With news - unconfirmed by both parties at present - that Henry Cavill is set to hang up the red cape for the last time, there's been an examination of Cavill's performance in the role of Superman.
Historically speaking, Superman is one of the toughest characters in popular culture to play and play well. Too smarmy and self-aware and you end up with something like Dean Cain's mid-'90s hunk in 'Lois & Clark'. Too earnest and it's something closer to Brandon Routh's iteration in 'Superman Returns'. It can be universally agreed that Christopher Reeve's performance embodied everything that's been expected of Superman.
He had the quiet dignity, the gentle warmth and humour, the radiant compassion and the understanding that Superman was the best of us but no different than the rest of us. Very few actors can effectively grasp that balance of vulnerability and moral confidence well, but Reeve did it so naturally and so quietly that it's hard to really think of an actor working today who can. And so it fell to Henry Cavill to try and bring Superman into the modern, Nolan-ised era of superheroes.
From the very get-go, Cavill was handed a poison chalice with the casting of Superman. David S. Goyer and Zack Snyder's take on the character was meant to be a reinvention of the character, an examination of someone who had godlike powers in a world that had moved on from believing in wonders. You look back on 'Man Of Steel' and the messianic subtext isn't subtext at all; it's hammered home without any shred of subtlety or grace.
Jump forward to 'Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice' and 'Justice League', and you can see that not only was Superman as a character handled incorrectly, Cavill's performance was wildly all over the place because the creative forces steering him didn't know what they were doing either. Clearly, he had some of his own intuitions on how to bring him to life in a way that honoured the great legacy while taking it in a new direction - but the reality is that a cack-handed approach and two truly weak scripts let him down any chance to develop into the role.
Unlike say Timothy Dalton in 'Licence To Kill' and 'The Living Daylights' who had two great turns in a well-worn character but was too ahead of his time, Cavill's interpretation felt almost detached and oblique from conventional standards. Times may change, but the general understanding is that Superman was a stalwart of principles and moral authority that didn't buckle under the weight of the modern world. In a lot of ways, Marvel pretty much ate DC's lunch with Captain America and how they treated that complexity. Still, there's a few scenes where Cavill nails it, and they're almost always in the quiet moments. One is the interrogation scene with Amy Adams, where he sheepishly corrects her on the S / House of El symbol on his chest and plays straight from Reeve's sensibility. Another is undoubtedly the moment when Kevin Costner - who stole every scene in 'Man Of Steel' - meets his end and does so to protect his son's identity.
In a lot of ways, Cavill was better as Clark Kent than he was Superman and it's only in the smaller moments does that become more clear. Sure, he may have looked the part of Superman, had the hair and the physique, but it almost felt like he was doing it reluctantly and the weight and responsibility of the role was too much. That was probably by design, as much of 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' was hung up on Superman uncertain of himself and uncertain of his role in the world.
That's a tough thing to process as an audience - seeing Superman, a character who for 75 years has known what to do and when to do it, suddenly unsure of himself or what to do, and having his morality questioned and examined. Deeper still, Snyder's own belief in Randian ideals like Objectivism seem completely incompatible with Superman as a whole. There's even a plausible theory that 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice' is basically Rand's 'The Fountainhead'.
The question remains, of course, as to what's to be done with Superman and the greater DC brand as a whole. Evidently, Warner Bros. is planning a major overhaul of the entire cast of characters, with Jaoquin Phoenix's 'Joker' origins movie acting as the preliminary experiment. If the rumours are true and Michael B. Jordan is chosen as Superman for the next iteration of the character, it'll likely spark off some major and possibly needed discussions about the character's legacy and questions about race.
From Michael B. Jordan's previous work, he has all of the qualities needed to play Superman and has the acting chops to make something unique out of it. You only need to look at something like his performance in 'Fruitvale Station', 'Creed' and even 'Chronicle' to know that he's an actor who has that same ability of range that Reeve had, and the physical presence to do it justice.
The great thing about superheroes is that they can be reinvented or reimagined, reappraised or returned, and Superman is no exception.