In an era where cinemas seem to be in a constant state of promotion for some variety of superhero film, it is bizarre to think that perhaps the most iconic superhero of all time has exclusively been involved in largely forgettable movies of late. But that is the case with Superman. Recent films have struggled to portray the character as both likeable and fallible, which is why recent speculation has suggested that the possible director of Man of Steel 2 – Matthew Vaughn – would almost certainly deliver a different tone from the movies that exist in the DC Extended Universe.
Man of Steel proved a polarizing reboot of the Superman franchise, with the movie a visually stimulating affair for the character but unable to find the right balance in terms of tonality. This problem was exacerbated by the sort-of-sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which drew criticism for its overt gloominess and poorly conceived plot devices. It did not help Henry Cavill’s Superman that in Batman v Superman he was essentially one of the villains if the viewer was inclined to support the Dark Knight.
Captain America: Civil War presented a similarly divisive conundrum for viewers who were forced to side with either Captain America or Iron Man in their dispute, but choosing a side in that conflict did not prove to be so significant as Marvel has established considerable cachet with their stars in previous movies. Fans will forgive whichever superhero they chose to oppose because they know the character well, but Batman v Superman introduced one new iteration of a hero and reintroduced one relatively new character, so DC have forced their audience to pick a favorite incredibly early in their lives.
This means that there is work to do for DC, not to necessarily save the character but rather to deliver a protagonist that all viewers can root for. Superman is perhaps the most iconic of all of the superheroes, but the legendary character has not been well-served in the movie world of late. What is required could be a change of style for the DC Extended Universe, a brighter and more jocular approach that Suicide Squad promised but did not deliver.
All of this means that rumors linking Matthew Vaughn to direct the sequel to Man of Steel make perfect sense. Vaughn’s recent filmography has established him as one of the leading directors of movies that balance action and comedy. Kick-Ass delivered a unique take on the superhero genre, with real jeopardy juxtaposed with silly humour. Kingsman: The Secret Service was in a similar vein, but featured a directing style more reminiscent of the slick action focus of a Bond movie.
Perhaps the most interesting instalment of Vaughn’s filmography for the bosses at DC is X-Men: First Class. The X-Men needed an overhaul in terms of style, with the end to the original trilogy poorly received and X-Men Origins: Wolverine critically panned. Vaughn’s stylish Cold War thriller played differently to conventional superhero films due to its commitment to the time period and the genre, with the action well-paced and the tone not overbearingly dark. Vaughn has previously pitched a possible Superman film to DC, declaring that they should not seek to imitate the success of The Dark Knight which thrived on menacing characters and spectacularly dark visuals. Rather, Vaughn has spoken of his advocacy of Superman as a fun and light character, which means that there would be work to do if he is tasked with rejuvenating the current incarnation of the hero. Yet this kind of makeover is exactly what Superman requires, and it can reinvigorate the franchise without any need for recasting.
Another potential shot in the arm could come with the inclusion of Dwayne Johnson in what could be his debut portrayal of villain/anti-hero Black Adam. Johnson was signed up to take up the mantle of Black Adam all the way back in 2014, with hopes that he could provide the antagonism to Shazam in what would be a debut film for a long-running DC hero. However, production of the Shazam movie has constantly stalled, with current aspirations to have the film released in 2019 still seeming optimistic.
Johnson is additionally slated to star in his own movie as Black Adam, but there are also rumours that he could make a surprise villain for Superman in Man of Steel 2. The Cavill incarnation of Superman has so far gone toe to toe with General Zod and Lex Luthor, probably his two most infamous enemies. Black Adam’s entrance into the DC Extended Universe is inevitable, but it would be something of a shock if it happens in Man of Steel 2. With a terrifying set of abilities including speed, strength and immortality, he would pose a huge threat to Superman and would be his match physically. It is no wonder that Johnson is palpably excited to make his long-awaited debut appearance in the role.
Intriguingly, Johnson and Cavill have appeared on social media together in a photo adorned by the caption “#DCWorldsWillCollide”. It could be merely an indication that there are long-term plans for the two characters to share a screen at some point, which would not be surprising as future Justice League movies will presumably have lengthy cast lists. But some fans are hoping that Johnson and Cavill are slyly suggesting that Man of Steel 2 will have a new type of villain to mark a new direction for the franchise.
Irrespective of what you might think about his performances, Johnson’s presence in a succession of high-grossing blockbusters makes him a covetable asset and one that DC will want to utilize sooner rather than later. If Vaughn is tied to direct then his lighter style will be one that Johnson is comfortable with, although Vaughn would be expected to also bring out an intensity in Johnson befitting of the stakes of the film. This is all speculation currently, but it is exciting for Superman fans to dream about a hero placed in situations where he is allowed to become more likeable whilst battling complex villains.
