Henry Cavill isn’t a bad actor and with the right script and the proper guidance by a director, he could have been an outstanding Clark/Superman. However, as we now know, the critics savaged his version of the character and the DC films he appeared in were divisive among fans. The following are the major issues many people (myself included) had with his performance and why the new Superman is better.
1…He’s Not Grim or Dark: The biggest complaint about Cavill’s interpretation of Superman in both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, was that he was relentlessly gloomy, down beat and depressed. He almost never smiled. Neither the actor nor the character appeared to be having any fun at all. It’s alright to watch Batman be angst-ridden for hours but not Superman. That’s why Tyler Hoechlin is such a breath of fresh air. He smiles; he’s friendly; he appears to be enjoying his life. He’s a likable hero and it’s not such a chore to spend time watching him.
2…He’s a Symbol of Hope: In this case, the flaws in the theatrical Superman were more a fault of the script than of Cavill himself, but it’s all connected. Cavill’s Superman was feared and hated by the public, causing protests against him. In Batman v Superman, he is called a “false God”. People yell “Alien go home”. The problem with this is that Superman is supposed to be a symbol of hope and inspiration to the world. He should make people feel safe. In Batman v Superman, our hero considers giving up his career in the cape because the public doesn’t like him enough. Tyler Hoechlin plays the role as someone who genuinely wants to inspire and encourage others. He takes the time to interact with people and reassure them that he has their back. People seem to love and respect him, which is as it should be.
3…He’s Reminiscent of Christopher Reeve: The late, beloved Christopher Reeve is far-and-away the most popular Superman of all the live-action versions. He captured the spirit of the comic book hero, and added in an endearingly campy charm to it. This is the Superman that fans love and what they want to see in a live action man of steel. Cavill’s version took a drastically different route, making Superman a totally different character than the Richard Donner version did. Most viewers weren’t happy with that, and neither were the critics. It’s not that everyone needs to emulate Reeves (as Brandon Routh did in Superman Returns) but when you fail to meet any of the fans expectations, you’re asking for backlash. Hoechlin avoided this backlash by evoking aspects of Reeve’s version, without slipping into blatant imitation.
4…Zack Snyder Isn’t Directing Him: Henry Cavill had the misfortune of getting bad advice from director Zack Snyder when he played Superman. Despite Snyder’s claims that Superman is his favorite character, it’s clear that all he knows about Superman comes from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. Therefore, he (mis)guided Cavill into playing an iteration of the character that few people wanted to see. Hoechlin didn’t have to fit into Snyder’s poorly thought-out continuity, so he was free to be a fun, amiable Superman.
5…He Shows the Difference Between Clark and Superman: Another issue regarding Cavill’s interpretation is that his portrayal of Clark and Superman were virtually identical. Other than the glasses, there was no significant difference between two. Compare that to the Chris Reeve version, who impressively became a totally different person as Clark than he was as Superman. Hoechlin does a better job than Cavill in making Clark contrast from his costumed identity. He incorporates the “aw shucks” farm boy quality with some classic Clark Kent clumsiness.
To sum up…
From every angle, Hoechlin has captured the soul of the greatest comic book hero better than Cavill did. While the Supergirl TV show has more than its share of flaws—such as its soap opera subplots or it’s overly heavy-handed and artless “girl power” scenes—it’s done a good job making Supergirl likable and fun. Similarly, it’s done that for her cousin, too. If he does get his own series down the road, it’s good to know that we’ll get a Superman who resembles the iconic DC Comics hero that we all know and love.