Computer generated special effects have been a staple in Hollywood blockbusters since the early the 1970s. Films like Westworld and its sequel Futureworld both dabbled in creating images on film that were rendered in a computer, which at the time was revolutionary. While the quality of these works certainly can’t hold a candle the CGI creatures and worlds being projects up on the big screen these days, early adopters set a new standard for how movies would be made for the next forty years, for better or worse.
These days, CGI is used for everything, from creating fantastical worlds to erasing mustaches from handsome faces. There really isn’t much that can’t be done with a powerful enough computer. But just because it can be done, doesn’t mean it should be. In the age of superhero films and high concept action adventure books being turned into blockbusters, audiences are getting the chance to see characters and worlds brought to life in ways they had never imagined. If you had told us fifteen years ago that we’d be seeing Thanos grace the silver screen in all his purple scowling glory one day, we would have scoffed at the idea.
But no character is too complex, too bizarre or too larger-than-life to be rendered into a film anymore. The issue with some of these characters coming to life is when their inclusion becomes a distraction due to lack of detail or lazy animation they can almost derail a film. And fast.
Gods and Monsters
It’s often said that a hero’s story is only as good as its villain. When you consider the iconic antagonists of films like The Dark Knight, Marvel’s The Avengers, and the original Star Wars trilogy (and its canonical sequels), that notion gains a lot of credence. We’d be remiss to note that with these examples, the villains are tangible human beings in costume for most of their screen time. Other films with villains that are mostly (if not all) CGI usually do not have the same lasting effect on their audiences.
One of the prime examples of this is Steppenwolf. There’s no sense of menace from the big bad in Justice League. Sure, lack of story development is partially to blame in this case, but the fact that there was not so much as even an inclining of a human face behind those dead CGI eyes made him arguably the most toothless villain the DCEU has ever had, which is saying quite a bit considering their track record. Now, if Steppenwolf was actually a guy in actual armor who actually fought other actors, would it have made Justice League any better? Seeing as how divisive the film was among fans, it’s hard to say, but if the way Hades was rendered in Wonder Woman is any indication, maybe it would have.
Wonder Woman is often regarded as not only the best offering from the DCEU, but one of the best superhero movies to come out in the last decade. But despite of the well-earned heaps of praise thrown on top of film, the one criticism that many fans keep coming back to is the final fight in the film, which devolves into Diana fighting a giant CGI brute obscured by partial effects. It’s a fight scene that almost takes the audience out of the film in the eleventh hour. Luckily it wasn’t enough to tank the film as a whole. We wish we could say the same thing about Doomsday in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. That turkey was set to roast well before Batman barked “Martha!” at Supes like a rabid Rottweiler chasing after a mailman.