Saturday, June 25, 2011

Green Lantern

With Marvel Studios doing such a good job (so far) establishing several comic book-inspired movie franchises (Iron Man, Thor, and X-Men, with Captain America and The Avengers on their way soon), it only makes sense for DC Comics to try and launch some of their heroes onto the big screen.  With Christopher Nolan's Batman series wrapping up next year and the stalled attempt to reboot a Wonder Woman TV show, the pressure was on Green Lantern to be the first major DC property (that wasn't Superman or Batman) to have success as a feature film.  Is this movie up to the challenge?  Well, they say that Green Lanterns know no fear, but unfortunately, courage isn't all you need to make an entertaining movie.

Eons ago, a bunch of powerful and blue-skinned aliens who apparently named themselves the Guardians of the Universe (boy, they sound like a fun bunch) found a way to harness the green (not eco-, just the color) energy of willpower as a means to police the universe.  The power of will is given off by all creatures, collected by these Guardians and channeled into green power lanterns, which in turn power green rings, which enable the users to do just about anything they can think of.  The universe is divided into over three thousand sectors, with each sector getting one Green Lantern Corp member to patrol the several galaxies that make up each sector.  But all is not well in Lantern Town; an evil entity named Parallax (voiced by Clancy Brown), an ancient foe of the Corps, has escaped his Green Lantern-devised imprisonment.
Witness the face of the voice of fear!
Parallax feeds on the yellow power of fear, leaving nothing but burned out husks in his wake, and his number one priority is to punish Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison, best known as Jango Fett in the Star Wars prequels), the Green Lantern that imprisoned him.
Well, if he has his own movie poster, he must be pretty important, right?  Right...?

I would like to point out that we haven't spent any time on Earth just yet.  That's not a big deal, but it's still a little strange.  Abin Sur gets ambushed by Parallax, who looks like an amorphous yellow-black cloud, and is fatally wounded.  Instead of seeking out medical attention, Pinkie and his (talking) ring opt to find his successor before he dies.  Wait...he's in the movie for only a few minutes and still gets his own movie poster?  That's like giving Thomas and Martha Wayne their own poster for The Dark Knight!  Whatever, fine.  Abin Sur and the ring wind up on Earth, where the ring chooses brash pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) to be the next Green Lantern.  Now, you might assume that this is a fish-out-of-water story where Hal goes into space to fight the big scary yellow cloud and seems completely out of his depth.  That's true, to some extent.  But there is also an Earthbound story in this movie, too.
Not the only time he looks like a doofus in the movie, trust me.

Hal is an irresponsible man whore (okay, that's a judgement call from a scene that is eerily similar to one in Iron Man) who spends his time being snarky and finding ways to show off his ripped abs.  He and Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) totally don't get along at all because she is tired of his man-childish ways --- you had better believe that these two will not go from mutually antagonistic to deeply in love within the space of two hours.  Not a chance.  Hal's problem is that he is afraid of big decisions and falling short when he is compared to his late father.  Getting a super powerful ring doesn't make his life easier; the greater the responsibility, the more likely it seems that he won't measure up.  Hal's not the only character with daddy issues in the movie, though.  Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a fairly dorky scientist, grew up with Hal and Carol and knows that his bookish ways have always been a disappointment to his politician father (Tim Robbins).  Hector gets the chance to do the initial inspection of Abin Sur's alien body and he manages to get pricked by a piece of yellow Parallax bits stuck in Abin's wound, which leads to some slight side effects.
Mmmaybe you should get that checked out, Hector.
So, on the one hand, we have Hal, who feels unworthy of controlling the power of will because he's afraid of failing.  On the other hand, we have Hector, who is tired of being lame and suddenly can tap into the yellowy power of fear.  And don't forget about all the aliens!  This is a busy movie!

In the lead role, I thought Ryan Reynolds did a pretty good job as the cocky Hal Jordan.  He was pretty likable and occasionally funny; I enjoyed seeing his figure out his powers as the movie progressed.  I don't know if I would have cast Reynolds --- who is as sarcastic as ever in this movie --- as a death-defying man of iron will, but he works well with the script.  Blake Lively, though, was a bit of a mess as his romantic interest.  I understand that playing a superhero's girlfriend essentially makes you a damsel in distress, which is never a flattering showcase for acting, but damn.  In the words of my wife, a "two-by-four with a brunette wig" would have been more entertaining.  Her part wasn't very hard --- she had to look pretty (mission accomplished) and partake in just a little bit of witty banter (Least natural.  Laugh.  Ever.), with a moment to show the depth of her emotion (mission aborted).  I will give her credit for not screaming in this movie, which is shocking, given her role.  Peter Sarsgaard did a good job playing a snivelly scientist, but I would have liked to see him be less of a weenie on his own turf or when he started gaining his powers.  I didn't particularly like his character, though.  And for every opportunity Lively had to give a damsel scream, Sarsgaard delivered two anguished moans, which got old quickly.  As for the rest of the cast, I really liked Mark Strong as Sinestro, the most powerful Green Lantern; Strong did a great job with a character that could have come across as simply a dick.  Instead, he made the character seem driven and burdened with responsibility, which is more complexity than I expected to get out of any of the aliens in this cast.  I liked the other aliens Green Lanterns, too, especially the fish-like Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush, who also narrated) and Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clark Duncan).  I was a little disappointed that Clancy Brown's voice acting skills were under-utilized, but that was no big deal.  Rounding out the cast, Tim Robbins, Angela Bassett, and Jay O. Sanders all play boring character roles.
Geoffrey Rush, out of costume.

