continues to make a killing).
It’s essentially his camp’s way of saying, “Hey. I’m still here, and still happy to talk about making a Superman movie whenever you are.“
And there’s something else to consider, if you’re wondering about ulterior motives for Henry’s Superman post.
The Batfleck Effect
Last week, Ben Affleck officially vacated the cowl. And the response has been mixed. Some are excited to see where Matt Reeves takes the Dark Knight next; Others are terribly saddened by the fact we’ll never get to see what Affleck could’ve done with a proper solo Batman film.
Regardless of where you stand, it’s important to see how Affleck’s departure could benefit Cavill.
Right now, losing Affleck creates a sense of uncertainty. People are wondering if this means The Batman will be a prequel, or a full-on reboot. Folks are also stressing out about who Reeves will cast as Bruce Wayne.
But with Aquaman doing tremendously well, and with Wonder Woman 1984 arriving next year, it also creates serious questions about the lack of continuity in the DC films universe. Because this means we’ll have Jason Momoa’s Arthur Curry and Gal Gadot’s Diana Prince still in the mix for years to come, there’ll be new Batman films, and both Birds of Prey and The Suicide Squad will reference older films in the franchise.
Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) will build on the abusive relationship between Margot Robbie’s Harley and Jared Leto’s Joker (even if he’s only be referenced and not shown). According to THR, James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad will retain some of the original cast, so it’s not a reboot that ignores what came before, but rather a relaunch.
And while general audiences have shown they don’t necessarily care about matters of continuity, you’ve got to think it’s going to be weird to have a cinematic DC Universe where Momoa and Gadot’s Arthur and Diana were bosom buddies with Affleck’s Batman, but are now in a landscape with no Superman, no Cyborg, an MIA The Flash, and if there’s ever a team-up again, no Batfleck.
Something that could help smooth over Affleck’s public departure, preemptively fix continuity issues down the line, and help the segment of the audience and fandom that’s upset about him leaving would be the announcement of a solo Superman film starring Henry Cavill. It’d be a bone to throw them.
“Hey, we’re sorry about what happened with Ben. But rest assured, everyone else is coming back!“
Especially if they think all it would take is hiring a crowd-pleasing director like James Wan to bring the Man of Steel back into the sun.
If you’re a film studio, and you’ve got an actor who’s already contracted for another Superman film, who has a major fan base supporting him, and you just saw a billion reasons why these characters are still viable in the right hands, why would you ignore that?
Sure, his previous three appearances were a mixed bag in terms of box office and audience responses, but Aquaman‘s success proves that doesn’t matter. All of these characters are one widely-enjoyed movie away from being the toast of the town.
And the beauty of it all is that you can make the redemption of this version of Superman part of the story. Not a huge part, mind you, as audiences have shown they’re quite over a conflicted, contemplative Kal-El. But you can totally acknowledge that “It’s been a bumpy ride, but now Superman is back and it’s going to get better” by setting the next film in the immediate aftermath of Justice League.
He’s just returned from the dead. He knows things were messy before his death, which indirectly led to his death, and now he’s back with a renewed sense of purpose and clarity on what it is that the world needs him to be. You can address that in the first 10 minutes of the movie, then have the rest of the film be a voyage that has the same tonal balance as Wonder Woman.
All it takes is really leaning on his death and rebirth, essentially using his return as a means to reintroduce him to the world the same way Gunn seems to want to do with The Suicide Squad, Wan did with Aquaman, and Jenkins did with Wonder Woman.
The One Snag
All it would take for any or all of this to happen, is for both sides to come together again. Warner Bros and DC Entertainment, I’m sure, are more open to bringing Cavill back now than they were prior to Aquaman. As for Cavill’s end of things, I think his camp is going to need to walk back some of the demands they were making for his contract extension, because those are what killed the last round of talks.
Ever since they hit that brick wall in September, it’s been explained to me that the big hurdle were the demands put forth by Cavill’s team. Things like a Producer credit, Director Approval, and Script Approval, aside from the customary raise.
So his team will need to budge on all of that, too.
Somewhere in all of this is the compromise that would bring Superman back to the big screen without need for a lengthy wait and another reboot.
Fittingly, for Kal-El, it now comes down to Hope.
Thanks for reading,
Editor-In-Chief and Co-Founder of Revenge of The Fans. Previously, he's written for Latino-Review, IGN, Moviehole, and The Splash Report. He's also the host of the top-rated show The Fanboy Podcast and the co-host of The Revengers Podcast. E-Mail: MFR@RevengeOfTheFans.com | Twitter: @I_AM_MFR