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With Argylle bombing, has Henry Cavill missed his chance to be a movie star?

Henry Cavill as Agent Argylle pointing at someone off-camera in the film Argylle.

Image via Universal Pictures

As a huge Henry Cavill fan, you can believe me when I say that being a Henry Cavill fan is hard sometimes. There are his puzzling career choices that make zero sense, the questionable things he sometimes says, and his comical devotion to a miniature wargame that has now become his calling card. Sometimes, it feels as though he needs a big “Stop trying to make Warhammer happen” dose of reality. At the very least, he needs new management — and he has that in common with his former Lois Lane, Amy Adams.

The thing is, Cavill has everything to be a leading man: devastating good looks, a cool demeanor, suave charm, and a devoted fan base. For a while, it seemed like he could become an A-lister, back in the mid-2010s when he was still Superman. Fast-forward to 2024, and Cavill is struggling at the box office — in a movie where he’s not even the star, mind you — after two years of controversies, including a high-profile exit from his Netflix show and an even higher-profile exit from the franchise that made him famous.

Indeed, things look bad for Cavill, which begs the question: is there still time for him to deliver on his pledge to become a movie star? The answer is a tad more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no.”

The Netflix situation

Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia looking ahead in The Witcher.
Image via Netflix

Like many other high-profile actors, Cavill spent the pandemic quarantining in streaming. He made a home out of Netflix, starring in the high-profile fantasy show The Witcher. Although never a major phenomenon like, say, Game of ThronesThe Witcher was big enough for Netflix to bet heavily on it, turning it into a struggling ,albeit solid franchise with Cavill at its center.

The actor then doubled down on his Netflix efforts with the Enola Holmes duology, playing a more dashing version of Sherlock Holmes opposite Millie Bobby Brown’s titular character. Both Enola Holmes movies were critical hits with strong viewership, and Cavill was praised for his work in both. Meanwhile, The Witcher season 3 gave Cavill the best reviews of his career, with the show staying a hit despite the less-than-favorable comments from the more vocal fan base.

However, as the pandemic ended, so did the streaming craze. The success of films like Top Gun: MaverickAvatar: The Way of WaterBarbie, and Oppenheimer suddenly reminded everyone just how appealing it is to be a movie star because why would you settle for the small screen when you can light up its larger counterpart?

Don’t get me wrong, streaming is still a thing, and many actors have settled in that space. Chris Pratt’s career now largely alternates between Amazon projects and voice-acting gigs while Jennifer Lopez seems content being Amazon’s new reigning queen. Actors like Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Adam Sandler, and Ryan Reynolds are now almost exclusively streaming talents, and while their movies carry mighty price tags, they remain very much streaming efforts.

Cavill could very well comfortably pursue this path and succeed; the point is, he doesn’t seem to want to. His very public break-up with Netflix proved that, and all of his upcoming projects seem poised for a big-screen debut. But has Cavill spent too long on streaming projects for him to successfully go back to the big screen, especially when his pre-Netflix star credentials pretty much live and die with Mission: Impossible – Fallout? Look, I love the guy, but Superman did more harm than good to his image, and none of his other films made so much as a dent in the public’s consciousness. In short, Cavill’s current fame might be way too tied to Netflix — and people like their Netflix actors to stay there.

No one likes a one-trick pony

Henry Cavill as Agent Argylle walking through smoke in the film Argylle.
Image via Universal

Another frustrating thing about Cavill is that he — or his management, at least — seems to think only in terms of franchises. Whether it’s Chad Stahelski’s Highlander reboot, the aforementioned Warhammer 40,000 project, or even Matthew Vaughn’s misguided Argylle, for Cavill, it’s all about the IP. This would seem like a surefire way to become a movie star, but times have changed. Audiences are less forgiving of Hollywood’s shameless attempts at franchise-building, as the failure of projects like ArgylleIndiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, and over half the superhero content proves.

The issue with Cavill’s attempts is one that I’ve long noticed in his career. There’s a desperation to his cinematic efforts that makes them seem sillier than they are. Each movie very much feels like a calculated attempt to prove Cavill’s worth as a star, and while this is true of most actor’s career choices, they seem more overtly cynical in Cavill’s case. This makes it easier to lampoon them when they fail, which is precisely the case with Argylle. Those who’ve seen the film know his role amounts to little more than an extended cameo, yet his insistence to be front and center turned him into the poster child for its failure.

Ironically, for Cavill to rise to leading man, A-list status, he needs to embrace not being one. It might be easy to think of stars as one-trick ponies, but audiences don’t like their icons to be static. Think of the last surviving movie stars — Cruise, Bullock, Roberts, Reeves. They have defined personas, but they’re also unafraid to try new things: new roles, new genres, new themes. They play leading and supporting roles alike, mixing and matching, even if it’s always within the niche they carved for themselves.

This is exactly what’s missing in Cavill’s career: variety. The stoic, ever-perfect, dashing thing has gotten old, especially when the roles that called for that are ancient history. Argylle was maybe, kinda, sorta an attempt to introduce some levity to his résumé, and I applaud him for trying. But why on Earth didn’t he embrace the cameo nature of his role instead of having his face plastered on every piece of marketing material? Learn to cover your tracks, Henry!

What’s next for Henry Cavill?

Henry Cavill as Gus March-Phillips looking intently off-camera in The Ministry of Ungeltenmanly Warfare.
Image via Lionsgate

Right now, Cavill is at a crossroads; having lost his two high-profile roles, he is searching for his next big thing. The thing is, he shouldn’t be; he should be taking this time to expand his career, to work with exciting directors and attempt new roles. Think of the three absolute best Henry Cavill roles: Charles Brandon in The Tudors, Napoleon Solo in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and August Walker in Mission: Impossible -Fallout. These are three distinctive roles, both leading and supporting, that showcase his persona while adapting it depending on the story.

Cavill is a prime candidate for a reinvention … or the closest thing to one, at least. His persona is well-defined; he just needs to play with it more. Surprisingly, two of his upcoming projects can achieve this. Guy Ritchie’s The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare hints at a new, sillier side to Cavill, something we truly haven’t seen from him. Meanwhile, Stahelski’s Highlander will reinforce the actor’s action credentials while maybe even cementing him as a romantic lead (unlikely, but possible).

You know what he really needs? A rom-com. Genes as good as Cavill’s shouldn’t be wasted on sexless action flicks. What about a musical? Nothing about Cavill screams song-and-dance-man, but if Ryan Gosling proved anything, it’s that audiences can be forgiving if the leading man is charming enough. He also needs to play a villain again, desperately so. Get on the phone with James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli and make it happen, Henry!

Bottom line, Cavill needs to stop chasing the star title and focus on perfecting his persona. He has the looks and talent to be a movie star, but apparently not the drive or the business smarts. Get yourself new representation, Henry, and you should be fine. But time is of the essence here, as audiences can only be so forgiving. One or two more flops, and you’ll be doomed to the movie star cemetery populated by the Taylor Kitsches and Clive Owens of this world. So get your act together, Henry, because we’re all rooting for you.

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