Sunday, June 19, 2011

Movie Review: Green Lantern (2011)

Green Lantern: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Green Lantern has been many things over the past fifty years, from a man who called his best friend “Pieface” and was upset that a black man was chosen to be his understudy, to a psychotic villain capable of tearing holes between realities and threatening the end of the universe as we know it, to the brightest light of the Green Lantern Corps. Which of these Hals did Ryan Reynolds play in WB's Green Lantern?

Ryan Reynolds stars as Hal Jordan, Ferris Aircraft's best test pilot, flying the new F/A-35 Joint Strike Fighter (although not in so many words; the movie only calls the plane the F-35). He's also a bit of a lady's man (“Now you'll fly with anyone who gets in the cockpit”) who lives life in the fast lane because he forgot to set his alarm for work. He's also so focused on the task at hand that he forgets he's only a test pilot and that sacrificing his plane to kill the enemy isn't going to help his career any.

After that, it's a series of open origin questions, at least for any Green Lantern fan. In his various origin stories, at the time of initiation, Hal has been a test pilot courting his boss with a politician for a brother, a drunken former testpilot who works with both of his brothers and whose boss is already his ex, and an Air Force test pilot who gets dishonorably discharged before meeting his future boss and ex. This time, his boss's daughter (Daddy's around, so Carol Ferris technically holds no position in Ferris Air in this movie) is his ex at the time he meets Abin Sur, played by Temuera Morrison, after attending one of his nephew's birthday parties (I'm shocked he actually made it to one). While I'm comparing origin stories, it may be noteworthy that the only thing that prevents him from drunk driving is being jumped, and there's nothing to say he didn't do the deed off screen.

For Green Lantern non readers, this is about the point when you'd like to think I'm going to stop comparing this fourth origin of Hal Jordan to the first three disparate origins. And you'd be right. Sort of. I'm going to be brief, then. Hector Hammond is now a college professor, friend (presumably from high school or college days, as they're no longer close, yet Hal and Hector quickly recognize each other) of both Hal Jordan's and Carol Ferris's, and is never exposed to any conventional or fan-known contaminant. Instead, this film's version of Parallax, the living embodiment of fear in the Green Lantern universe, is the source of his powers. Actually, in this film Parallax is actually the Cloud-Galactus from Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Oh, and Cloud-Galactus-Parallax's origin is that Krona tried to conquer Parallax for the Guardians and became possessed, the way Hal was in- ah, forgot it. Trying to avoid needlessly mangled characters and continuity in this review is like trying to avoid mentioning James Earl Jones in a discussion of Attack of the Clones. Never mind the way Abin Sur through the years went from an average Green Lantern, to Sinstro's friend, to his mentor, to being the Lantern responsible for imprisoning Parallax in the first place.

With all of this continuity-based bashing, it's about time I put a positive twist on one of these changes. In the Showcase Green Lantern origin story, it was yellow bands of radiation surrounding the Earth that cost Abin Sur his life. In Emerald Dawn, it was a powerful alien life-form encased in an impenetrable yellow armor that did the deed and convinced almost the entire Green Lantern Corps to give in to the fear of failure. And in Secret Origin a monster from Ryut who was aboard Sur's ship first convinced Sur to give in to his fear, which caused his ring to fail and allowed him to be killed. Take into account that yellow embodies fear in the Green Lantern universe, and there's a common theme here: Abin Sur was killed by yellow or fear in every version of his story- in two cases via a bodily attack aboard his ship. In Green Lantern, Abin Sur was killed by an invincible yellow life-form from Ryut whom he was afraid of that attacked him aboard his ship (and killed him, of course). Yes, it's another needless change in a story when Hector Hammond really was all the villain this movie needed, but at least they finally cut to the chase.

