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The Future Trajectory Of The DCEU Rests On Henry Cavill's Shoulders

Contains spoilers for "Black Adam"

The DC Extended Universe has been in a bit of turmoil as of late. This is because of the lacklustre reception of several key movies (via Rotten Tomatoes), as well as the effects of Warner Discoverys' internal workings, which contributed to the dark history of the ultimately cancelled "Batgirl" movie.

At this point, it seems certain that Dwayne Johnson's "Black Adam" will mark a turning point in the DCEU's future, and not just because Johnson insists that his Teth-Adam will upend the franchise's hierarchy of power. Sure, Black Adam is powerful, but the movie's most interesting character doesn't actually turn up until the very end. You know the cameo we're talking about. The one that features the return of the DCEU's Superman (Henry Cavill), the only guy out there who may or may not be able to keep Black Adam in check.

The thing is, while Johnson might be the kind of A-lister other A-listers want to become when they grow up, Black Adam has rarely been a key character in the DC comics, despite his status as a known and powerful player. Sure, the fact that The Rock is playing him in the DCEU virtually guarantees that the live-action version's star will shine much brighter, but it remains to be seen whether he can do to the DCEU what Robert Downey Jr. did to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As such, the DCEU must turn to another, far more established character if it wants to enjoy the kind of mega-success its Marvel counterpart has. Going by the "Black Adam" stinger, the logical character here is, of course, Superman — which means that the future of the DCEU essentially rests on Henry Cavill's shoulders. Here's why.

The DCEU needs Superman, and fans want Cavill in the role

Historically, the flagship character of DC movies tends to be one Bruce Wayne and his caped alter ego. However, his position in the DCEU is currently pretty peculiar, since the future of Ben Affleck's Batman is wide open after whatever part he's set to play in "The Flash" (and possibly "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom"). Meanwhile, Robert Pattinson's Batman is doing his own thing in Matt Reeves' grounded noir world. If Affleck is on his way out, it's hard to see the DCEU introducing yet another Bats to muddy the waters ... unless they're planning to do so in "Joker: Folie à Deux," which is an even bigger outlier than the Battinson universe. 

With Batman's future unclear in what currently passes for the main DCEU timeline — and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) recoiling from the lackluster "Wonder Woman: 1984" (via Rotten Tomatoes) — Superman is the last remaining member of the Justice League's "Big Three" to lean on. Batmen come and go, but when it comes to Kal-El, recasting doesn't really seem like an option. Though he hasn't actively played the role since 2017, Cavill has embodied the Superman character so thoroughly that in 2022, even uncomfirmed and ultimately false whispers of his rumored appearance were enough to create more hype than Warner Bros.' actual San Diego Comic-Con panel (per The Wrap). It probably doesn't hurt that Cavill hasn't been sitting on his hands during his absence from the DCEU. On the contrary, he's only further enhanced his "powerful hero" image with his starring role as Geralt of Rivia in Netflix's "The Witcher."

In other words, the DCEU Superman would be really, really hard to recast right now. Since he's nevertheless a highly essential character that can easily anchor the universe, getting Cavill to return at a larger capacity — or failing to do so — could very well be what makes or breaks the DCEU's near future.

Cavill is key to the DCEU's future, but Johnson's hand may be holding the key

If Cavill's DCEU reemergence in "Black Adam" isn't enough, there are signs that Warner Bros. is indeed gearing up to make Cavill's Superman fly again. Possible lingering contract stipulations notwithstanding, the decision to come back may well be Cavill's call ... and it's worth noting that he seems to have a not-too-surprising ally in his corner. 

Dwayne Johnson has been very open about his desire to make a "Black Adam v Superman"-style movie (via Variety). According to new information courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter, the artist formerly known as The Rock has done quite a bit more than that, too. It appears that Johnson has gone to great lengths to make sure that Superman will return. Johnson seems to be so adamant to give fans the Man of Steel they want that he's been stepping on some pretty big Warner Bros. toes to do so — to the point of going behind departing DC Films chief Walter Hemada's back to secure the Superman cameo at the end of "Black Adam." As for securing Cavill's return in the role ... well, as it happens, Johnson and Cavill have the same manager, so presumably, the channel of communication is there.

Obviously, everything beyond Cavill's "Black Adam" appearance is still very much at the smoke-and-mirrors stage. Still, the available information seems to put Cavill in a truly unique position. He's the established actor of the single most important superhero in the entire DCEU franchise. What's more, one of the world's absolute biggest movie stars is heavily lobbying for his character's return. Whatever behind-the-scenes negotiations are taking place, Cavill's decision about his future as Superman will almost certainly have a profound impact on the DCEU's plans.