Briefing

Black Adam: What that big cameo means for the future of DC

A major DC character returns in the credits scene of Black Adam, and with it comes significant ramifications for the franchise's future. Here's what you need to know:

What happens in the 'Black Adam' credits scene?

Warning: Major spoilers ahead: 

Superman returns! 

Dwayne Johnson plays the titular antihero in DC's Black Adam, a project that has been in the works for more than a decade. But the film's most talked about moment involves an entirely different character: Henry Cavill's Superman, who makes his triumphant return after a five-year absence. 

In the film's mid-credits scene, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) warns Black Adam not to step foot outside Khandaq, which he has agreed to protect. He brushes her off, declaring there's "no one on this planet that can stop me," so Waller shoots back that she can send in people who "aren't from this planet." And she does just that: A figure slowly emerges into the foreground, and it's Cavill's Superman. 

"It's been a while since anyone's made the world this nervous," Superman says. "Black Adam, we should talk." 

Cavill's appearance comes as a surprise considering it once seemed like his time in the DC universe was over. Well, it comes as a surprise to anyone who didn't watch Johnson's Black Adam interviews, during which he essentially outright spoiled the cameo. Either way, this is Cavill's first time back as Superman since 2017's Justice League, not counting Zack Snyder's 2021 director's cut of that film. 

Is Henry Cavill back as Superman for good? 

Nothing has been confirmed, but it sure looks like it. The film, for one, sets the stage for Black Adam and Superman to fight, which has happened multiple times in the comics. When asked by CinemaBlend if the plan is for a Black Adam and Superman showdown, Johnson said, "Absolutely. That is the whole point of this, man." 

Not only that, but Cavill could be getting his own solo Superman film for the first time since 2013's Man of Steel. A report from The Hollywood Reporter said Warner Bros. "has an intense desire to reprise the Cavill iteration of the hero" and is currently looking for writers for a project that "would essentially be Man of Steel 2." Mission: Impossible - Fallout director Christopher McQuarrie, who once pitched a Cavill Superman movie, is reportedly on the wishlist, though he may not be available. 

It isn't entirely clear if Black Adam would fight Superman in a potential Man of Steel 2 or Black Adam 2. But Black Adam producer Hiram Garcia told CinemaBlend that Black Adam and Superman coming to blows won't be a "one-off," and instead, "We really want to craft a long-form of storytelling and show that these two characters exist in the same universe and are going to have to deal with each other often, either on the same or opposite sides." 

Lost in all of this is the fact that Black Adam is really more known as being an antagonist of Shazam in the comics, so he will presumably also come to blows with Zachary Levi's character at some point. It could even be that Shazam and Superman have to join forces to take on Black Adam. 

As of now, no further appearances by Cavill as Superman have been announced, and if Black Adam is a box office bomb, all these plans could still be abandoned. DC will also have to make this work within Cavill's schedule filming Netflix's The Witcher and other projects. 

What does this mean for the DC universe as a whole? 

Cavill's return was quite exciting for fans of his interpretation of the Man of Steel, as there was a time when it looked like the character was set to be recast. In 2018, The Hollywood Reporter said Cavill would exit the role and that Warner Bros. "has shifted its focus to a Supergirl movie," which came in the wake of 2017's Justice League being a critical and commercial failure. (In 2022, Rolling Stone reported this Supergirl movie "is not likely to move forward.") Around the same time, it was revealed that Ben Affleck was also departing as Batman

In 2019's Shazam!, Superman appeared in the final scene, but we never saw his face, as he was shown from the neck down. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros. wanted Cavill for the Shazam! cameo, but contract negotiations broke down. By 2020, there were reports that Cavill could still come back as Superman, and he began saying he would "love to play the character again." In February 2022, Superman made another cameo with the rest of the Justice League in the HBO Max series Peacemaker, but his face was once again obscured. In July 2022, a rumor suggested Cavill would make a surprise appearance at Comic-Con to finally announce a new Superman project, but this never happened

So fans were getting mixed messages and were left frustrated and confused about why DC's marquee character was missing in action for years with no information about his future. Was Cavill in, or was he out? Is Superman being recast, or is he not? After years of uncertainty, Black Adam finally confirms Cavill is back in. 

The significance of this goes beyond one actor, though. Cavill's appearance is an example of DC doubling down on elements of the universe created by director Zack Snyder, which some speculated would be slowly wiped away.

