Saturday, June 18, 2011

Green Lantern (2011) Review (Review #228)

GREEN LANTERN

Imagine, if you will, you've been whisked to the most exclusive brothel in Paris for your 16th birthday and been told you're going to lose your virginity to the most experienced courtesan in the world, only to find her experience comes from being a 97-year-old hooker.

That's the best analogy I can give between the expectations for Green Lantern and the execution of Green Lantern

My friend Fidel Gomez, Jr. (who may or may not be dead) always mocked the character of Green Lantern: that magic ring, he'd always sniff.  The fact that Fidel could, unlike myself, tell the difference between DC and Marvel made his snobbery over our hero more perplexing.  For myself, I always thought Green Lantern had a lot of potential and never understood why there had been no film. 

After having seen Green Lantern, I see why there had been none and why hopefully there won't be a follow-up unless it undergoes new management.

It won't be easy to give an overall plot to Green Lantern because frankly there isn't an overall plot to Green Lantern.  What it has are three stories connected to each other by the thinnest of threads. 

Story One is of our hero, Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds).  He is a cocky pilot for Ferris Industries, going through life with a smirk and a self-confidence that hides his fears, both I think stemming from the plane crash that killed his father and that he witnessed.  After costing Ferris Industries a major contract which will cause them to have massive layoffs, he is fired, or quits to put it in his terms, then goes to drown his sorrows.

Meanwhile in Story Two, taking place both before and after Story One commences, a powerful being called Parallax has escaped his prison, and the being guarding him has been wounded attempting to recapture him.  This alien, one Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), is part of the Green Lantern Corps, a collection of intergalactic warriors protecting the universe from evil.  However, Abin Sur has been mortally wounded, and must now crash on the closest habitable planet.  In this case, it's Earth. 

Now, I should pause to explain the source of power for each member of the Green Lantern Corps is a ring and a green lantern, hence the name, and Abin Sur now sends the ring to find a worthy successor to it since the rings select the future members.  Somewhere in all this, elements of Story Two mixes with Story One, for the ring has selected Hal Jordan.



Curiously, Hal is the first human ever selected to join this intergalactic fighting force: the Jackie Robinson of Green Lanterns, so to speak.  This selection does not sit well with Sinestro (Mark Strong), Abin Sur's protege who holds humans in contempt as being too inept to be part of the Corps.  Despite the training in the ways of a Green Lantern by Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) and Kilowag (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan), Hal believes himself both a coward and a failure, so he ups and leaves.

Now into the mix is Story Three.  Abin Sur's body has been recovered by some secret government organization headed by Dr. Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett).  To perform an autopsy she brings in Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), who is suppose to be a genius but apparently isn't the life of the party.  It helps that Hector is the son of a Senator (Tim Robbins), though Hector deeply resents his father giving him this gig and resents even more that he was unaware Daddy Dearest was involved.  During the autopsy, Hector is infected by something in Abir Sur's body; it appears to be an element of Parallax, which now can use him as some sort of henchman to destroy Earth.

From what I understood, Parallax gets his power from the fear of creatures, making him stronger and larger.  The Green Lanterns use the 'power of will', the opposite of fear, to combat the forces of evil.  Those rings: they can create anything in the imagination to help them fight.

With Story Three jumping around (Hector is being turned into some sort of monster), Story One joins in (Parallax is not going after both the Earth and Hal, since he has Abir Sur's ring).  Story Two comes into it when Hal decides to rejoin the Corps and urges the Guardians, the Immortals who created the Corps, not to tap into the Power of Fear by using the Ring of Fear they created.  Instead, Hal Jordan, mortal human, will face Parallax alone and defeat him or die trying.


Somehow giving the scenario for Green Lantern, one can quickly see how chaotic and convoluted the whole film is, needlessly so for a comic book-based film.   I tire of repeating myself, but Hollywood appears determined to ignore my suggestion, which is about to become another of my Golden Rules of Filmmaking: A Film Should Have A MAXIMUM of Three WritersGreen Lantern has at least four (Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, and Michael Goldenberg, with screen story credited to the first three).  It's clear that by having so many people on the project, Green Lantern never had a true focus as to what it wanted to do. 

If it was an origin story, it was ridiculous to have a threat like Parallax: a villain we never knew, never understood its motives, and frankly looked utterly ridiculous.   No matter how much money was thrown at it, you can't make a menace out of a black cloud with tentacles with the head of an alien from Mars Attacks

It might have worked if Hector was the source of the threat to humanity, but again, we never got anything more than the slightest hints of what Hector's beef was.  There was one scene where Hector and Hal were together, and we get the idea that they know each other, and that Hector has a one-sided rivalry with His Hotness.  Alas, this is never explored because Green Lantern was more interested in the visual splendor of the Corps homeworld of Oa than in the human characters. 

Unfortunately, the actors in Green Lantern didn't seem anything more than decoration to the film's lavish visuals; some, like Oa, are quite splendid, while others, like the battle between Parallax and Green Lantern Hal, were just creepy. I don't feel comfortable seeing films where people are running down the street being chased by a large black cloud coming down the street, but more on that later. 



When I heard Ryan Reynolds had been cast as Hal Jordan, I thought it was perfect casting.  He certainly has the build for it: there is one scene where we all can get to marvel at the magnificence of his taut, muscular, and splendid body, especially for a 34-year-old, and he has that cocky persona down.  However, this is where the problem lies. 

