Light, mustache-related spoilers for Justice League below.
When you’re discussing Justice League, the most important term to know won’t be in any DCEU explainers. That word is “philtrum,” a term I found when I exited the theater Googling, “skin between nose and top lip.” According to my research, the philtrum is that exact vertical groove (Rihanna has a great one). My middle-school English teacher told me to never open any formal piece of writing with a definition, but I’m grown now and no longer beholden to her red pen, and “philtrum” might come in handy when you’re wondering just what the hell is going on above Henry Cavill’s top lip: Exactly one minute and 30 seconds into Justice League, a crime is committed against Henry Cavill’s face that not even Superman can fix, and that crime is the distortion of his philtrum, the misconfiguration of his blessed top lip.
Before we get into the specifics, let’s talk about why Superman is even in this film in the first place. Superman dies at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League’s cold open shows some found footage from before Superman was coffin-bound. In the grainy clip, Superman (Cavill) is living, breathing, and fresh from saving the day from an unseen horror. A group of teens off-camera catch him in a moment of vulnerability, peppering him with questions. When they ask him what he loves about Earth, he ponders an answer but cannot reach a conclusion — his silence is half funny (what’s not to love about our dying planet?) and half somber (sweetheart, the easy answer here is “Amy Adams”).
But any meaning implied in that pregnant pause will deflate entirely when your eyes fall upon the few square inches of the frame that hold Cavill’s philtrum, a pocket of skin that Justice League has rendered utterly unrecognizable. What mishap has begotten Henry Cavill’s impossibly chiseled face?, you’ll ask yourself. Is Superman is on his way to cosplay Beethoven’s Third? Because that jaw — usually with edge so sharp it could pick a lock as SWV’s “Weak” plays on repeat — seems somehow inflated, uncanny. Something is … wrong.
The probable reason behind this strange digital nightmare? Cavill’s face — which I can exclusively report was co-designed by God herself and an Abercrombie-educated casting agent — was the subject of a bitter custody battle between Paramount, which produced the upcoming Mission: Impossible 6 and Warner Bros., which has gifted us Justice League. Cavill grew a mustache (which Ben Affleck later called a “full-on porn-star moustache”) for MI: 6, and Paramount wouldn’t let him shave it when he returned to Metropolis for Joss Whedon’s Justice League reshoots. This meant the mouthbrow would have to be digitally removed in post-production, which was rumored to have cost millions of dollars.
Cavill himself addressed the “moustache fiasco” in an Instagram from this summer: “It is not a question of IF I should shave — it is a question of how can we possibly be victorious against such a beast without bringing our own doom raining down upon us.”
That doom has finally arrived, and the loser here, reader, is us: Instead of the glorious mustache that was destined to launch a thousand thirst Tumblrs, some poor VFX intern at Warner Bros. has delivered a Superman that looks as jowly as Winston Churchill. In that cold open, it’s almost like an entire section of his face is at once out of focus and puffy, like an early-morning selfie. If those heavy cheeks and the nonexistent top lip make you think you’ve stumbled into a screening of The Darkest Hour, do not fret. You’re in Justice League, and due for a darkest one hour and 59 minutes.
I have love and sympathy in my heart for the Superman mustache that was removed from this narrative, one that I very much wanted him to be a part of. Wouldn’t it be nice if Superman were raised from the dead with just a little bit of a sexy bad-boy edge? Amy Adams doesn’t have an Oscar, but the chance to nuzzle this would have been a welcome consolation. Instead, though, Superman is risen (hallelujah!) with an uncanny-valley thesis statement resting on his top lip — and we are all diminished for it.