Green LanternReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/16/11 15:27:40
While I am certain that I have mentioned this before, it probably stands to reason that I should once again mention that when I was a barefoot boy with cheek of tan, I never really read many comic books outside of a few stray issues of “Howard the Duck” and “Archie” and, inexplicably, the misadventures of pint-sized plutocrat Richie Rich. For years, this particular gap in my background wasn’t much of a problem but now that virtually every third movie being released is based on a comic book of some sort, it puts me at a bit of a disadvantage in that unless their basic templates are so ingrained in the cultural firmament that one doesn’t need to have actually read any of them to get the general gist--such as the ones for Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, to name the three most obvious--I generally walk into the screenings of such films with virtually no idea as to who these characters are and why they are running around in oddball costumes beating the crap out of each other. Therefore, when I do review a movie based on a comic book, I am not looking at it from the perspective of someone who is overly concerned with whether the costume is exactly right or whether the storyline violates established continuity--I am more concerned with how they work as big screen entertainment and that is all. For example, although many comic book fans have praised the first two “X-Men” movies for being superior comic-to-screen translations, I found them to be confusing and colossally boring mishmashes filled with character I didn’t quite know wielding powers I didn’t quite get in the service of a story that I didn’t quite understand. On the other hand, while the current “X-Men: The First Class” apparently violates a lot of the continuity established in both the comic books and the earlier films, that didn’t matter because it was a superior entertainment that provided the requisite number of elaborate action set-pieces but also gave viewers a clever story, interesting characters and an off-beat style that separated it from most other films of its type.I bring all of this up as a long-winded way of letting you know that when I went into the screening of “Green Lantern,” the latest zillion-dollar attempt by Hollywood to bring a comic book superhero to life and establish a new tentpole series in the process, I did so without having any sort of preconceived notions regarding the DC Comics character or its 70-year-plus history or much of anything about it other than the fact that the trailers for it were somewhat less than impressive. Therefore, when I say that the film is an ungodly and ungainly mess that is a staggering waste of time, money and a potentially interesting premise for all concerned, it is not because the filmmakers have futzed around with parts of the backstory or because the costume doesn’t look exactly as it does in the comic. No, I am saying that it is an ungodly and ungainly mess because it is a flat-out terrible movie that has wasted God knows how many dollars and man-hours on an enterprise marked by an unlikable hero, patently unconvincing special effects and a muddled screenplay that chokes like LeBron James under the weight of giant gobs of raw exposition and so many daddy issues amongst its main characters that they make the people in “Tree of Life” seem well-adjusted by comparison.
Since “Green Lantern” is a property that is presumably not as well-known to a large portion of the potential moviegoing audiences as that of other superheroes, a good chunk of the film is necessarily dedicated to setting up and establishing the origins of the story and its key characters. There are many ways that such background material can been put across in a manner that will bring newcomers up to speed without boring the fanboys--they can be treated in a solemn, elegiacal manner as in the first “Superman” film or they can be briefly but effectively suggested as in “Batman Begins.” Here, the filmmakers have chosen the slightly less elegant approach of bludgeoning viewers right off the bat with so much background exposition that most of them will be lost before the title has even flashed on the screen. As near as I can make out, the universe has been guarded for eons by the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic group of do-gooders protecting the 3600 sectors of the universe (though that number is subject to change due to gerrymandering by the Zorkloids) against the forces of evil by harnessing “the emerald energy of willpower” and utilizing it, via a special ring that is powered by a equally special lantern, to create anything that its bearer can think of in order to help out--if the proverbial day can be save with the instant application of a boulder, a machine gun or a plate of waffles, they will instantly appear in all their green-hued glory. Unfortunately, a force known as Parallax is sweeping its way across the universe by harnessing and utilizing the equally powerful energy of fear (colored yellow, naturally) to destroy everything in its path on its way to vanquish the Green Lanterns once and for all. One of the top Lanterns, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison) is gravely wounded in battle and pilots his escape craft to the nearest inhabited planet in order to transfer the ring and its powers to a new subject worthy of its extraordinary gifts. Utilizing a selection process that apparently lacks the rigorous winnowing process of “American Idol” or your average trainee session at Arby’s, it is somehow decided that the person most deserving of this awesome power is Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a smart-ass test pilot whom we have just seen screw up a test involving an experimental aircraft designed by the aerospace firm belonging to the family of on-again, off-again childhood sweetheart Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) just to show off and crash his own hugely expensive plane thanks to an ill-timed flashback involving the fiery death of his own test pilot father, a moment that might have come across as tragic if it didn’t come across like something out of the vaguely remembered “Top Gun” spoof “Hot Shots.”
