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Josh Reviews Green Lantern!

July 11th, 2011
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Well, we’ve had two very solid super-hero films so far this summer, Thor (click here for my review) and X-Men: First Class (click here for my review), and while neither were quite as perfect as I might have hoped, I found both to be very solidly entertaining films.  But with Green Lantern, sadly, we have our first big super-hero swing-and-a-miss of the summer.

Green Lantern isn’t terrible, and there are certainly a lot of things that work in the film.  But it’s very, very mediocre, and it’s painful to see the potential for a much better film that was squandered.

What works?  The film is, for the most part, well-cast.  Ryan Reynolds does a fine job as Hal Jordan.  He certainly looks the part, and there are moments (such as his desperate, through-gritted-teeth declaration of the Green Lantern oath late in the film) that really made me believe in him as Green Lantern.  The voice actors chosen to portray the alien members of the GL Corps (most notably Geoffrey Rush as Tomar Re and Michael Clarke Duncan as Killowog) are spot-on, and Mark Strong is absolute perfection as Sinestro.

But all are completely wasted in the film!  Let’s begin with Hal Jordan, who is barely a character.  The film wants him to be Tony Stark from Iron Man (the self-centered asshole with incredible abilities who eventually learns to see beyond himself and his own ego to become a hero), but his character arc is so barely sketched in as to be laughable.  It all seemed very predictable and perfunctory to me.  I never felt that we really got to know Hal Jordan at all — who he is and why he behaves the way he does.  (And, no, the painfully on-the-nose flashback during Hal’s test flight at the start of the film didn’t do it for me.  That sequence seemed right out of Airplane!, and that’s not a good thing!)  When he stepped into the role of a hero, it didn’t feel earned the way that Tony Stark’s transition did in the first Iron Man film.

Speaking of Iron Man, the whole vibe of Green Lantern felt totally derivative of that film.  The movie desperately wanted to be hip and cool while also telling a fairly earnest super-hero story, just like the first Iron Man, but Green Lantern was never able to find that tone.

I had thought, from the trailers, that Green Lantern was going to be a cosmic adventure film.  That the film opens in space, and keeps cutting back to events taking place in space (rather than starting with human Hal Jordan and staying with him until he discovered Abin Sur and the Green Lantern ring, at which point he and the audience would discover the larger world of the story), indicates that the filmmakers thought they were creating a big outer-space adventure.  But Green Lantern was disappointingly earthbound.  The vast majority of the film takes place on Earth.  There’s a great couple of minutes, in the middle of the film, that takes place on Oa, home-planet for the interstellar Green Lantern corps, but then Hal heads back to Earth and we barely see Oa again for the whole rest of the film.  Tomar Re and Killowog are phenomenal (as I mentioned before, the voice-actors are great, and the CGI effects that bring those two weird aliens to life are very strong), but they’re in the movie for five minutes and then gone.

Not only is it a real bummer to spend so little time on Oa, there is no real narrative reason given for Hal to leave, nor is there any real reason given for the rest of the GL Corps to be unwilling to help Hal save earth from the villain Parallax.  It all just seems like a clear cheat to cover the film’s not having the budget to involve the CGI aliens in any more of the film’s run-time.

The worst victim of this is Mark Strong as Sinestro.  The man is perfectly cast, and the make-up and visual effects bring the character to vibrant life.  The scenes with Sinestro are some of the best in the film — Mark Strong brings a terrific energy to his performance that elevates his every moment on-screen.  But Sinestro is barely a character in the film.  He has next-to-nothing to do in the film’s story-line, and when the event that every comic book fan knows is coming finally arrives (about 30 seconds into the film’s closing credits), it comes as a total disappointment (rather than the cool “oh wow” moment the filmmakers were clearly hoping for), because we get zero motivation for the character’s actions.  (The animated Green Lantern film First Flight, from a few years ago, presented a much more compelling version of the Sinestro character and story-arc.)  What a waste!

I was talking the other day to some friends about Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I was expressing that one of the things that makes Raiders such a perfect movie, in my mind, is because the film’s story unfolds with clockwork precision.  Each scene leads directly and inevitably into the next scene, as we follow Indiana Jones on his adventure.  That sort of narrative momentum is exactly what’s missing from Green Lantern.  Here’s one example: despite the fact that Parallax declares, early in the movie, his intention to head straight to Oa so he can destroy it, Hal seems to be able to pop back and forth between Oa and Earth without any trouble — and Sinestro is able to briefly confront Parallax in space and then zip right back to Oa — and yet Parallax is never actually able to arrive at Oa himself.

Then there’s the moment on Oa when Hal is training with Tomar Re.  Suddenly he finds himself in the middle of a big gathering of Green Lanterns, where he learns of the terrible threat presented by Parallax.  Then, the next scene is Hal back training again, with no mention of what just happened.  Huh?  It just seems so random, and totally kills any suspense or tension that the previous scene might have started to build.

I was also annoyed by the scene when Hal angrily confronts the Guardians (the ancient, powerful aliens who created and rule the Green Lantern Corps) and demands that they let him return to Earth to try to save his planet from Parallax.  It’s a fine scene, except that it doesn’t make any sense within the context of the story.  There was no prior scene in which Hal was forbidden from leaving Oa to go back to Earth!  It’s as if the writers felt, well, we’ve arrived at the time in our story when our headstrong but noble hero needs to confront the complacent mentor characters, so he can step into his role as an independent hero.  It’s so familiar and rote, and without the proper build-up (like scenes in which the Guardians forbade Hal from returning to Earth) it’s totally pointless.

I really could go on and on.  I enjoyed Peter Sarsgaard and Tim Robbins as the two Hammonds (father and son), but both sort of felt like they were in a different movie from everything else that was going on.  It was great to see Amanda Waller in the film, but since she seemed like a bit of an idiot (trusting the clearly creepy and weird Hector Hammond to do a good job investigating the discovery of Abin Sur’s corpse) it sort of undermines the character.  Blake Lively looks beautiful as always, but she is totally flat as Carol Ferris.  (She’s really hindered by having even less of a character, in the script, than Hal Jordan does.)

It’s all such a bummer, because so many of the elements were in place to make a much stronger film.  With the possible exception of Blake Lively (and even here I’m cutting her some slack, since many of the faults with her character lie in the script), the film was well-cast, and the outer-space elements of the story were great.  The visual effects were strong (with the exception of GL’s fake-looking digital mask, which I thought looked weird the whole time), and there were a couple of really great action sequences.  But it just didn’t come together, and if this film was intended to be the start of a franchise (which clearly it was), I can’t say I’m left with that much excitement for a second film.  Maybe with the origin story dispensed with, the next film could be the rip-roaring outer-space adventure I’m looking for, but I really wish this initial film had delivered on that promise.

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