Friday, June 17, 2011

Green Lantern

Alternate Title:  An Actor's Day, A Writer's Night, A Decent Film, but not too Bright

One sentence synopsis:  A test pilot is chosen by an intergalactic corps of superhero defenders to protect Earth from the living embodiment of Fear.

Things Havoc liked:  Green Lantern is a high concept, in almost every way. The comic is about a semi-omnipotent superbeing who can conjure anything he can imagine into reality in order to fight evil. Though I'm hardly an expert on the Green Lantern mythos, the notion has always been one of high concept space opera mated to superhero comics. The hero is incredibly powerful, the villains are cosmic-scale, the battles world-devouring in their scope. Much of the reason for this is that the comic, moreso than many of the contemporary ones, is hammy as all hell, and needs to cover for it by going all the way. Green Lantern has a magic poem he has to recite after all, and if you're going to sell magic poems, you really have to sell them absolutely. No sly winking to the audience, no holding back. The key to movies like this (as evidenced by Thor, among others) is absolute sincerity.

Ryan Reynolds is not a name I would normally have associated with Hal Jordan. Until this film, I don't know that I've ever seen him before. However, in this film, he manifests the proper sincerity that is necessary for someone to be a convincing Green Lantern. Not knowing the comic terribly well, I can't speak to the "fidelity" of the portrayal, but he did manage to convince me that he could be both a test pilot, and ultimately, even a superhero. Known mostly for romantic comedy roles (which I avoid like the plague), Reynolds is able to successfully turn what I must assume to be natural charm on in this film, and manifests the proper sense of wonder, awe, and eagerness that makes the film breathe. It is not an easy feat to recite the Green Lantern oath on film and make it sound credible. Reynolds has to do it twice.

We live in an age where good special effects are not even remarkable anymore, but even by those standards, those in Green Lantern are top notch. They do not commit the terrible sin of simply piling image upon image, and even give us a pretty memorable vision of a villain in the form of Parallax the World Destroyer. The Green Lantern suit seems real, and the conjurations that he and the other Lanterns produce have heft and weight to them.

The supporting cast in this film is very high caliber, which works to the film's advantage. Peter Sarsgaard, an excellent actor, plays Hector Hammond, one of the antagonists of the film, and brings creepy life to a fairly pedestrian character. Sinestro, not yet evil, is played by the always-dependable Mark Strong, who seems to be channeling David Niven (not a bad thing). Smaller roles are given to veteran, excellent actors such as Tim Robbins, Angela Bassett, and the voices of none other than Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan. As a result, some of the scenes and lines that would not normally work are able to garner a pass due to the caliber of actor delivering them.

Things Havoc disliked:   Some of the scenes that don't work get a pass. Not all. Not even most.

This film's screenplay needed another six months in the oven. Some of the individual lines, and even a couple of scenes, are actually pretty good, but overall the plot, while coherent (not as easy as it sounds with a Green Lantern movie), is lackadaisical at best. The exposition, while not the worst I've ever seen, is very clunky. Thor had no less of a fantastical setting to establish, but did so effortlessly, while in this movie we clearly encounter the dreaded "Designated Exposition Scene" more than once, and not even Geoffrey Rush's narration can carry us over it.

Worse yet, the entire movie is comprised of one long set of Daddy Issues, which are established ham-handedly and without skill in a series of jarring flashback scenes and awkward Villain-Exposition-Moments. Hal Jordan misses his dead father. Hector Hammond resents his successful one. Green Lantern is about imagination and awe, and the one thing a film version should not be is formulaic and predictable. The tired old cliches of "Why doesn't my father love me?" and "How do I overcome my fear" have not only been done to death, but more importantly, have been done much better and with more wit and care than this. I don't mind if a character doesn't know his true potential for courage or resents his father. There's a reason these concepts keep getting re-used, after all. But give me something interesting and worth caring about when they do these things, characters who are smart enough to retain my interest and written well enough to make me pay attention. Don't just go through the motions, especially in a film like this.

The lack of originality unfortunately spills over into the Lantern's powers. Green Lantern can literally create anything he can think of out of pure force of will. Not only is this a tremendous power, but it allows the screenwriters to completely go to town. Unfortunately, they don't go very far. One or two moments of conjuration were inventive enough to make me smirk (I kind of liked him getting sick of Sinestro's bullshit in the sparring session and pulling out a minigun), but the majority of Hal's conjurations are exactly what you'd expect him to use. Someone fights you? Get a big fist. Someone shoots at you? Make a shield. Green Lantern is about flights of wild imagination and fantasy. Give us something truly breathtaking, not springs and toy catapults.

Finally, in a movie with excellent actors, someone who just isn't up to par is gonna stand out all the worse. Blake Lively, who plays the most obvious "designated damsel in distress" I've seen in a while, is one such sub-par actress. She's not terrible, but unlike the rest of the cast, she doesn't have the chops to surpass the mediocre writing that's fed to her.

Final thoughts:  Green Lantern, at it's heart, is a mediocre movie elevated somewhat by the sincerity of the lead actor and the skill of the supporting cast. It's not a bad film, but it is a very forgettable film, which given the subject matter, is almost worse. Reynolds tries to evoke the epic, sweeping scale of the material with his acting, and does a legitimately credible job, but he is hamstrung by bad screenplay decisions, ugly exposition, and pace-grinding "introspective" moments accompanied by terrible show-don't-tell violations. Some lines, and even some scenes in this movie seem to hint at a far better film than this one was, but overall, the movie never manages to rise above decency. If they ever made a sequel to this movie, it might well be significantly better than this one, as the backstory and exposition would not be necessary. Unfortunately, given the overall quality of this movie, I would not rate that as a strong likelihood.

Final Score:  5.5/10

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