Time and time again, fans have criticized the DCEU for being too dark. Often, fans compare it unfavorably to The CW's Arrowverse, where DC's light-hearted comic book origins are embraced in shows like Arrow and The Flash.
However, this is grossly misleading. While the CW are clearly restricted to a degree by the ratings and their younger demographic, heroes such as Green Arrow and the Scarlet Speedster have suffered their fair share of tragedies over the past five years, including personal heartbreak and many, many deaths. The key here is maintaining a balance between light and dark — something that the DCEU is still struggling to manage.
The secret to the Arrowverse's success is the harmony between light and shadow that's maintained through both their lighthearted heroes and more brooding figures. Tyler Hoechlin, who's just joined The CW in the role of Superman, is clearly one of the former. This has led to inevitable comparisons between him and Henry Cavill's interpretation of the character, who can be currently found brooding over in the DCEU.
Check out our first glimpse of Tyler Hoechlin's Superman in action below:
Now that we've finally seen Tyler Hoechlin tackle the Last Son of Krypton on Supergirl, we're confident that the former Teen Wolf star embodies the role in a way that Henry Cavill still can't quite manage — here's why.
It's Ok To Be Dark, But Not All The Time
The problem with the DCEU isn't that Warner Bros. has chosen to take a darker route than the CW. After all, stories such as Injustice and Arkham Asylum have resonated with comic book fans in recent years for their unflinching depiction of heroics in a cruel and unjust world. So why don't films like Man of Steel receive the same acclaim?
The answer lies in the characterization. People were quick to criticize the ruthless attitude of Ben Affleck's Batman, but ultimately, his performance was considered to be one of the high points of the DCEU — and that's because there's a basis for this approach in the comics. Despite protestations to the contrary, a similar version of Bruce Wayne can be found in critically lauded material such as Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.
The Real Problem Is Henry Cavill's Superman
It's important to establish from the outset that Henry Cavill isn't a bad actor. The British hunk nailed his suave role in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and also impressed during his time on The Tudors. But whether he's playing Clark Kent or Superman himself, something just doesn't sit right with Cavill's pivotal role in the DCEU.
At his best, Cavill's Superman is purely aesthetic; and the comic-faithful attributes certainly weren't the only parts of his appearance fans appreciated:
At his worst though, Cavill's Superman was ripped apart by critics for a lack of strong characterization. Sure, it's great to bask in Cavill's hotness for 4 hours — but hotness alone cannot sustain a performance. Here's a sample of the many negative reactions that Cavill's performance received when Man of Steel first came out in 2013:
A.V. Club: "Cavill — whose performance involves more posing than acting — is alternately presented as an alien messiah, a superweapon, and an American flag flapping in the wind; the one thing he never gets to be is a character."
Boston Globe: "British actor Henry Cavill gives a strong, likable, occasionally moving performance in the title role, but doesn’t quite come out a movie star. I missed the dorky modesty of Christopher Reeves Superman, the squareness that really marked the character as an alien. Cavill’s Superman is an interestingly conflicted hunk, but he doesn’t resonate beyond the borders of the screen."
Inquirer: "Cavill's performance is less memorable for his introspective brooding than for his six-pack (a fetish for Snyder, the director of "300"). He's handsome and capable, but one can't help missing Christopher Reeve's twinkle. At least he smiled."
It's hard to deny that the constant Christopher Reeve comparisons are somewhat unfair. After all, it's commendable that both Snyder and Cavill put their own stamp on the legacy of Superman, rather than simply recycle what had come before. But the problem is that by trying something different, the pair ended up distancing themselves from what makes Superman a legitimate icon.
The DCEU itself doesn't need to be lighter, but a moral counterpoint is needed to balance out the likes of Harley Quinn and Batman. Instead, we've been left with a destructive, god-like figure who seems too far removed from humanity to care; something that even Cavill himself has poked fun of in the past.
How Will Tyler Hoechlin's Superman Differ?
When CW's Supergirl first announced that Tyler Hoechlin would join the show as Superman, the reaction was mixed to say the least. But now that we've seen the Big Blue in action, Hoechlin has nailed the role in every way that we hoped Cavill would .
Far too much of Cavill's portrayal in the DCEU revolved around this idea of Kal-El as a messiah figure without imbuing him with a sense of humanity. The moments when Snyder chose to explore Clark Kent's personal life were rather lacking in comparison, and felt more perfunctory than anything else.
In contrast, The CW's decision to introduce Hoechlin first as his alter-ego, awkwardly conversing with his boss, was the perfect move. It would have been easy to open with a flashy reveal of Hoechlin in spandex — but with this approach, The CW reminded us that Superman may be a powerful symbol of hope, but Clark Kent's humanity remains the real essence of the character, "lickety-splits" and all.
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Hoechlin's Superman Does Seem Rather Familiar Though...
Sure, detractors might argue that Hoechlin's portrayal is trying too hard, striving to copy Reeve's iconic performance without bringing anything new to the table, but they'd be wrong. Instead of paying tribute to performances from the past, Hoechlin is tapping into the same ideals that Reeve drew from the comics, reminding us why Superman has endured as an icon for so long in the first place.
Check out Hoechlin's Superman in this second Supergirl trailer for Season 2:
In an interview with EW, Hoechlin summed up his portrayal perfectly:
"It’s Superman as I think he was intended to be, which is just an incredible symbol of hope to kids that they can do anything, that they can be good people, and that good people can triumph over evil. You don’t have to be dark and brooding and always in this state of masculine toughness. He sits in that very hopeful and optimistic place that Kara tends to be in."
Sure, Spider-Man's funny, Wolverine's a badass and Batman's got that fancy car, but Superman represents something far more important: hope. At the risk of stepping on my soapbox, it's worth remembering that the symbol on Big Blue's chest is a stark reminder that the world really does need someone like Superman. In these trying times, the message of hope that Superman embodies is more vital than ever.
Check out Supergirl's adorable conversation with her cousin in Season 1 below:
Of course, we've only seen Tyler Hoechlin play Superman in two episodes so far — but even with just these to go on, we hope that the DCEU will learn some much-needed lessons from the CW. If Hoechlin continues to embody Clark Kent as well as we think he will, then both the films and the TV shows could help draw the very best out of our favorite heroes to create the best adaptations yet. The red capes are coming, and we couldn't be more excited.
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Who do you think is the best Superman?