WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Warner Bros.’ Justice League, in theaters now.
As Warner Bros. slowly began to roll out the marketing for Zack Snyder's Justice League, fans noticed something was amiss. After Henry Cavill's Superman was included in initial material for the film, the studio abruptly switched gears and, the stray merchandising tie-in aside, the Man of Steel was nowhere to be found. Well, until that final trailer, which depicts Clark Kent standing casually in a cornfield.
The decision to remove Superman from the film's marketing is odd because it was no secret the iconic hero would return following his death in Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Cavill was officially attached to the project, and heavily promoting it on his own social media accounts, but for some reason Warner Bros. preferred to pretend the Last Son of Krypton was absent. The Justice League's other members -- Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash -- were all heavily promoted, leaving us to wonder why Superman was missing from the advertising for so long and, what's more, was it a smart decision by Warner Bros.?
To address the first point, Superman was presumably kept under wraps (although a little too late) in hopes of building a sense of mystery about his return. Anticipation increased as some fans began to run with sometimes-outlandish theories about why he might be hidden from the marketing. Some thought he might return from the grave wearing his black suit, a nod to his resurrection in DC Comics' Death of Superman. Others believed he could even come back as a villain, in line with the "Knightmare" sequence from Batman v Superman, in which he was depicted as the enemy of Batman's resistance.
However, as Justice League ultimately revealed, there's nothing complex in his return that was worth hiding. Batman (Ben Affleck) and the League use a Mother Box to resurrect him and, after some readjustment, Superman becomes the hero fans have longed to see as he helps to save the day. With his arc pretty much straightforward, why go through all that trouble to keep the hero out the public eye?
It could be that Snyder and company didn't want Superman to overshadow the other heroes, especially the relatively new heroes being fully introduced after fleeting cameos in Batman v Superman: Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller).
Whether that marketing tactic was a smart, well ... It may be tempting to point to Justice League's disappointing opening-weekend box office -- the lowest to date for a DCEU release -- and draw a conclusion. However, it's more complicated than that. Would placing one of the world's most recognizable fictional characters front and center in the promotional campaign have resulted in the sales of more tickets? Possibly. But would using Superman in the marketing have boosted the film's poor critical reception?
No, because at the end of the day, Justice League's marketed had no effect on the film's script and final edit. But given that the Man of Steel was one of the movie's stronger points, with a new disposition of warmth, laughter and inspiration striking a chord audiences, you can't help but feel that Warner Bros. should have played up one of Justice League's greatest strengths. Perhaps seeing Superman in trailers and in more posters would have further challenged the perception of the DCEU as all doom and gloom.
This is a hard lesson to learn. Better marketing could easily have teased more of the hero without giving too much away. Instead, in trying to be overly secretive, the studio ended up shooting itself in the foot with a Kryptonite bullet, and sadly, all we can do now is look back and wonder what might have been.
Now in theaters, Justice League stars Ben Affleck as Batman, Henry Cavill as Superman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Ezra Miller as The Flash, Raymond Fisher as Cyborg, Willem Dafoe as Vulko, Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Connie Nielsen as Queen Hippolyta, Amber Heard as Mera and J.K. Simmons as Commissioner Gordon.