THE HAIRIEST PROBLEM with “Justice League,” which opens today, is cleanly represented by the great and disturbing case of the missing whiskers.
Because Superman, who died at the end of last year’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” inevitably appears in flashback in the new film, it is no plot spoiler to comment on Henry Cavill’s countenance. And occasionally, in “Justice League,” what an alarmingly askew face it is. Don’t fault DNA; blame the CGI.
Instead of “the uncanny valley,” it’s a jarring instance of “the unwieldly lip.”
In case you missed the kerfuffle over Cavill’s summer ‘stache, it went like this: New “Justice League” director Joss Whedon needed extensive reshoots done, but Cavill had grown a mustache for his character in the forthcoming “Mission: Impossible 6,” and that movie’s studio, Paramount, reportedly would not allow the actor to shave for his return to Gotham.
The result: At times, Cavill’s clean upper lip is a digital creation that visually misses to a shocking degree. As if wearing misshapen clay, he doesn’t look quite like himself.
Still, it’s a whiskered whiff that only hints at the film’s thorniest problem: Most of the worst sins of “Justice League” involve CGI.
The sludgier shots in the fight scenes? They fail because of bad digital paint jobs. The MacGuffin that is a united “mother box” energy force? The pixels needed to be pushed to sharper artistic levels. And easily the worst optic crime of all, the war-loving villain Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds, somewhere beneath all the CGI) is an underwhelming mess of woeful digital design.
And these failings are cast into especially high relief because most of the time, the humans of “Justice League” are just fine.
Ray Fisher, as Cyborg, is able to convey laser-like intensity. Jason Momoa, as Aquaman, brings an easy bro-vado to the team, and Ezra Miller, as the Flash, is wide-eyed innocent and winning motormouth.
As the leaders of the League, Ben Affleck’s Batman is convincing as a slowly deteriorating husk of a hero, and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is a perpetual revelation — her camera-holding incandescence requires no special digital effect.
Plus, when Whedon and solo credited director Zack Snyder dial down the CGI some, the actors generally nail their punch lines with true chemistry and charisma.
Snyder may be a visual auteur, but “Justice League” often trips over its green screen.
Thankfully, the actors are nimble when not overwhelmed by the villainous painted pixels — even Cavill, who escapes by a hair.