Warner Bros. lost their Superman. Henry Cavill is out after a failed contract negotiation and the superhero team rivaling Marvel’s cinematic universe is crumbling before fans’ very eyes. But this wasn’t a completely surprising exit, even if everything seemed rosy on the surface. The critical and financial tumult of the DCEU was always rocking under the surface of their carefully-curated press interactions, which meant that there were clues leading up to Cavill’s exit.
Back in April, when Cavill was doing press for Mission: Impossible - Fallout, the actor was gungho about renewing his contract, doing Man of Steel 2, and telling as much of Superman's story as he could. So what changed?
Well, the DCEU needed to course correct while, at the same time, Cavill’s career was also evolving. The actor, though starring in Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Justice League, had also led the moderately successful The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and co-starred in Mission: Impossible - Fallout — two movies that led him to proclaim that he was ready to be James Bond, especially after the latter film’s stunts. Cavill’s been looking to make leading man moves and his recently-landed role with The Witcher Netflix series is just another step.
The show’s filming schedule had an impact that sources disagree on, but it certainly didn’t make things easier for WB to work with Cavill. His priorities were made pretty clear — even after the seemingly silly scandal with Paramount and Cavill’s M:I mustache. When you’re tightening your ship after a few tepid films, a random $3 million visual effects bill for facial hair certainly feels like a jab.
That could factor into the studio’s shift in approach. "There's a recognition that some parts of the previous movies didn't work," said a THR source. This goes along with what Cavill has said in interviews about what in the DCEU hasn’t worked. “It is even better to come back from a mistake or stylistic error into the correct vein because it will make it seem that much stronger," Cavill said. “Wonder Woman was the first step in the right direction.” So even if Cavill wasn’t 100 percent sold on how DC was telling these stories in the same way that DC eventually was, he was also speaking on it before the studio came around.
So when it came time for contract negotiations, Cavill likely saw himself as on the rise. Huge blockbuster success, leading a big adaptation he cares deeply about. WB needs to scale back and is rethinking its approach to the DCEU. It’s why Man of Steel 2 hasn’t been announced (“Warners isn't likely to make a solo Superman film for at least several years,” another THR source said), it’s why everything around Ben Affleck’s Batman has been couched in uncertainty. Cavill and the DCEU are heading in different directions — a Shazam! cameo was just the final, transformative lynchpin.