Superman & Lois surprised audiences in its debut season, silencing critics who doubted Tyler Hoechlin could play the Man of Steel. Many questioned whether he’d fill out the costume or intimidate as Kal-El, while others questioned if he’d bring warmth and inspiration to the character of Clark Kent. As it turns out, Hoechlin’s Superman not only achieves it, but he does it far better than what Zack Snyder and Henry Cavill created in the DC Extended Universe.
This is not to disparage Cavill’s Superman, who evolved from a violent, impulsive brawler to someone calmer, hopeful, lighter, and, well, more optimistic. However, it took three films, culminating in Justice League, with previous representations being hostile and cold. It didn’t help that Snyder didn’t let him be Clark. Those few minutes when he was Clark were spent learning about his background, being perplexed by his Kryptonian ancestry, and wondering if he was indeed a messiah.
Apart from Pa Kent’s acerbic upbringing and later, rare times of Martha attempting to support him to survive, there wasn’t much of him as a family person. We saw more of Cavill’s Clark and Amy Adams’ Lois on the job than in romantic scenes. Of course, this would have made her later arc of becoming pregnant resonate so much more, and would have truly helped Cavill achieve what Christoper Reeve and Margot Kidder lay down decades ago in their more intimate relationship.
Hoechlin’s Superman, on the other hand, gets to do all of this and more. Because the program doesn’t focus on him continually confronting one great enemy after another, he comes out as modest, sympathetic, and human. It depicts him as a damaged parent attempting to safeguard his children, as well as a husband hoping to keep Lois from becoming completely disillusioned with the media and the status of the world. He’s fighting so many wars on so many fronts psychologically, and the program cleverly uses Morgan Edge as his brother to further demonstrate Superman’s greatest strength, and weakness, which is the notion of family.
This allows him to have a lot more heart and soul moments, whether he’s fighting Jordan over his powers, trying to keep Jon in line, teaching them about romance, arguing with Lois about how to parent, being concerned that Sam Lane is endangering their civilian identities, or reconnecting with Lana to remember what Smallville was like before his parents died.
In other words, the program organically reveals his largest vulnerability outside of Kryptonite: his love for individuals he holds near to him, which resonates more than just physical danger. In contrast to slugfests and action bonanzas, it takes a patient, methodical, yet intellectual approach.
While Hoechlin’s Kal-El has much more time in a full season to be fleshed out, the films could have done a character portrait with Cavill’s version instead of speeding his path from boyhood to maturity so rapidly. As a result of getting to explore the complete dynamic and emotional range with both sides of the character, Hoechlin is a better Superman than Cavill ever had any possibility of being.