There are probably a few readers who are too young to remember Reynolds in the television show Two Guys, A Girl, and A Pizza Place (a show I am unapologetic about liking).  While watching Green Lantern, I kept thinking Reynolds was playing another version of Berg.  There was a lot of smugness to Hal, a lot of attempts at quirky quips to make him a bit of a wisecracker.  That works up to a point, but it doesn't when he comes off as horribly insensitive.  He's been told the company will have to lay off, if memory serves correct, nearly half of the employees, and it doesn't seem to phase him at all. 

In short, Hal Jordan played to the worse aspects of Reynolds' screen persona: a bit of a slacker who thinks a witty remark and a stare will get us on his side or for a woman, to his bed.  We know Reynolds can act, and while the material isn't there with such ample lines as "You're afraid to admit you're afraid!"

It just appears that Hal/Ryan isn't taking any of the dangers he's facing seriously.  He is suppose to have all these powers, be able to fly beyond the stars at will, and it barely registers on his face.  No sense of wonder, or fear, just slight disinterest. 

Worse was an effort to give Hal some sort of backstory by having him go to his nephew's birthday party.  It is not a good sign when your brothers and their families appear only once in a movie to where you wonder why they were there in the first place.  If it was suppose to give us insight into Hal, it failed spectacularly. 


The other characters don't fare better.  Director Martin Campbell has a lot to answer for in Green Lantern, but perhaps his biggest crime is in having Angela Bassett in only two scenes.  How could you have a talented actress like Bassett in two scenes? What could have developed into an interesting character is reduced to serving as plot exposition. 

The relationship between Senator Hammond and his son Hector is both relatively unexplored except to suggest a mutual dislike and rather boring.  Both Hector and Hal have Daddy Issues and a good writer/writing team could have had a parallel between them, but somehow this potential, like most of Green Lantern, was wasted for second-rate action scenes.  Robbins looked either bored or confused as to how he ended up here since his character was neither villain or important to the story.

Sarsgaard, another good actor, was laughable in Green Lantern, and I mean that literally.  The audience laughed twice when he appeared.  Again, note to the screenwriters/director: no matter how evil or dangerous a villain is, you can't expect people to take any of this seriously when one of your threats comes off looking like a cross between Peter Boyle's Frankenstein and Stephen Hawking.  Again, if they had merely opted to have Hector Hammond as the threat, Green Lantern might have fared better.  It would also have given us a chance to develop the rivalry between Hector and Hal only hinted at in their first of two scenes together. 

Part of that rivalry involves Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), the women both men apparently love.  Lively, however, has a rushed delivery to her lines, as if by speaking them as fast as she could she could get out of this mess the faster.  Their love scenes are so dry and fake, and it also leads to a curious situation.  Despite wearing a skin-tight green outfit, complete with mask that show his formerly brown eyes to light green, and trying a Christian Bale Batman-style voice, Carol recognizes Hal within minutes. 

How she recognized him?  Well, she recognizes his cheekbones!  That's the height of intelligence in Green Lantern.



There's one bit between Hal shows his buddy the power of the ring.  It was a thorough attempt at comedy which fell completely bad in at least two parts: some silly dialogue and Hal putting on the ring in a way that makes it look like he's thrown a finger at us all; wonder how that came off in 3-D: which I didn't think would have improved the film at all. 

Sadly, the best performances were the voice work of Duncan and Rush, although the training sequence went by so quickly that it appeared that after one session Hal quit.

What A Wimp. 

That being the case, a lot of character development or internal struggle was left out, making Green Lantern more of a misfire than it could have been.  Strong is an actor that I've loved and hated in equal measure.  In Green Lantern, he did a much better job  than in the past: it takes talent to make us believe a red-faced, pointy-eared flying creature could both be real and an adversary to Hal; sadly, it all fell apart when he had to speak to The Guardians.  However, like all the characters, we never got to know his reason for his anti-human intolerance or what would motivate his actions before and after the credits started to roll.

Yes, I should mention: there is a quick bit involving Sinestro after the first credits start which officially pushed the rating for Green Lantern down.  Not only was it a shameless plug for a sequel, but given what we DO know of Sinestro, makes absolutely no sense.  Here again, another violation of one of the Most Sacred of my Golden Rules of Filmmaking: Never End Your Movie By Suggesting There Will Be A Sequel

I have to point out one thing that I had a big problem with: the score.  Loud, overbearing, I knew I had endured such lousy music before.  When the credits announced the music was by James Newton Howard, I just blurted out, "KNEW IT!"  Maybe it's a good sign that I'm beginning to recognize a film composer's work. 

However, when said composer has been responsible for such horrible music such as the scores to The Village, Defiance, The Green Hornet, Water For Elephants, and the nadir of filmmaking, The Last Airbender, I have an emotional reaction: one of total anger at having to listen to his work.  It's not a good thing when you recognize a film composer because you think the music is generally lousy.

What I can say about Green Lantern is that it's not a disaster.  It is however, an absolute mess, with a plot that lurches from one scene to another with no connection to each other, performances that range from bland to bored, a villain that not only is useless but horribly echoes September 11, 2001 in an almost obscene way, and nothing to recommend making a sequel. 

Maybe Fidel was right: maybe it is a stupid ring.  It certainly was a stupid movie.  It looks like the light for a Green Lantern franchise has gone out...


Post-Script: Look at the Green Lantern advert above & then look at the one for The Phantom.  Is it my imagination or do they bear an eerie similarity (eerie in that they are both bad films)?


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