In a surprising turn, news broke this morning that Henry Cavill would be leaving his role as DC Comics' flagship superhero Superman after negotiations to reportedly return in a small appearance in next year's Shazam! broke down. While Cavill's manager has since disputed this via a semi-cryptic tweet, the reaction to Cavill potentially leaving the character gives us some clarity with which to look back as his history as one of DC's flagship heroes.
Over the past five years, Cavill has starred three times as the character, first debuting in 2013's Man of Steel before returning as Clark Kent in 2016's superhero showdown Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The actor's potentially final turn as the Man of Tomorrow was last year's Justice League, which saw the superhero resurrected in the final act and triumphantly save the day.
While critical response for each of the films has been mixed at best, Cavill's performances have consistently been the unsung redeeming grace of each movie, with the actor embodying the earnest enthusiasm of the character even in the face of the dark, somber tone of the DC Extended Universe. In short, Cavill has been a defiantly beaming ray of hope cutting through the grim, gritty world in which the movies took place just like the Last Son of Krypton himself.
Focusing on the origin of Superman in the DCEU's inaugural film, Man of Steel had Cavill portray the fledgling superhero as he came to terms with his Kryptonian heritage, all as it collides with the entire planet in the form of a murderously zealous General Zod. Taking on the role of Earth's defender, the film was a bombastic, CGI-heavy epic, with critics and many fans put off by the muted colors, sluggish pacing and wanton destruction. But the movie genuinely soars when the cacophony dies down and focuses on Cavill's titular crusader, especially in the quieter, more character-driven moments.
First seen as a drifter living on the fringes, Cavill perfectly captures the anguish of Clark Kent as an outsider, a child of two worlds yet fully belonging to neither, and unable to completely fit in to his adoptive society. We believe it when Clark finally finds his true calling as Superman, his purposeful walk into the sun wearing the iconic costume for the first time, seemingly drawing power from his home itself before taking off in flight, one of the rare instances of unbridled joy in the entire film. The newly christened superhero always seems aware that he may be interpreted as a threat, disarming the military sent to question him with his instinctual sense of small town politeness and never talking down to those around him; Cavill's performance was an understated blend of charisma and duty, coming off as natural as breathing.
Cutting through the CGI chaos in the final act, Cavill's destruction of the Kryptonian World-Builder in the Indian Ocean has a surprising resonance, as Superman channels everything he has to save Earth in a desperate final charge, even if it potentially means the end of his own life. Yes, Zod's infamous death at the hands of Superman divided audiences in terms of its necessity and questioning the very moral code of the character, but Cavill makes the sheer emotional toll of the decision believable with a heartbreaking cry, collapsing into Lois Lane after crossing the line has cost him his very soul.