Other rumors suggest that it will be Brainiac who provides the main resistance to Superman in Man of Steel 2. Interestingly, this conflict has formed the basis for one of the ways in which Superman has transcended the medium of film. The video game Injustice 2 was recently released and features Superman as its cover star. The follow-up to the successful Injustice: Gods Among Us, it extends upon the gameplay and plot of the original game. It takes place in a dystopian alternate universe dominated by a far more extreme version of the conflict between Superman and Batman that was presented recently in the movie world.
There are other examples of how Superman has infiltrated the world of gaming. Bet365 have introduced a Man of Steel slot game, with its characters and images lifted from the film giving the slot game a twist with regard to visual spectacle. Fans of both the DC superhero and easy, pick up n’ play-style games can access a £100 welcome bonus via Oddschecker, who also offer extensive details about the casino games and further bonuses. With a multitude of DC films on the horizon of the next few years, you can expect Superman and his allies (and enemies) to continue to pop up in unlikely places.
Wonder Woman is the next instalment in the DC Extended Universe, with its impending release preluded by early reviews suggesting that it is the strongest movie thus far. Directed by Patty Jenkins and starring Gal Gadot in the eponymous role, critics have lauded the movie for its dazzling action sequences and its tone that balances gravity and levity with a dexterity that has been missing from previous DC films. Superman is not cited to make an appearance in Wonder Woman, with the events of the movie predominantly set in the early 20th century and therefore far removed from Man of Steel. However, if DC is seeking to emulate Marvel then viewers will be watching with keen eyes and listening with keen ears to pick up on any references to Kal-El.
The next appearance of Superman is far more likely to arrive in the upcoming Justice League movie, also set to be released this year. Without going into specifics to avoid spoilers, the events at the denouement of Batman v Superman have left relationships between key characters finely poised and have prompted many questions that will need to be answered by the movie. It would not be a surprise if Superman’s presence in the film will be joined by a lighter tone in anticipation of Vaughn’s direction of Man of Steel 2, also necessitated by a need to establish camaraderie between the various members of the Justice League.
Justice League will properly introduce new characters such as Aquaman and Cyborg, and both of those are being awarded their own movies slated for release in 2018 and 2020 respectively. Throw in the possible Shazam movie and the much welcome reboot of the Green Lantern, and DC is building a formidable collection of films and characters that can rival the richness and diversity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But this will feel hollow if Superman cannot establish himself as the star of acclaimed movies. Ben Affleck’s Batman will have similar pressure if he is to have his own solo film as well. They are the two poster boys for DC, and the hugely underwhelming Batman v Superman is one of the biggest cinematic disappointments of recent years, especially considering how beloved the titular characters are. Yet the praise for Wonder Woman and the promise of Matthew Vaughn suggests that better times lie ahead.
Perhaps the biggest criticism that can be levelled at DC currently is the lack of foresight and cohesion to merge their film and television universes. Marvel’s Netflix series subtly nod towards the events of the movies because they share a universe, and characters such as Daredevil and Jessica Jones are expected to eventually make the transition from the laptop screen to the big screen. Meanwhile, DC have their television show The Flash and then cast a new actor to play a film version of the same character. It would have been rewarding to see Grant Gustin make the transition from television’s Arrowverse into the DC Extended Universe as The Flash, if only to see his rapport with new heavyweight characters like Batman and Superman.
Ezra Miller could well prove to be an equally charming Flash, but it will be slightly jarring for fans who are used to the television series. Of course, if the Arrowverse and the DC Extended Universe had been merged then fans could have seen Henry Cavill’s Superman interact with Melissa Benoist’s Supergirl. Perhaps the darkness from the movie universe would clash with a television universe that saw one episode of The Flash take up the style of a musical; it is not easy to imagine Ben Affleck’s Batman breaking out into a little ditty.
But with the likely direction of Matthew Vaughn for Man of Steel 2 and early reports of a lighter tone in Wonder Woman, it seems like DC are trying to find a happy medium between the wise-cracking whimsy of the television shows and the intensity and seriousness of the previous movies. Cynics would say that this happy medium is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and they would be right to suggest that DC are looking at Marvel for inspiration. If healthy competition inspires both to attempt to outdo one another then superhero fans will have bumper years ahead of them.
Marvel may well have got a head start on DC, but DC can make up some ground if they can introduce superhero films that do not conform to expectations. Vaughn is the perfect director to challenge pre-existing conceptions of characters, and this could be the fillip needed for DC to take advantage of criticisms of Marvel films being too repetitive and lacking in memorable villains. Ultimately, all that matters is that DC can deliver an instalment to their Extended Universe that is of the quality befitting the legendary status of Superman as a character.