In all the leadup to Batman vs. Superman, the debate was largely about whether or not Ben Affleck would be a serviceable Batman. The jury is still out on that one – but I wanted to talk about the other casting choice in the movie: Henry Cavill as Superman. While I didn’t enjoy Man of Steel as much as I’d hoped, I thought Cavill’s casting was absolutely brilliant; and this is the role that will define his career.
One of my favorite movies of all time is Kill Bill: Part 2 – and one of my favorite lines of dialogue comes from that movie. After incapacitating her with truth serum, David Carradine’s character of Bill delivers one of the most succinct and brilliant analysis of comic book lore of all time – especially regarding Superman.
Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us.
This line of dialogue popped up in my head several times recently. Once after watching Man of Steel. Then again after seeing The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and finally it is always there whenever I see new promo material for Batman vs. Superman. I watch Henry Cavill on screen and I can’t help thinking how perfect Bill’s analyse is.
Because, when you see him onscreen, it’s always as if Henry Cavill isn’t just struggling to play whatever character he’s been cast as – but he’s struggling to play a human being, as well.
I’m a big fan of his, don’t get me wrong. He was truly epic in The Tudors, and he’s been pretty servicable in everything else. But there’s something very weird and confusing about his American characters especially; and I think it ties very well into Batman vs. Superman.
It’s particually obvious in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. In that movie, Cavill plays the iconic role of Napoleon Solo and he’s devastatingly handsome and confident in the role – except he doesn’t seem comfortable in it.
“Look, I have human expressions and everything.”
His back’s too straight. His expression is too fixed. That American accent of his is weirdly flawless, yet so generic it’s almost disquietning. Compare him to fellow Brit-playing-American Jared Harris in the same movie and the contrast is clear. Jared is a convincing American. Henry Cavill barely makes it as a convincing human.
There is just something so eerily robotic about his portrayal of American characters.
“These fucking Earthlings, man…”
But when it comes to playing Superman… isn’t that kind of perfect?
Superman was a little baby who fell to Earth. Under the parentage of John and Martha, he was taught to blend in with American society. But no matter how much he ‘blends in’ he’s never an American. He’s never even human. He spends his entire time struggling act ‘normal’ when he’s a virtual God wearing Pa Kent’s hand-me-down dungarees.
And in portraying that, Henry Cavill is achingly perfect. From the generic accent, to the stiff presentation, every scene we’ve seen him in as ‘mild-mannered Clark Kent’ benefits from his naturally stiff acting approach. He actually looks, and sounds, and acts like he’s a powerful alien struggling to pretend to be human.
The only time he really seems to feel comfortable is when he’s wearing the cape and tights. Whether he’s addressing the military, or rescuing kids from falling rubble, the besuited Superman seems to wear a barely-concealed sneer; as if he’s frustrated at the frailty of these stupid humans that he feels compelled to protect.
I don’t know – that’s just my take on it. But I’m kind of digging what he’s done with the role, and I think it bodes well for what he brings to Batman vs Superman.