by Mel Valentin
Note to prospective filmmakers eager to bring second- or even first-tier comic-book superheroes to the big screen for the first (or second) time: If the climax of your film involves a computer-generated, presumably sentient yellow-brown cloud with anger issues and the superhero du jour in a fight to the death, youíve made a major, no strike that, a massive error in judgment. A fight-to-the-pixilated-death will mean absolutely nothing emotionally and, by extension, dramatically. Itís a lesson semi-aware filmmakers could (and should) have learned eight years ago when Ang Leeís "Hulk," Guillermo del Toroís "Hellboy," "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" and, once again, "The Incredible Hulk" (three out of four Marvel Comicsí properties licensed to Hollywood studios), hit the big screen to an underwhelming response from both moviegoers and, less importantly to the studio executives, film critics.Unfortunately, the Warner Bros.í executives who gave the greenlight to Green Lantern, the first and possibly last big-screen appearance of DCís battery-powered space cop, didnít learn that lesson or , more likely, simply chose to ignore it. Warner Bros. executives, the four credited screenwriters, Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, and Michael Goldenberg (all but Michael Goldenberg received a story credit too), and director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, The Mark of Zorro) also refused to heed another, vital lesson: Open your film on action, on action fueled by mystery, not by a droning voiceover narrator (Geoffrey Rush) needlessly explaining the Green Lantern Corps backstory or segueing into the nonsensical escape of the filmís CG-cloud villain, Parallax (voiced by Clancy Brown), supposedly one of the universeís most dangerous entities, from a minimum-security prison planet. While the latter could have been handled as a prologue minus the voiceover, it could have also followed the introduction of the Green Lanternís title character, Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds).
"The summer's biggest tentpole disappointment (so far)."
Jordan, officially the second DC Comics character to wield the Green Lantern ring, an alien artifact that gives the chosen wearer superpowers (e.g., flight, super-strength, energy created ďconstructs,Ē and in the film incarnation, an all-CG costume), first appeared in 1959 in DC Comics as a key character in DC Comics line-wide revamp and modernization (a.k.a., the Silver Age). A test pilot like his comic-book predecessor, the Jordan we meet is a self-centered, wisecracking, borderline a-hole with, you guessed it, daddy issues. In the middle of a test flight, Jordan inopportunely flashes back to his traumatic childhood, witnessing the death of his test pilot father in a fiery explosion. Jordan predictably ejects in time, saving himself, but loses the ultra-expensive jet fighter.
The owner of said (crashed) jet fighter, Carl Ferris (Jay O. Sanders), fires Jordan almost immediately. Ferrisí daughter Carol (Blake Lively, miscast), Jordanís one-time girlfriend, test pilot, and heir to her fatherís company, doesnít protest Jordanís firing. Their still-unresolved romantic history doesnít help, of course. An unnecessary scene with Jordanís two brothers, siblings we never see again, reemphasizes Jordanís callow disregard for his own life. Luckily (or unluckily) for Jordan, a giant, green, glowing energy cloud whisks him into the air and deposits him miles away at the crash site of an alien ship piloted by the soon-to-expire Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison). Sur gives Jordan his ring along with one or two basic instructions before dying from a wound suffered in a confrontation with Parallax. Jordon leaves before government agents show up to scoop up the alien ship and Abin Surís body for examination and investigation.
Before long, Jordanís hurtling through the deepest reaches of outer space, landing mere minutes later on Oa, home to the Green Lantern Corps and miniaturized, wizened Guardians who rule the Corps as benevolent patriarchs and/or oligarchs. Created without the benefit of soundstages or practical effects, Oa is a CG animatorís wet dream. Influenced, presumably, by the much-hated Star Warsí prequels, specifically Coruscant, the Republicís capital, Oa contains the obligatory spires and curvilinear shapes to suggest otherworldliness, but often looks under-rendered, a problem that undermines Green Lantern in practically every shot as Jordan undergoes perfunctory training, first by Tomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush), a chicken-fish alien hybrid (and champion exposition provider), second by Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan), an enormous pig-like alien and drill sergeant, and last by Sinestro (Mark Strong), a demonic-looking alien resentful of Jordan (for inheriting Abin Surís ring) and all humans in general (he dislikes us as a species).
But wait, thereís more, not much more, but definitely more, as in a second, corporeal, earthbound villain, Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard). A failure in the eyes of his senator father, Peter Hammond, Hector, a college instructor and xenobiologist, gets the door knock of a lifetime when Men-in-Suits show up in the middle of the night. Members of a super-secret (and unnamed) government agency, the Men-in-Suits take Hammond to a super-secret government facility where he meets Amanda Waller (Angela Bassett), the director of the project, and Abin Surís recently recovered corpse. Infected by residual Parallax slime, Hector undergoes a semi-startling transformation into a (literally) super-brainy telepath with telekinetic powers. Hectorís powers, like Parallaxís, derive from fear (as opposed to the will power that drives the Green Lantern Corps and their rings).
Intentionally mirroring Jordan, Hector has daddy issues too, except in his case, he doesnít mourn for his lost, idealized father, but simply wants to murder him for a lifetime of slights, real and imagined. Hector crosses paths with Jordan, setting up one of many underwritten, ultimately negligible plot points: Hectorís long-ago, unfulfilled crush, Carol. As Hector completes his standard-issue comic-book supervillain, a role Sarsgaard clearly relished, Jordan goes through the standard-issue superhero journey through self-doubt (he flees Oa after a particularly harsh training montage) with Carol functioning as (a) therapist/emotional crutch and (b) damsel in distress. Jordan nonsensically returns to Oa to deliver an over-obvious, ham-handed speech before, once again nonsensically rushing back to Earth to face Parallax alone.
If all that sounds like an enormous amount of plot to cram into a two-hour (or less) film, itís because it is. Campbell jumps fitfully from one plot point to another, transitioning haphazardly from Earth-bound scenes to Oa-set scenes, and when that doesnít work, he simply pushes an info-dumping character, usually a Green Lantern (e.g., Tomar-Re, Sinestro), into the foreground to serve expository duty before pushing them into the background, allowing Jordanís superhero journey to lurch forward toward its inevitable conclusion narratively (Jordan vs. the Smog Monster) and thematically (since Spider-Man hasnít been onscreen in several years, ďWith great power comes great responsibilityĒ). And when Green Lantern fails to generate even minimal emotional resonance, Campbell does what practically every other director bringing a comic-book superhero to the big screen has done: Rely on visual effects to keep moviegoers from leaving the theater mid-film.Unfortunately, "Green Lantern" fails there too. For a film reputed to cost $200 million (exclusive of marketing, tagged at another $100 million), "Green Lantern" looks shoddy, muddy, murky, under-rendered. In practically every shot, Jordan looks painted or pasted into thin, shallow backgrounds. Itís made worse by Jordanís ill-considered CG Green Lantern costume. The task, adding CG to Ryan Reynolds (in a mo-cap suit), then adding or dropping Jordan into all-CG, underlit backgrounds, was obviously beyond the abilities (or time) of "Green Lanternís" computer animators.
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originally posted: 06/17/11 04:04:40