That's this movie in a nutshell. It tries to be an epic comic book, but without all the epic. It wants to have a personal heroic conflict, an emotional conflict and an epic universe-spanning conflict all at once, but it's just not ready for that. It took Star Wars 3 movies to do that right. It takes hundreds of pages of comics to do that. And it's going to take more than an unoriginal, generic love interest (which doesn't define Carol Ferris except for the worst Silver Age moments), a villain whose powers aren't properly explained and don't match up the explanations most fans know, serves his purpose and is discarded as soon as its time for a climax, and the Sinestro sequel-bait plot which is... did anybody writing this even read the comics about Sinestro? I know Geoff Johns had something to do with the movie, but... I don't want to give away the ending to this movie, or the brushed aside point of contention between Hal and the Corps that is required in these stories, but damn! I thought Arthas Menethil's fall to the Dark Side was contrived, but this beats that. Sort of. It beats it in the sense that something nobody bothered to think hard enough about to make a full story about can beat a terribly written story. That's what they accomplished with four writers; imagine the masterpiece they could pull off with five or six!

I've been coming down on this movie pretty hard, and that's because the things that I enjoyed about it are hard to put into writing. I had a fairly decent time recognizing Honnu (despite the terrible CGI used for him), Salaak (who had no speaking part), Sten and other veteran Lanterns from the comics, just as I enjoyed Tomar-Re's suit (which really should have been used instead of the one Hal ended up with, despite the scale design). Cloud-Galactus-Parallax-Krona and most of the other graphics in the first third of the film before he turns into Cthulhu and Mr. Hanky's love-child are very solid. Hal Jordan is written true to character, except when he's written as Hannibal King. My two cents: finish the script before you cast the main character! I didn't watch Green Hornet because it was clearly going to be a comedy; I held out hope for Green Lantern because at least Reynolds could pull off a passable Kyle Rayner. He could certainly pull off some of Hal's scenes, but throughout the entire movie I couldn't help but think that Tom Cruise should have played this character.

The last positive I want to note is Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond. Was he true to the character? Of course not. But he was true to the script he was given. He played the role very well and was the most convincing person on screen. His plot was jerked around like a puppet with a hefty insurance policy, but he delivered well. Peter “if the movie goes down, I want to go down with it” Sarsgaard might not take the praise very well, though.

That's really all the positives I have for this movie, and they were enough to enjoy it to some extent. We all knew this movie would be a CGI explosion comparable to the Star Wars prequels, so the fact that some of it was pretty good is a plus, hurt by the fact that all the good stuff made it into the trailers. The characters work in some ways, particularly the establishing of Hal and Hector, while they really don't in others, like in every scene Carol is in and much of Kilowog's introduction (which is all the relevant Kilowog we get). Beyond some of the decent character writing and the bare bones following of the Green Lantern origin formula, the writing is a mess, and the love interest is the least interesting one in Green Lantern and possibly comic book history (though she still manages to one-up Hal). There are enjoyable things about this movie, but, well, what can I say?

You've lost that loving feeling Oh, that loving feeling You've lost that loving feeling Now it's gone, gone, gone...

The Man in Black is a weekly review at Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin' News & Reviews. For more of his reviews, you can visit his home page at www.MiBreviews.com

7 comments:

SQT said...

I haven't read any superhero comics since I was a kid, so I could watch this movie without knowing any different as far as the story goes. That said, I have had no desire to see this movie because the previews were so CGI heavy. I will probably see this when it comes out on video and do a review from the standpoint of a non-comic comparison. But I like that you were able to view this from the perspective of someone who really knows the story because I know so many people will love that.

Charles Gramlich said...

I recently read the graphic novel that sounds like it's somewhat close to this movie. I didn't realize Green Lantern had been through so many incarnations.

Budd said...

honestly, I didn't read your review until after I wrote mine. so, I guess I am saying, I agree.

The Man in Black said...

@SQT, thanks for the comment. Other than perhaps the Lantern above me, I'm the only serious GL fan I've seen who's watched this movie so far. It was interesting seeing what people did and did not mention.

@Charles, yeah, this was supposed to be based off of Secret Origin, where nobody in this movie except for Hal and Sinestro are present. Emerald Dawn is the closest but still it's not very close at all. I'm not a fan of completely changing the origin like that I have to say.

@Budd, Thanks for agreeing, then. Where do I return the favor.

interstait said...

I didn't have any desire to see this movie after I saw the first trailer which made it look like a comedy. My wife even asked me, is Green Lantern supposed to be funny?

The Man in Black said...

The second trailer was intended to fix the PR mess that was the first trailer, which worked to some extent.

Budd said...

oh sorry. SciFi Media