Snyder is the one who started the DC Extended Universe — DC's shared universe of films and its answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe — with 2013's Man of Steel. He followed it up with 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which introduced Ben Affleck's Batman and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, and 2017's Justice League. But the latter two films were both poorly reviewed, and Justice League was a box office disappointment. After the failure of Justice League, it seemed like DC might try to distance itself from the Snyder brand going forward, and while Snyder had plans for further DC films like a Justice League sequel, he was never brought back. (Snyder left Justice League during the production and reshoots were overseen by Joss Whedon, so his fans blame Whedon for the film's failure and praised Snyder's 2021 director's cut.) 

As of 2022, new films like Black Adam and Shazam! Fury of the Gods still exist in the same continuity as the Snyder movies, though DC has de-emphasized connections or crossovers between the films since Justice League. But 2023 sees the release of The Flash, and based on the comics, fans have speculated DC could use that film as an opportunity for a reboot. The storyline involves The Flash traveling through time, so he could, for example, return to his timeline at the end of the movie to find Superman now looks like another actor.

After WarnerMedia and Discovery merged in 2022, DC came under new ownership, and Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav announced a 10-year plan for DC would be developed. It was also reported that Zaslav, who controversially scrapped a nearly completed Batgirl movie, was searching for a new producer to oversee the franchise, similar to what Marvel has in Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige. So this fueled speculation that the Snyder universe's days could be numbered and that Zaslav and the new head of DC might want to restart the franchise with a full reboot. 

But Cavill's presence in Black Adam seems to suggest that's not the plan, as also evidenced by the fact that Ben Affleck is returning as Batman in both The Flash and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (the latter notably scheduled for release after The Flash, suggesting Affleck's Batman may still exist after a possible timeline reset). Snyder's fans successfully lobbied for Warner Bros. to release a director's cut of Justice League dubbed the Snyder Cut, so could that enthusiasm have convinced Warner Bros. that Snyder's cast shouldn't be abandoned entirely? 

It leaves DC in an interesting spot, raising the question of whether audiences who were disappointed by Batman v Superman and Justice League can be enticed back to theaters to see the same version of Superman from those films without a clean break from what came before. The fact that Aquaman was still a hit a year after Justice League suggests it's possible. DC could also still attempt a light reboot while keeping the same cast, such as by retaining Cavill but adjusting the Superman character to be less dour than in Snyder's films. Notably, when Superman returns in Black Adam, we hear a rendition of John Williams' triumphant theme music that was used in the Christopher Reeve films, not the Hans Zimmer version that was used in the Snyder films.  

Weren't we supposed to be getting a Black Superman?

Cavill's return was especially surprising considering it was reported in 2021 that Ta-Nehisi Coates would be writing a new Superman movie, which would star a Black actor. J.J. Abrams was said to be producing that film. Michael B. Jordan has also been reported to be working on a separate HBO Max project about a Black Superman, Val-Zod. 

In June 2022, Variety reported the studio "has yet to finalize plans" for the Coates movie, though The Hollywood Reporter said in October 2022 Abrams is "still on track" to produce it. If that movie happens, the Reporter writes that it would exist outside the DC Extended Universe continuity, similar to how The Batman starring Robert Pattinson and Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix are set in their own separate worlds. 

In that case, DC could soon simultaneously have two or three Supermans, two Harley Quinns, three Jokers, and three Batmans (Pattinson, Affleck, and Michael Keaton, who's returning in The Flash). And we thought the Halloween continuity was confusing. 

How did the Superman cameo come about? 

It sounds like Dwayne Johnson himself was instrumental in Cavill's return. 

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Superman was not in Black Adam as recently as last month, as the idea was vetoed by DC Films President Walter Hamada. The Reporter says Hamada, who served as president of DC Films since January 2018, wanted to move DC beyond an era where one filmmaker, e.g. Snyder, "had an inordinate amount of influence" over the franchise, and Hamada was the one who was planning the Ta-Nehisi Coates Superman movie. But the report says Johnson, who shares a manager with Cavill, then "went around" Hamada, getting Warner Bros. Pictures Group CEO Michael De Luca to approve the cameo. The scene was then reportedly shot in mid-September. Hamada officially left DC the same week Black Adam was released. 

Johnson has alluded to the idea that the previous DC regime, presumably meaning Hamada, resisted Cavill's return, saying, "Six years, we first started talking about this, and they kept saying no. Now, that leadership isn't there anymore." On The Tonight Show, Johnson also said he "fought" for this and wasn't "going to take no for an answer," and he described the cameo as an example of the fact that the "new era" of DC will be about "[listening] to the fans." 

So like with the Snyder Cut, it sounds like all those passionate fans spamming Johnson with tweets demanding Cavill be brought back may have genuinely made a difference — and at least in terms of the casting, the new era of DC may look more like the old era than we thought. 

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