Saturday, June 18, 2011

DAMN Good Movies -- GREEN LANTERN


Here we go, time once again for another of my infamous movie takes, this time focusing my willpower on the film Green Lantern, based on the classic DC Comics character.  As always, if you haven't seen the movie yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, then for crying out loud, please stop reading now.  If, however, you're wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more interesting than the ones without them...well...Beware my power...

As anyone who's been paying attention knows, Marvel Comics has been owning their main competitor DC Comics when it comes to superhero film adaptations in recent years.  Hell, all you have to do is look at Marvel's three films this summer compared to DC's one to realize that.  Oh sure, DC and parent company Warner Brothers have been great about putting out Batman films and every so often you'll get a Superman film or once in a blue moon, even something like Watchmen.  But by and large, DC hasn't been able to launch film franchises for their main non-Batman and non-Superman characters the way Marvel has.  So apparently borrowing Marvel's format of building upon the success of one character's film, such as Iron Man, DC and Warner Bros. are presumably hoping to use Green Lantern to finally get film projects going for Wonder Woman, The Flash or potentially even the Justice League of America.

Producers tapped Martin Campbell, a talented action director noted for such films as The Mask of Zorro and two great James Bond movies, GoldenEye and Casino Royale (2006).  Even comics writer Geoff Johns, now DC's Chief Creative Officer, became a Co-Producer of the film, bringing his well-received reinvention of the Green Lantern mythos over the past six years to the table.  Some pretty good moves there, certainly reason to give hardcore Green Lantern fans hope that all will be well.  And despite some early missteps on building box office buzz, such as a somewhat disappointing Entertainment Weekly cover and the first trailer that emphasized humorous aspects of the film, the Green Lantern hype machine went into overdrive to convince everyone that everything's fine, situation normal, we're all fine here now, thank you...How are you?

For Green Lantern to truly succeed, though, it falls upon screenwriters Greg Bertlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg to streamline decades of Green Lantern storylines and continuity into a narrative newcomers can easily follow.  The film starts off with Xudarian Green Lantern Tomar-Re giving a healthy amount of narrated backstory to open the film, hoping that geekish fans who enjoyed Galadriel rattling off something similar at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring will find this stuff just as interesting.  As a result, the audience doesn't get to first experience the wonder of the Green Lantern mythos through Hal Jordan's eyes and any such storytelling impact is abruptly lost.

When John Broome and Gil Kane created Hal Jordan in the Silver Age of 1959, they started his origin off with a dying Abin Sur sending a beam of emerald energy from his Power Battery to find his successor.  The two meet, the power ring and battery are passed on, Abin Sur dies, and Hal Jordan flies off to do all sorts of Green Lanterny things.  It's very straightforward, very simple to grasp, nicely emotional if handled well, and ultimately lost on this film's screenwriters.  To be fair, they do try to make you care about Hal, playing up his dead dad issues and showing that under his cocky test pilot bravado, he's just as insecure about himself as you are.

All the excessive CGI effects don't help, either.  Thor had a heavy amount as well, but balanced them with some nicely elaborate set pieces that made the film feel far more real and believable than Green Lantern does.  Because everything set in space or on the planet Oa is CGI, including the other aliens in the Green Lantern Corps with the exception of Sinestro, you feel like Hal steps into an animated world every time he leaves Earth.  Some of the shots of Oa are impressive, don't get me wrong, but you have to wonder how much more impressive they would have been if some of the structures didn't look like something straight out of the Green Lantern video game.

Another considerable problem is the lack of a solid menace for Hal to fight.  Yeah, he has Parallax and Hector Hammond to deal with, but do you really care about what they do or what happens to them?  Parallax is little more than a glorified take on Galactus from Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer that was shrugged off by fans as the far less imposing "Cloudactus."  Hector Hammond, meanwhile, looks more like Ned Flanders meets The Elephant Man and you half-expect him to go "I am not an animal...I am a super-villain!"  No, the real menace to Hal is obviously Sinestro, but as shown in the post-credits sequence where he gets his spiffy yellow Sinestro Corps uniform, he's being saved for a sequel that may never come if the box office doesn't justify it.

Ultimately, however, Martin Campbell tells the story he's given as well as he probably can.  The film moves along at a decent pace, doesn't drag considering the one hour, forty-five-minute running time, has a nice albeit unremarkable score by James Newton Howard, and introduces everything it's supposed to introduce.  There's nothing here as painful as dancing Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3 to make you wince or make you think you're watching a Joel Schumacher Batman movie by mistake.  You're just a bit frustrated with this movie, because you know that with some fine-tuning here and there, it could've been something really special.

So what about the performances from the cast?  Well, as you might expect, I have a few thoughts here and there, so this is what I noticed...

GREEN LANTERN/HAL JORDAN -- Ryan Reynolds has to carry most of the film on his entire CGI-suited back and for the most part, he does a solid job of it.  He could've easily turned Hal into an arrogant douche, but makes him charmingly cocky without overselling things.  I have to wonder how other actors like Star Trek's Chris Pine or Super 8's Kyle Chandler would've done in the role, but Reynolds certainly looks and acts the part and has the build to bring in his admirers.  If the film does poorly, it definitely won't be because of him.

