Monday, July 11, 2011

Review: "Green Lantern"

Green just hasn't been working for superheroes this year. After the middling response (and box-office) of The Green Hornet back in January, 2011 geared up for its second masked man in green, the significantly more popular Green Lantern. Unfortunately, Martin Campell's film, starring Ryan Reynolds as the titular hero, falls short of being heroic, even though it's not quite the disaster that some reviews have made it out to be.

Now, I'm no expert on comic books, but from what research I've done on the Green Lantern, the comic essentially has several different storylines, each one focusing on a different human being chosen to join the intergalactic Green Lantern Corps. Which one is considered the best? The most popular? The best fit for the big screen? I have no idea. All I know is that Warner Brothers chose to go with one of the more prominent story threads, centered around American test pilot Hal Jordan (Reynolds). Opening with some efficient narration courtesy of Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush), we learn about the Lantern Corps, and how they protect the universe by harnessing the green power of will. Consequently, the Corps' greatest threat was an entity known as Parallax, which fed on the yellow energy of fear. As the story proper begins, we see that Abin Sur (Temuera 'Jango Fett' Morrison), the Lantern who first imprisoned Parallax, attacked by the entity, as it has broken out of its celestial prison thanks to an all too convenient accident. They really couldn't have locked him/her/it up in something more surefire and secure?

Despite this, the opening is surprisingly fun, and does a decent job of making us comfortable with the reality being established. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Green Lantern does a better job of immersing its audience in its world and mythology than the significantly better-received Thor. When Hal is taken to Oa, the home planet of the Lantern Corps, the movie reaches its high points. The design is vibrant but not cheesy, the special effects (which were torn apart after the release of the first trailer) are shiny, but convincing enough, and the look feels coherent. Space is also where we're introduced to a subplot involving Sinestro (Mark Strong), a high-ranking Lantern who, out of desperation, suggests that the Lantern Corps could try to harness Fear to use against Parallax. The movie has all of the right ingredients for a fun and compelling space opera, one that could easily fill out a fun little trilogy of connected stories.

Unfortunately, the earth-bound sections of the movie are here to send this hugely expensive enterprise grinding to a halt. Initially, they aren't a problem. The establishment of Hal as something of a wild card fighter pilot (albeit a supremely talented one) is handled decently, almost like a lightweight Tony Stark. And Mr. Reynolds, who is primarily known for mid-level comedies, actually does a solid job with the role. If only that pesky script wasn't there mucking everything up. As the story progresses, events become increasingly jumpy, and Hal's sudden decision to give up on the chance to be a Lantern is done too quickly and without any sense of dramatic heft. The film also takes the conflict of Will vs. Fear to rather silly extremes, essentially reducing the meaning of these two forces to a conflict of those who Do, and those who Think. Turns out that those pesky thinkers are the bad guys, and they're represented by Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), who's as wimpy (and eventually ugly) as Hal is handsome and ripped. I'm glad that Warner Bros is here to teach us such a valuable lesson. Remember kids, if you think too hard, you end up being a simpering scientist who fails to get the girl and grows a creepy pedophile 'stache.

And as the film moves along, sometimes swiftly, sometimes moderately, and the actors are dragged through the mess that is the screenplay, the disappointment starts to sink in. This is not soul-crushing, embarrassing cinema (though there are some very strange and silly lines of dialogue). Rather, it's just unimaginative and too lightweight for its own good. I'm not even going to bother with the odd little contradictions in the plot, because they don't feel worth the discussion. What's worse is that a superhero whose power holds the vastness of the imagination at its core, has been adapted for the silver screen with such basic results. Even worse is that Rush's character actually has a line telling Hal that his powers are only limited by his imagination. Unfortunately for the movie, imagination is one key component that's sorely lacking. This is made that much more annoying to endure simply because there are elements Green Lantern that either work or have lots of potential. Unfortunately, for all of the money thrown at this project (and, to be fair, every cent of the budget is on screen), this latern produces only a faint glow, when it could have shone so brightly among a sea of lackluster super hero franchise hopefuls.

Grade: C/C-

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