WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Shazam!
Superman’s big cameo at the end of Shazam! proves that the DCEU doesn’t need Henry Cavill as its Man of Steel. Kal-El, Last Son of Krypton, has had some bad press in the past few years, but it looks like things may be finally turning around.
Superman has always been one of the most paradoxical mainstream superheroes. He is one of the biggest names in comic books – only Spider-Man and Batman vie for the title – and as the first spandex do-gooder undoubtedly the archetype from which all others riff (indeed, Captain Marvel aka Shazam was initially canceled after DC sued alleging plagiarism). And yet making his stories translate to the big screen has proven difficult. Superman: The Movie remains a highlight of the genre thanks to Christopher Reeve’s captivating double performance, but that series went off the deep-end into killer computers and nuclear peace messages.
Zack Snyder attempted to reboot the character in 2013’s Man of Steel was a stripped back take in the vein of The Dark Knight (David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan conceived the story), but this new iteration of hope was a tough Kryptionian pill to swallow. This was compounded with the ambitious Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, before a brash course correction of the character with major reshoots (and CG upper lips) in Justice League finally wore out interest.
In the wake of that box office disaster, it would be easy to conclude that audiences were tired of Superman, at least the iteration first brought to life by Henry Cavill. The DCEU is moving into a new, more interesting future that puts focus on breakout stars Wonder Woman and Aquaman, but with The Batman likely a prequel and Idris Elba not, as initially reported, replacing Will Smith as Deadshot in The Suicide Squad, some continuity concerns remain. And so what can DC do other than bench the Man of Steel? Well, Shazam! has the answer.
- This Page: Henry Cavill’s Superman Future & Shazam Absence
- Page 2: How Superman’s Shazam Cameo Moves Past Cavill
Is Henry Cavill Out As Superman?
Before getting into what Shazam! introduces, it’s worth establishing what exactly is going on with Henry Cavill as Superman. His more grounded, haunted iteration was at the center of criticisms for Man of Steel and most certainly Batman v Superman, to the point many question what his selfless sacrifice at the end of Dawn of Justice really meant. As a result, Justice League‘s reshoots were heavily focused on lightening him up (Danny Elfman even used the John Williams score), but that wasn’t enough to correct the damage.
Last year, it was reported that, after lengthy contract negotiations, Cavill was no longer going to be Superman. The specifics were unclear, but it was alleged that his party and Warner Bros. disagreed about the actor and character’s importance to the franchise going forward. Both sides refuted the rumblings while not out-right denying them; WB said that no Superman projects were in development but the relationship was strong, and Cavill and his agent shared cryptic social media posts.
Already we’ve seen Ben Affleck step down as Batman, while Ezra Miller is reportedly making one last effort to get The Flash movie off the ground, so it looks like Cavill is just one of many casualties from Snyder’s Justice League.
Instead, the future of Kryptonians in the DCEU looks to have shifted, with a Supergirl script taking priority over Man of Steel 2. While there’s not been much word on that recently, that the upcoming DC Films slate is now pretty full up to 2022 shows how low a priority the Superman presently appears to be, at least with the current Cavill status quo.
Shazam’s Superman Cameo Is A Result Of The Cavill Issues
Which brings us to Superman’s cameo in Shazam, something that had been rumored as early as January 2018. The moment itself is a pretty big deal built up through the story. Freddy wants to play up his friendship with Shazam, so promises he’ll visit school for lunch, to which his bullies jokily ask if Superman will join too. So, of course, when Billy comes through for his friend at the end, he brings with him his Justice League pal.
In the film, Superman is only shown from the neck down, with Zachary Levi’s stunt double, and not Henry Cavill in the suit. But rather than cutting around the actor, this decision actually comes from the lack of Cavill: Shazam! director David F. Sandberg told Screen Rant that the scene came out of that restriction, with a more humorous way to include the character needed to get around the lack of recognizable star power.
While that is on its own a rather nice example of improvisational filmmaking, it evidences a planned handling of Superman that sees him evolve beyond Henry Cavill.
Page 2 of 2: How Superman’s Shazam Cameo Moves Past Cavill
Shazam’s Superman Cameo Finally Makes The Man of Steel An Icon
In one joke scene at the end of the movie, Shazam! does more to cement Superman as a beacon of hope than the three movies that actually starred him (and a fourth in Suicide Squad framing the formation of Task Force X as a result of his death). There’s no confusion of what he means to people, what that “S” stands for. Superman is an icon and people love him. By removing the unclear conflict – which wasn’t a bad approach per se but its execution got in the way of the character – suddenly Superman is fully formed.
This reframing of the DC heroes has been running throughout Shazam!, with Freddy’s unabashed enthusiasm for Supes, Bats, Aquaman and the rest literally the same as real-life fans of the characters. Shazam becomes a hero modeled after the preexisting ones, who have now so permeated popular culture they’re merchandised. Rather than bridging the real world and the fantastical as in Zack Snyder’s DC films, Shazam! just accepts and runs with it.
But these aren’t the DCEU heroes explicitly. The Batman toys look and sound more like Kevin Conroy’s animated version than Ben Affleck’s brutalizer. And while Easter eggs reference the Kryptonian World Engine, the Superman who eventually appears sports a brighter suit with a more obvious red belt and, noticeably, doesn’t show his head on camera. These move us from the person in the suit to the hero they truly represent.
The DCEU’s Superman Is Bigger Than Henry Cavill
If you can have a moment like this where Superman can exist and capture what the hero instills in people without the actor, then why does the DCEU need to wait for contract issues to be sorted? Henry Cavill no longer represents this Superman, and that it can work without him is proven in Shazam! Superman is a beacon to the world because he’s Superman.
And while this is just a careful side-stepping for complications well beyond the Shazam! filmmakers’ control, it moves us closer to a recast. While there were certainly laughs at the overt avoidance and questions over what it means, the pervasive message is that audiences can and have divorced Superman from Henry Cavill. If he and DC can make it work, then great, but there’s no need to shelve such a high-potential, flat-out icon character just for these reasons.
Even if there’s no Man of Steel 2 (or The Superman, following DC’s recent change in nomenclature), a continuation through cameos akin to Iron Man in Phase 3 Marvel movies would be a perfect way to continue Superman’s image rehabilitation. It’s just a shame D.J. Cotrona is already tied up…
Next: Shazam Makes Up For George Miller’s Failed Justice League Movie