Why Su­per­man de­serves bet­ter

The is­sue isn’t Henry Cav­ill, it’s that Su­per­man’s lost his way, says Em­pire’s Edi­tor-at­large He­len O’hara

Empire (Australasia) - - The Agenda -

WHEN THE HOL­LY­WOOD Reporter claimed that Henry Cav­ill was no longer go­ing to be the Man Of Steel af­ter ‘part­ing ways’ with Warner Bros. (in a state­ment, the stu­dio said that no de­ci­sion had been made re­gard­ing fu­ture films), the in­ter­net came alive. Some thought it a good move, oth­ers dis­agreed and a third group cried, “Who cares? Su­per­man is bor­ing any­way!” It’s true that Cav­ill’s per­for­mances, to date, have not al­ways done the char­ac­ter jus­tice. But per­haps he hasn’t been given the right chance. Per­haps it’s worth ask­ing why. Af­ter all, Su­per­man should never be dull.

Cav­ill’s first turn in Man Of Steel tried to force the Big Blue Boy Scout into a Dark Knight mould, and ended up with a dull, navy blue hy­brid that un­der­served the char­ac­ter in fun­da­men­tal ways (hardly any sav­ing peo­ple in that fi­nale, for one). Batman v Su­per­man went darker yet, mak­ing both heroes vig­i­lantes, and it wasn’t un­til the last half hour of Jus­tice League that we saw what Cav­ill might be able to do with an op­ti­mistic, rel­a­tively un­con­flicted Su­per­man. Even now, we’ve barely glimpsed his Clark Kent.

Per­haps that’s the miss­ing el­e­ment in Cav­ill’s films. Su­per­man chooses to main­tain a nor­mal life, not to brood in the Fortress Of Soli­tude be­tween res­cues, be­cause it’s im­por­tant to him to be a man. Tarantino ar­gued in Kill Bill that Clark is a satire on hu­man­ity, but it’s prob­a­bly more ac­cu­rate to say that Clark is the real per­sona, or at least, an equal one. Su­per­man is the man­tle he wears to do his duty as a son of Kryp­ton and the son of two supremely de­cent hu­mans.

The best scenes in Richard Don­ner’s adap­ta­tions por­trayed the melan­choly of that dou­ble life, the fact that he could be close to Lois in ei­ther guise but never truly be with her. Every stolen ro­man­tic mo­ment would mean ne­glect­ing a house fire, or an earth­quake. Su­per­man’s ex­is­tence must be a tor­ment of never feel­ing he’s done as much as he could. Be­cause if you can do any­thing, how do you stop? Cav­ill’s films never dealt with that dilemma. This in­car­na­tion al­lowed his father to die in or­der to keep his iden­tity se­cret, rather than be­cause he was busy sav­ing oth­ers.

That choice mis­rep­re­sents the char­ac­ter on a fun­da­men­tal level and misses a chance to ex­plore his dual iden­tity.

De­spite it all, Cav­ill him­self isn’t bad in the role. Okay, he has an un­for­tu­nate ten­dency to some­times look smug, an emo­tion that should never cross ei­ther Kal-el or Clark’s face. You some­times get the im­pres­sion that he feels con­strained by the char­ac­ter’s good­ness. But he’s a de­cent ac­tor, he looks the part, and he ap­pears to have af­fec­tion for Su­per­man.

But while Cav­ill has strug­gled, Su­per­man’s close the­matic cousins, Won­der Woman and Cap­tain Amer­ica, have shown the range of sto­ry­telling that’s pos­si­ble with a truly good per­son at its heart. There’s com­pelling drama in try­ing to fig­ure out what the right thing is in an im­per­fect world, far more than in brood­ing about some long-ago tragedy or your own in­ner demons. We all have our doubts and fail­ings, even the Man Of Steel; it’s there wait­ing to be ex­plored. Who­ever wears the cape on his next out­ing needs to re­mind us what makes Su­per­man great if they want to make a great film. Clue: it’s not his abil­ity to su­per-punch bad guys.

Main: Not so Su­per­man: Henry Cav­ill’s time in the cape may be up. Above: Fly­ing high: Christopher Reeve in his most iconic role.

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