Anyway, Hal is whisked away to the faraway planet of Oa to learn how to use the powers that he has been given under the tutelage of Yoda-like philosopher Tomar-Re (voice of Geoffrey Rush), hard-ass drill instructor Kilowog (Michael Clark Duncan) and sneering leader Sinestro (Mark Strong); even though this is the first time that the aliens have ever encountered a denizen of Earth, they immediately make him feel at home by invoking every single cliché you can imagine to be delivered by a sage, a brute and a snob who cannot believe that such power has been granted to such an undeserving lot. Fulfilling his own destiny, Hal turns tail at the first sign of adversity and abandons the Corps to head back to Earth, where he is then able to save the day at a swank party for Carol’s firm by preventing a helicopter crash by means so goofy that it makes my smart-ass comment about a plate of waffles seem borderline sane by comparison. What Hal doesn’t realize is that while performing an autopsy on Abin Sur’s body for the government, dorky science teacher Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), the loser son of a smarmy senator (Tim Robbins) has been inadvertently exposed to the powers of Parallax and he begins to wreak havoc as well in preparation for Parallax itself to consume the planet and finally absorb enough energy to destroy the Green Lantern Corps for good. Will Hal comes to his senses and replace selfishness with selflessness? Will Sinestro and the other Lanterns realize that they have much to learn from these strange creatures known as Earthlings? Will someone explain why the film tries to suggest some long-ago romantic triangle between Hal, Carol and Hector even though Hector has been made up to look old enough to have been their first-grade teacher? Will there be an obligatory bit in the middle of the end credits designed to set up a sequel a la the various Marvel Comics movies of late? If you can’t confidently answer at least three of these questions right here and now, you clearly have not been watching too many superhero movies of late and believe me, this is no time to break that particular streak.
There are lots of problems with “Green Lantern” but the key flaw is the fact that it never seems to have any clear idea of what kind of story it wants to tell or what kind of approach it wants to take--it too often feels as if it was put together at random by a committee in which each member was more eager on putting their own stamp on the material than in trying to make fit in organically with everything else. (Considering the fact that there are no less than four credited screenwriters, that may well have been the case.) At its most basic level, the original “Green Lantern” is a product of the pre-cynical days of superheroes in which the characters, their creators and their readers genuinely and wholeheartedly believed in such concepts as truth, justice and the American way. In later years, however, comic book authors began to infuse their creations with a certain amount of angst and irony to match the darker cultural climate. No doubt afraid that the former approach wouldn’t fly with modern audiences, the makers of this film have attempted to fuse the two diametrically opposed approaches together into one cohesive whole, a trick that, while difficult to pull off, is not entirely impossible as “Iron Man” proved a few years ago. Here, however, the mix of optimism and irony never gels and we are stuck with a hero who is a decidedly unlikable jerk for most of the running time until he has a patently unconvincing change of heart in the final reels--when Hal finally gets with the program and utters the immortal Green Lantern oath (“In brightest day, in blackest night/No evil shall escape my sight/Let those who worship evil’s might/Beware my power. . .Green Lantern’s light”), audiences should be cheering his transformation but it feels so forced and unbelievable that a seemingly sure-fire moment winds up dying on the vine.
Beyond that, the story itself is kind of a mess--none of the characters have any sort of personality that might have helped make them memorable or endearing, the plot is a bit of a mess that never quite manages to explain itself despite explaining itself in virtually every scene and the two villains are complete bores; Parallax is nothing more than a higher-tech version of the thing that threatened Earth at the end of “Howard the Duck” and with his combination of unfortunate facial hair, a receding hairline and a head that swells and morphs to grotesque proportions, Hector embodies the most aesthetically unappealing aspects of Rocky Dennis, your high school science teacher and someone who hasn’t altered their wardrobe since the last time they saw the Dead play at Alpine Valley. The special effects are garish and cartoony without ever offering anything to dazzle the eye and the retrofitted 3D projection, if you inexplicably choose to see it that way, offers little of consequence to the proceedings outside of a higher ticker price and the onset of a potential migraine. As for the performers, Ryan Reynolds is as smug as ever as Hal Jordan but, unlike Robert Downey Jr. in “Iron Man,” he is unable to channel that smugness into something compelling and as a result, whenever he is called out for being a jerk, you can’t help but agree with that assessment even after the point when he has supposedly turned over a new leaf. Faithful readers will recall that I am a huge fan of “Gossip Girl” but while Blake Lively is perfectly fine on that show, she is patently unconvincing here as Carol, especially during the moments when we are supposed to believe that she is also an ace pilot--decked out in full flight gear, she resembles nothing so much as Top Gun Barbie and immediately destroys whatever slight traces of credibility her character might have possessed. In smaller roles, Rush, Robbins, Strong, Duncan and Angela Bassett coast their way through easy paycheck jobs--unlike the others, Robbins and Bassett are actually seen on screen and are therefore unable to hide their evident embarrassment over what they are being asked to do here. The only remotely adequate performance comes from Sarsgaard, who seems to have realized early on that the entire enterprise was completely preposterous and has chose to fight fire with fire with a singularly goofy turn that plays like a private joke to which only he knows the punch line.An enormous amount of money was clearly sunk into producing “Green Lantern” and it is depressing to see how little actual entertainment value was purchased for that price. Of course, by coming down on a film like this, I am once again opening myself to charges that I am applying too heavy of a critical hand to a film that only seeks to provide viewers with two hours of mindless entertainment but I assure you that a.) this is not the case and b.) this is a massive failure even by those standards. Having already avoided catastrophe this summer with the slightly-better-than-it-had-to-be “Thor” and the genuinely impressive “X-Men: The First Class,” the superhero genre was probably overdue for some kind of letdown and that is this film in spades. This one is so bad that the only people who will emerge from it with smiles on their faces are the people who made the upcoming adaptation of “Captain America”--no matter how good or bad their finished product may be, there is almost no way that it could be as egregiously lousy as “Green Lantern.”
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