As in most movies, especially blockbusters, there were some strong performances and some weak ones in Green Lantern.  But acting was never going to be what truly decided how good this movie would be.  Director Martin Campbell's job was to make Hal Jordan into a cool hero.  He's done it well in the past (two Bond movies), so you would think that this would be second nature to him.  I believe that he gave his best effort, but was overcome by a few difficulties.  Campbell made a truly fantastic visual spectacular, and I thought the CGI looked great, without a single cheap-looking moment; this was a bright and shiny superhero movie, no doubt about it.  There were certainly parts of the movie I really enjoyed; I thought the scenes set in space were all pretty cool and Ryan Reynolds gave a likable performance.
"Likable" in a "Smell me" kind of way.

And yet, this movie falls tragically short of being cool.  What's wrong with this film?  To put it bluntly, the story is a bright green steaming pile of crap.  Let's look at the story choices first; I'm not talking about the plot, just the way the story was written.  There is no reason for there to be so much back story in a superhero movie, especially before the audience is given a glimpse of the main character.  Wouldn't it have been way cooler for the audience and Hal Jordan to discover the galactic majesty of the Green Lantern Corps together?  As a space opera, Green Lantern is pretty solid.  It's those pesky Earthlings that screw up the movie. I was seriously disappointed in the ways Hal used his power ring; if the fish-looking alien can do cool stuff with his, why does the human Green Lantern have such a limited imagination?  That ring can do anything, and he resorts to giant green fists and guns?  To be fair, though, that is a problem that definitely exists in the comic, too (check this article for more info).  I hated the obvious story parallels between Hector Hammond, Hal Jordan, and the development of their powers; that was a lazy plot device to point out that Hal is a hero because overcoming fear is good.  And I thought that the character that fed on the fear of others would end up being the sympathetic hero!  What an insulting theme.  Hector Hammond's character also had waaaaay too much screen time.  Hammond, in this movie, is a henchman of Parallax; we learn about his childhood, his family, his job, and his lust.  This guy is a glorified Odd Job and he has more development than the big villain, Parallax.  That's a problem.

But the problems don't end with the ideas behind the story, they definitely made it into the plot.  What is Parallax's evil plan?  To destroy the Guardians of the Universe and the Green Lantern Corps.  Well, after he kills Abin Sur, he then waits for a few days, until Hal Jordan has time to come to travel across the universe a few times, doubt himself, and ultimately come to grips with his new responsibility.  Apparently, Parallax had underwear gnome logic.
In his case, Phase 1 was killing Abin Sur, Phase 3 was Destroying the Corps, and Phase 2 is where this movie takes place.  That is far from the only instance of extreme pointlessness by a character in this movie.  Hal finally decides to grow a pair and fight the yellow cloud thing to protect the Earth, but he can't do it alone.  He travels to the Guardians and asks for help, but is refused any.  So, what does the guy who traveled across the universe to get help because he can't defeat his enemy alone do?  He asks permission to face his enemy alone.  What?!?  That's the stuff of headaches, my friends.  And at least Hal left his planet undefended with the yellow apocalypse on its way to make that scene happen.  **face palm**  Perhaps the most frustrating plot line involved Sinestro, who was a pretty cool character.  SPOILER ALERT: Sinestro decides to fight fire with fire and has the Guardians create a yellow ring to channel the power of fear in his fight against Parallax.  The ring is made, and is handed to Sinestro.  And he never uses it.  If this movie had to have two villains, I would have much preferred to see Sinestro as the tough drill sergeant-type antagonist, using the yellow ring and failing, corrupting himself in the process.  But nooooo, we needed Hector "Lumpy" Hammond to lurch his way across the screen.
Many possibilities, few actualized.

As much as this movie frustrated me, I have to admit that it was mediocre dumb fun (emphasis on the "dumb").  It looked gorgeous and had a few pretty cool characters, and lots of things went boom.  There were several moments where I was entertained, although most of them were not terribly relevant to the larger plot.  And it definitely could have been worse.  That doesn't mean that this ridiculously ill-conceived story is anything less than an enormous disappointment, both for fans of the comic and people looking to enjoy some cosmic-level movie fun.  Ultimately, this mess gets a disappointing

By the way, am I the only person who hated Hal Jordan's Green Lantern costume?  I was fine with the glowing stuff, but I thought the mask was awful and the choice to make it skintight was downright peculiar.  The ring presumably makes a suit to fit the personality of the wearer, right?  Well, how vain is Hal Jordan if he needs a costume that flaunts his butt and abdominal muscles at all times?  I get that Ryan Reynolds is an astonishing hunk, but that uniform was tighter than Catwoman's.


  1. Bahhhhhh.... I thought for a minute you MIGHT be the one other person on the planet who LIKED this movie with me. You started out so positively!

    Alas, it was not to be. LOL

    I'm sticking to my guns, I know I'm in the EXTREME minority, but I really liked this movie. Good review though. Off to check out more!

  2. I read your review and we agree on a lot of points. Except for the whole "story sucking" part. No biggie. The script was a mess, but they could still potentially make a good sequel.