Supes has been in a slump. Not personally, mind you, but following the drab affair that was 2017’s Justice League, the future of Superman on the silver screen has been, shall we say, uncertain. Then, last week, Henry Cavill confirmed he will once again be donning the cape, and Warner Bros. Discovery revealed that, as of today, director James Gunn and producer Peter Safran will be overseeing DC Studios, a new entity within the company dedicated to producing films and series based on DC characters.
Cavill’s return as the Man of Steel provides Gunn et al. with a unique opportunity to revamp the hero. In his previous outings, the actor’s Superman has been serious and morose. But in an interview with Variety about his return, Cavill said “there is such a bright future ahead for the character. I’m excited to tell a story with an enormously joyful Superman”—a quote that indicates those taking over the character’s big-screen destiny know what they’re doing.
Recognizing that Superman can (and, perhaps, should) be fun is just one of the many things the new DC overlords need to do to bring him back to life. In addition to shedding the troubled hero seen in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (aka the Zack Snyder Era), a good Supes movie needs to show him as someone who works to help the people around him in both of his chosen careers. Let’s see someone who does that because they enjoy it, not because they feel compelled to at great stress and cost to themselves.
Speaking of his jobs, in any Superman movie, Clark Kent is essential. He may not be as visually spectacular without the cape, and, yes, the mild-mannered reporter thing isn’t quite the draw that flying through the air while zapping people with heat vision is, but Superman needs to have ties to humanity. Even ignoring the “without his experience in Smallville, he’d just be any random superhero” idea, Clark’s job at the Daily Planet often drives the story. Without it, Superman is just a one-note, steel-jawed do-gooder.
Clark Kent also provides something else: ties to other characters. Yes, there’s Lois Lane—smart, stubborn, altruistic Lois Lane. But there’s also curmudgeonly editor Perry White, neophyte reporter and thrill-seeker Jimmy Olsen, super-scientist and part-time superhero John Henry Irons, the Kents, Bibbo, Morgan Edge, neighborhood blowhard Steve Lombard, and so on. Superman has the greatest supporting cast in superhero comics outside of Spider-Man, and they almost never show up for more than a second in any adaptation. Giving them full character arcs in the DC Extended Universe would do wonders.
Why? Because Superman stories are rarely about Superman. When the eponymous hero is stable and secure in who he is, and dedicated to helping everyone around him, it’s almost impossible that he’ll have a genuinely personal involvement in every story. That’s not to say that there aren’t good stories where the Man of Steel is intimately connected to the stakes in question—All-Star Superman, The Death of Superman and its sequels, and “The Man Who Has Everything” come to mind—but it’s more than acceptable to let someone else have the emotional arc while Superman takes care of the other stuff.
Thankfully, with Gunn in charge of the creative direction of DC moving forward, this last one should be easy to pull off. Throughout his entire career, Gunn has never been afraid to get weird (see: every Guardians of the Galaxy film), and frankly, Superman could use a little weirdness. The character has eight decades’ worth of genuinely ridiculous, imaginative canon and more than enough ludicrous details—Krypto the Super-Dog! The Shrunken City of Kandor! Super-Ventriloquism!—to fill several movies. Let Batman be the guy to keep things grounded; Superman’s flicks should be allowed to soar and enrich imaginations. It’s time to let him fly.