CAROL FERRIS -- On the other hand, Blake Lively is a bad actress miscast as an equally bad character.  I've never been a fan of Carol in the comics and Lively does nothing here to change my opinion.  If you notice, the best of the Green Lantern trailers are the ones that show little to no footage of Carol, so that should give you an idea of what to expect when she's on screen.  I did, however, like that they let Carol easily recognize Hal as Green Lantern, so we didn't have to sit there and wonder at her inability to see the obvious.

HECTOR HAMMOND -- Peter Sarsgaard turns in a very odd performance here, making Hector disturbing and skeevy even before he gets his ginormous dome.  I appreciate that he's crafting something different with the role, but at times the tone of his character seemed more appropriate for a David Lynch film than a mainstream superhero movie.

SINESTRO -- Every time Mark Strong was on screen, I could only sit and think of the Green Lantern Film That Might've Been or Could Possibly Become in a Sequel.  Strong is perfectly cast as Sinestro, giving the presence the character deserves and making fans anticipate his heel turn to the Fear Side of the Force...errrr, Emotional Spectrum all the more.  Hell, just go out and see this movie so I can get my sequel with Sinestro, okay?

ABIN SUR -- As another purple-skinned Green Lantern, Temuera Morrison turns in a nice albeit understandably brief job as Abin Sur.  Morrison has a cool, distinctive voice well-suited to the character and gives such a small but important role the gravitas it needs.

TOMAR-RE-- Geoffrey Rush gets to provide vocals for the CGI Tomar-Re and provide the opening narration because he has the poshest speaking voice.  The character is used for little more than exposition, but Rush is a nice fit for Tomar-Re and a welcome addition to overall feel of the film.

KILOWOG -- As Hal's training drill sargeant, Michael Clarke Duncan is another good fit for his character even though his character is severely underwritten.  Towards the end, Kilowog takes credit for Hal's training, even though said "training" lasts all of five minutes on screen...if that.  I understand that Campbell wanted to keep things moving, but smacking Hal around for a few more minutes later on after another scene or two would've made the training more substantive.

PARALLAX -- Clancy Brown voiced Parallax but you would never know it until you looked on IMDb.  Instead of a shining golden creature, Parallax is depicted here as a dirty-looking Smog Monster cloud that occasionally gains a face with a gaping maw.  As a result, you almost have to wonder if Hal Jordan is supposed to be a space cop or an environmentalist.

AMANDA WALLER -- Angela Bassett, who many feel should've been cast as Storm in the X-Men movies instead of Halle Berry, is a completely reworked version of the Suicide Squad's head honcho, Amanda "The Wall" Waller.  In this film, Waller is now a generic government scientist who assists Hector Hammond in studying Abir Sur's corpse.  It's essentially a thankless role and probably would've been better served if Waller had been closer to her comic book roots.

SENATOR HAMMOND -- In a curious bit of casting, Tim Robbins was picked for the role of Hector's disapproving father.  I'm guessing the addition of this character was for the purpose of making Hector more sympathetic villain with depth, but when you have Hector acting so repulsively, why would you try to make him sympathetic to the audience at the same time?

THOMAS KALMAKU -- Taika Waitiki lands the typical sidekick gig as Tom "Don't call me Pieface" Kalmaku.  It's his job to give Hal somebody to bounce his reactions off of and provide the necessary amount of computer skills that at least one character needs to have in superhero films these days.  And thankfully, he's not annoying as some sidekick characters can be, so well done there.

I know I've probably been a little rough on this film here, but Green Lantern is an entertaining superhero film.  It just happens to be bogged down in far too much setup with the promise of a much better film down the road.  That's not exactly what you need if you're hoping to launch other characters the way Marvel has, so unless audiences ignore film critics the way they did for the first two Transformers films, we'll just have to hope that Warner Brothers doesn't give up and remain fixated on just Batman and Superman movies.

And for those who might be wondering, here's the updated and revised list of my Top 20 Comic Book Films:

1. Superman (1978)
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
3. Watchmen (2009)
4. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
5. Spider-Man (2002)
6. Batman Begins (2005)
7. Iron Man (2008)
8. X-Men: First Class (2011)
9. X2: X-Men United (2003)
10. X-Men (2000)
11. Thor (2011)
12. Green Lantern (2011)
13. Batman (1989)
14. Superman II (1981)
15. Iron Man 2 (2010)
16. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
17. Hellboy (2004)
18. Superman Returns (2006)
19. Sin City (2005)
20. 300 (2007)

Your friendly neighborhood movie reviewer,

Charles

3 comments:

  1. While I don't agree with your placing of the top 20, I do agree with the names on the list.

    Great review. Really hits the nail on the head. I never read Green Lantern, but I intend to so I can get a better picture.

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  2. Glad you liked my review, Pixie. If you're looking to check out some GREEN LANTERN comics, I recommend the GREEN LANTERN: SECRET ORIGIN trade by Geoff Johns to start and then GREEN LANTERN: REBIRTH.

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  3. I was pretty okay with the movie. I did want to see your review beforehand, so thanks for promptly posting it.

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