Sunday, June 19, 2011

Review: Green Lantern

As Marvel continues its successful roll out of films featuring the likes of Thor, X-Men and Captain America, DC finally brings a new entry from its library—Green Lantern. The hero is certainly well known to the fanbase and has enjoyed some spectacular storylines in print over the last few years. He's easily one of DC's big four (that includes Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman), but is less known to the general movie-going public. His backstory is dense and his powers require a lot more explanation, which makes this a challenge from the start. Special effects have reached the point to do him and his world justice, so I was really looking forward to a new DC character brought to life outside of Superman and Batman. Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed by the wasted potential of the film.

Green Lantern is the obligatory origin story, which always brings its own set of problems delaying a lot of the plot and action of the film. Ryan Reynolds is Hal Jordan, a talented but irresponsible test pilot who has had a fling with childhood friend Carol Ferris, who is also the daughter of the owner of Ferris Aircraft where he works. While he seems to screw up a lot of things, he's brought into the greater universe of the Green Lantern Corps when a dying alien choses him to wield the ring of their intergalactic peacekeeping force for Earth's sector of space. The crash also affects an introverted scientist, Hector Hammond, while the big threat and cause of it all remains in space, challenging the universe and the Green Lantern Corps at large.

I'll start with the good—the cast. I can't find anything wrong to say with the choices, especially Reynolds as Hal Jordan. He pulls it off quite well and there's never a moment where I found myself thinking he was behaving too silly or out of character from the source material. Equally good is Mark Strong as Sinestro, who has a tough job carrying that name, pink skin, pointy ears and mustache, without looking like a farce. Because it's make up and not CGI, his look comes across much more real than his rendered aliens peers. Carol Ferris, while never a very compelling character in the comics, is played capably by Blake Lively. Finally,  Peter Sarsgaard is Hector Hammond, who brings a suitable sliminess to this malformed villain. Green Lantern is directed by Martin Campbell (who also did Casino Royale).

A few logical liberties have been taken with the material to make it more streamlined. The very complex backstory with Parallax and the yellow energy of fear has been made tighter and more cohesive for the story, which works very well.

While the Green Lantern Corps and its 3600 members are a treat as far as cameos and imaginative alien lifeforms, problems arise with the general look of the film. It's a mixed bag, as the emerald energy needs its CGI. The costuming generally gets the notion of the organic look of the energy right, but it doesn't always translate well on screen. The space vistas looked great, but as soon as a glowing green alien flew around it couldn't hold that realism.

While watching I was continually comparing the natural look of Superman Returns' flying scenes to Hal Jordan's glowing video game style shots. Ryan Reynolds seemed to stick out like a sore thumb among these artificial environments and background aliens. Tomar-Re and Kilowog (famous characters from the comics) were welcome additions, but didn't fit well with a real human actor in the same frame. 

The movie begins with an opening narration explaining some things  (compare it to Thor, for example) but the ominous tone of the opening scene didn't carry forward through the rest of the two hours. Having just seen X-Men: First Class I was continually making comparisons to this successful Marvel counterpart with its rich narrative and equally thick backstory. Green Lantern comes across as sterile in many ways, highly rendered and soulless (like The Phantom Menace). 

An origin shouldn't appear rushed. After the opening scene set up the movie, events take place over the course of a few days, which is a mistake, given the epic level  threat and the universe crossing escapades. Can the audience buy in that Hal can learn how to use the ring after a couple of training sessions on Oa?

A second issue is the power of the Green Lantern itself—the Corps' abilities didn't receive any greater explanation aside from the strength of willpower. That leaves the hero's vulnerabilities up in the air when it came to fighting Hector Hammond and Parallax. Why would one punch connect and not another? Does yellow cancel out green? Doesn't the ring protect him at all times?

A case in point—there's a moment where Hal creates a green necklace for Carol. Throughout the scene as they were talking I was distracted wondering how long the construct would last. Sure enough, it had disappeared without any comment by the next scene. I would be interested to know what a general audience would take away from that.

I generally have difficulty with the realistic portrayal of disbelief when a character in a movie like this is faced with a lot of overwhelming information—existence of aliens, drafted into an intergalactic police corps, able to make his thoughts reality—but Hal seems to take it all really well, including a warp speed trip through space. Aside from a few "wows" it's just another day for him it seems. And we're specifically told by Amanda Waller that there's been no alien contact in this world (so much for Superman).

While I enjoyed the characters, the final act and main mash up with the movie's villains pretty much started a downward trend for me. The battle scenes were few and far between and not memorable at all. Something as epic and star-spanning as this needs a big climax. Had the story been strong and complex enough, the visual problems could easily have been overlooked, but Green Lantern just lacks imagination, and that's what the hero is all about.

Some elements really stuck out for me as big mistakes. The point of no return seemed to be when Hal addressed the Guardians with Sinestro and gave his "I'm only human" speech. After that, he went on to single-handedly dispatch Parallax by tossing him into the sun after several experienced Lanterns had been killed in previous attempts. Let's not forget that Hal is barely a rookie, yet he can somehow walk around with Lanterns who are far superior fighters than him and manages to save the entire Corps.

Yes, Hal is one of the greatest Green Lanterns. But he isn't supposed to be in this movie. And while the writers felt that Hal needed to save the day without calling in back up, that really boxed the threat of Parallax into a relatively minor inconvenience and made the rest of the Corps look inept.

So this has been a disappointment, to say the least. Warner Brothers really needs to take a page from Marvel and see what they're doing right with their characters. An adult story does matter. A lot of flash and CGI does not. I'm hoping Green Lantern at least makes enough money to warrant a sequel which could rescue this hero and bring a proper, memorable Sinestro/Hal Jordan battle to the screen (as evidenced by the end credits easter egg).

I would recommend Green Lantern as light-hearted entertainment with some interesting visuals. You certainly won't get The Dark Knight, or even Superman Returns. Those who are fans and those just looking for something a little different (a super-hero in space) may get a kick out of it, but I found myself talking much more about X-Men: First Class when I left the theatre.

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