The distinctly alien design of Justice League‘s villain Steppenwolf makes a bit more sense, now that the actor playing the part confirms he never set foot on set – or met his heroic co-stars. That’s not unheard of in the modern realm of superhero films, especially with Wonder Woman recently pitting star Gal Gadot against an oversized, digitally-enhanced villain of her own. That’s a trend set to continue with Ciaran Hinds’s Steppenwolf, although there’s still a chance that parts of the villain will be based on actual on-set performers. But as for Hinds, upon whom the performance is actually based… it’s motion capture only.
Given the information revealed about the film in early reports and official trailers, nobody expected Hinds to play the character in every scene. Not with Steppenwolf attacking Earth in Justice League‘s prologue, or waging war against Jason Momoa’s Aquaman and Atlantis. But it seems that Wonder Woman may be a perfect sign of what fans should expect from the movie’s use of performance-fueled digital wizardry.
Hinds described the performance, along with a few new details of this “old, tired” Steppenwolf while speaking on BBC’s Michael Ball Show (hat tip to Reddit for catching the interview). Apologizing for the fact that he showed up without the impressive Steppenwolf armor now revealed in toy sets, the actor revealed that no such costume ever existed:
“I’m sorry I’m not in costume. I didn’t even have a costume when I was doing it. It’s all done in motion capture. So… they stick a helmet on your head, they put two cameras around, and they capture all your expressions, facial expressions. So basically, they’re going to concoct some kind of construction and they will use my facial expressions – eyes, mouth, voice – they’ll turn into this murderous, avenging Steppenwolf from the planet Apokolips, apparently. Who’s bent on Hell on Earth.”
There will of course be some fans who had wished that Steppenwolf – no matter who played him – would be able to interact with the actual cast members for the sake of chemistry, gravitas, or an intangible sense of integrity, if nothing else. Modern CG-fueled blockbusters, even beyond superhero films have made that a less common luxury, and the results have varied from challenging to completely imperceptible. It’s also worth pointing out that at this point, the actual amount of scenes or screen time shared between Steppenwolf and the heroes of the Justice League is unknown. If Steppenwolf is going to be carrying out lengthy dialogues with the heroes, it’s a different issue than is he simply appears for a final, mindblowing battle.
It’s also possible that Steppenwolf’s army of Parademons and mighty axe will be the real antagonists, with DC Films saving the more pensive, engaging villain for Darkseid himself in a potential sequel. Whatever the case, it sounds like the villain of Justice League will only be meeting the stars when the premiere rolls around:
“No, I don’t know whether they’re all afraid to come and meet me– no, no they weren’t, really. Because it’s imaginary, you do it with green screen… That was another challenge, you could say, yeah. But it was quite fun. And they’re very encouraging in what you do, suggesting ‘Over here, look over there, imagine that, do this here, they’re coming at you now.’”
Fans will have no choice but to wait to see for themselves how much Hinds’s dramatic performance influences Steppenwolf’s effectiveness as a villain. In the meantime, his description of the villain as “murderous, avenging,” and “bent on Hell on Earth” is more aggressive sounding than his previous description of Steppenwolf as “old and tired.” It seems that no matter how eager Justice League‘s villain may be to get out from under Darkseid’s brutal rule, he’s just as eager to conquer worlds until the day he is freed.
Bad news for Earth. Great news for movie fans. What do you movie fans think? Does the distance between the cast and the villain they’re playing against seem like an unfortunate decision, or have you accepted it as a common occurrence in today’s star-studded ‘event’ films?