In the coming weeks, David Zaslav will prepare to address the number one creative priority for Warner Bros. Discovery since he became its Big Kahuna — saving Superman.
The studio is doing its best to reassure that all will be right as soon as a new DC Films head is chosen to replace the outgoing Walter Hamada — whomever that unfortunate soul may be — because there’s a 10-year plan in place, which is one of those promises that sound well and good but is often made to buy time. Respectfully, said plan is nothing more than a mirage to appease shareholders.
The fact is that the world’s most famous superhero is in the middle of an identity crisis. Getting the character back on track would help Zaslav’s studio heads Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy to form their own identity at their new digs since returning the Man of Steel back to his box office glory days would be a notch on their belt, and a victory they could claim as their own.
So what exactly is their plan for Superman at the moment? That remains to be seen. But we have a few ideas just in case any open-minded executives are open to suggestions.
For starters, Warner Bros. brass should throw it out there to every agency in town. Let everyone know you want to hear their take on how to do Superman for today’s audiences. This should be an open assignment for filmmakers, albeit one with specific caveats:
- No origin story. Everyone and their mother knows about Krypton exploding and the Kents discovering baby Kal-El in Smallville, etc. He’s Superman in frame one. The key dynamics and character beats are already established. Don’t overthink this — a problem that has haunted WB for ages. Just. Make. A. Superman. Movie. This isn’t hard. They’re just making it hard.
- Don’t worry about expanding this into a larger cinematic universe or how this film might connect with other DC characters down the line. Just tell your story.
- Think of this movie as Superman’s answer to The Batman, which means it will have its own look and tone, and yes, its own cast. If you wanna get nuts, let’s get nuts.
Meanwhile, I know that many fans would love to see Henry Cavill wear the red cape again, but by the time a new Superman would be ready — 2025 at the earliest, I’d imagine — Cavill will be 42 years old. Is that “too old” to play Superman? Not necessarily, but let’s say there is a new Superman movie in 2025. That would make it eight years since Justice League. Releasing another Cavill-led Superman movie eight years after his last entry doesn’t make much sense. If you’re waiting that long anyway, just start over.
General audiences don’t hold loyalty to this kind of role like fans think. It’s how Tom Holland successfully took over as Spider-Man a mere two years after Andrew Garfield played the web-slinger in the disappointing sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man. Likewise, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that all three films Cavill headlined (Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League) financially underperformed, were met with mixed-to-negative reviews critically, and divided fans, who are welcome to flood the comments section and social media platforms arguing otherwise.
But the fact is that general audiences vote with their wallets and have done so thrice now. They’re not waiting for Cavill to return like Twitter would have you believe, and the box office receipts prove that. People lie, especially in Hollywood, but numbers don’t.
That doesn’t even begin to get into Cavill’s non-participation in DCEU matters since 2017. Sure, you can point to all the interviews he’s given where he swears he’s not done with Superman just yet, but actions speak louder than words, and every other one of his co-stars has returned in one form or another since. If Cavill wanted to continue in the role, he would have already… unless he’s about to do just that in Black Adam, if for no other reason than as a favor to his pal, Dwayne Johnson.
So who should be the new Superman then?
Well, it depends. If you continue the tradition of casting a relative unknown, then Austin Stowell (Bridge of Spies) fits the bill, or perhaps Jake Picking (The Greatest Beer Run Ever)? Maybe even rising star Jeremy Pope (The Inspection), since WB is currently developing a Black Superman movie from writer Ta-Nehisi Coates.
But why not think outside the box by getting an actor we all know for once? The time-tested tradition of casting a fresh-faced actor as Superman arose, in part, from the fear of what putting on that red-and-blue suit might do to that actor’s career. That’s why no self-respecting actor would dare play Superman back in the day. The role was eternally perceived as a curse. But that curse appears to have been broken by Cavill, who played a great villain in Mission: Impossible – Fallout; parlayed that appearance into the lead role in Netflix’s hit fantasy series The Witcher; and will soon be seen as the star of Matthew Vaughn‘s upcoming spy movie Argylle. He’s doing fine without the cape, and simply doesn’t need to wear it for his career to soar.
Ultimately, the casting of Superman will come down to who the studio hires to direct the next movie since whoever that is will surely expect a say in the casting process. And since we’re on the subject, here are a few directors who Warner Bros. could hypothetically talk to.
Looking back at the two Superman relaunches, there is a commonality. Both Superman Returns and Man of Steel were spearheaded by filmmakers whose careers were red-hot at the time — Bryan Singer coming off X-Men, X2: X-Men: United, and the impending release of the television-smash-to-be House, M.D.; and Christopher Nolan with the first two of his Dark Knight Trilogy installments and Inception behind him. Zack Snyder was actually a gun-for-hire coming off three expensive flops for Warners between Sucker Punch, Watchmen, and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole.
So, who is red-hot right now?
While the Daniels are no doubt being courted for major studio projects right now thanks to the success of Everything Everywhere All at Once, they might be a little too weird for Superman, yet there’s another Dan who comes to mind — Dan Trachtenberg.
The Predator prequel Prey was the talk of the town at one point this summer, and Trachtenberg represents the kind of young-and-hungry filmmaker needed to bring something new to the table, as he did with both that franchise and Cloverfield.
There might be a concern with placing a $200 million-plus production on the shoulders of someone whose background is primarily in lower-budget genre fare. That’s where it could help to have an experienced producer on set with their own track record with mega-budget blockbuster relaunches. Someone who has been there before and helped to guide their director down the right path.
Like, say… J.J. Abrams, who Trachtenberg just-so-happens to be a protégé of, having directed 10 Cloverfield Lane for Bad Robot. Abrams also happens to be a producer on that Black Superman project, which has reportedly slowed down in development. Whether Warners sticks with that script or not, Trachtenberg would be an interesting choice behind the camera.
Another director who would surely put an interesting spin on Superman is Baz Luhrmann. One can already hear the “BAZ LUHRMANN?!” reactions, but hear me out…
Luhrmann has always been unapologetically big and flashy, in both films that worked (Moulin Rouge) and those that didn’t (Australia). He just so happens to be coming off of Elvis, a big commercial hit for Warner Bros. that told the story of an American icon known for his iconic costume — a story we’ve seen interpreted countless times before. Yet Luhrmann made Elvis visually stand out, critics and general audiences both went with it, and it featured a breakout performance from its lesser-known star. Sound familiar?
Of course, this is all just conjecture for the time being. But it never hurts to remind Warner Bros. that Superman is a character we all know and love. When it works, he brings out the best in all of us and makes us believe in truth, justice, and the American way.
We’re ready to believe again, Mr. Zaslav. You’ve just got to take your foot off of Superman’s cape and let him fly again.