Movie review Monday: Green Lantern

There’s no question about it. Green Lantern is a pretty mediocre superhero film, that, for the most part, rarely looks like a $200 million+ production. This said, the film isn’t a complete green turkey. There are enough visually inspired moments, and a couple of satisfying action scenes, to save the film from that fate. Still though, Green Lantern doesn’t feel like a film that’s concerned with speaking to everyone in the audience. At times it seems as if the movie makers are only concerned with pleasing 11 year old boys, and in this age of superhero and fantasy films with mass audience appeal, that's a major miscalculation.

To get the plot synopsis out the way, Green Lantern is based on the popular DC comic , and features one of the most extraterrestrial-powered and extraterrestrial-orientated of superheroes. Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a cocky test pilot with a history of disappointing everyone in his life. One night he encounters dying alien Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), who informs Hal that he has been chosen as the first human Green Lantern – one of many intergalactic police officers, who funnel their will through green power rings to fight against the greatest evils in the Universe. In this case that evil is Parallax, an ever-growing entity that feeds off fear.

Hal isn’t too concerned about Parallax though. While the Green Lantern Corps – whose actions are largely guided by veteran Green Lantern Sinestro (Mark Strong) – struggles to contain Parallax, Hal is absorbed with problems closer to home. Like earning back the love and trust of his ex, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) and contending with childhood friend-turned-corrupted-genius Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard).

There are two major problems with Green Lantern.

The first is that the film feels like it’s trying to cram in too much. As a result, multiple topics and characters are introduced, unsatisfyingly skimmed over and never touched on again. Hal’s daddy issues, his complicated family relationships, fan favourite Green Lanterns like Kilowog and Tomar-Re - they pop up for maybe 2 minutes each. Plus there’s a lot that is pointless and needlessly over-complicated about the film. For example, why do all the human characters have to know each other from childhood? It adds nothing but convolution.

It also doesn’t help that the film feels like it has suffered from some serious slash-and-burn editing. I personally suspect that there’s a 2 hour-plus director’s cut of Green Lantern somewhere, because the theatrical release feels brutally hatcheted in an attempt to include everything. In fact at times the film comes across like a badly scratched, scene skipping DVD. Case in point: the jump from Hal travelling through space for the first time, to him suddenly lying (unexplained) on an examination table, followed by a shot of him standing in his new Green Lantern costume. I mean, did the uniform crawl over his flesh like Spider-Man’s Symbiote? Did it just materialise? Why isn’t the audience allowed to experience the transformation process for ourselves?

The second major problem with Green Lantern is that it’s hamstrung by its complete lack of likeable characters. In keeping with the comics, Hal Jordan is a hero who continually struggles with self-doubt – he doesn’t have fellow DC heroes' Superman and Batman’s sense of confidence and righteousness. Nor does he always believe he'll succeed in his actions. This said, kicking off the film with the hero sacrificing his wingman (admittedly in a flight test, but still?!) immediately clips his likeability. Hal Jordan is an immature, self-absorbed douchebag, operating in a universe of similar characters... Not to mention an Earth setting where humans are so dumb that they’ll stand frozen, watching a helicopter out of control literally 2 metres above their heads.

It’s a massive failing that the film doesn’t spend any time exploring and presenting the Green Lantern Corps as it's depicted in the comics – a proud and noble organisation that endures great sacrifice, and functions like a well-trained army. The tiny amount of screen time given to the Guardians (who created the Corps) and other Green Lanterns reveals them to be ignorant assholes as well. Where are the mind-blowing scenes of hundreds of Green Lanterns working together, combining their imagination-fuelled constructs to defeat a foe? That would have been a far more impressive Fellowship of the Ring-style opening for the film, as opposed to a bunch of blurry stills projected against a space backdrop.

And don’t tell me they’re saving all this epicness for the sequel, because that kind of lazy “it’ll be better in the next one” arrogance before the first film has even be released, makes me furious.

Anyway, speaking of likeability and, by extension, performances, Green Lantern is a mixed bag. Reynolds is alright but not nearly as amusing as he has been in other films. His best scenes here have already been revealed in the trailers. Then again, the film gives him surprisingly few opportunities to react as a smartmouth to the incredible extraterrestrial world he’s exposed to. In fact he rarely gets to react at all.

There has been much criticism of Blake Lively’s performance as the female lead in Green Lantern, but to be fair she does improve as the film progresses. To start with though she has a weirdly unblinking glazed look to her eyes, and is completely devoid of facial expression.

In terms of other performances, Mark Strong is good as Sinestro, though obviously straining against the limitations placed on his character by the script. Sarsgaard though is fantastic as Hector Hammond, easily one of the best things about the film. If Green Lantern had been made a decade or so ago, Hammond could easily have been John Malkovich, and Sarsgaard grows increasingly reminiscent of the quirky character actor as Hammond becomes even more deranged. To begin with though, Hammond isn’t a bad guy – in fact he’s inherently quiet, studious and nice (if a bit creepy) – and his "infection" with evil, via torture and torment, makes a pleasant change from villains who are introduced as sly megalomaniacs to begin with.

As I said, amidst all the mediocrity, Green Lantern does have several things in its favour. Looking like a cross between Duke Nukem’s Octabrains and the Shadow King in the old X-Men animated TV series, Parallax features a fantastically creepy design that I prefer to the comics. The Guardians too are well realised. I’m still indifferent to the CGI-Green Lantern costume – with the exception of the mask, which I hated – but it was pleasing to see other nice little touches in the film, like the use of portals to assist in travelling the ultra-long distances of space.

Most importantly, the superheroic action scenes – when they do FINALLY arrive – with Hammond unleashing his telekinesis, and Hal creating constructs mid-combat, are refreshingly creative, and really well done. I wish there had been more of these scenes, and that they had started occurring earlier in the film.

This said, I did take issue with Hal’s choice of “immature” constructs, which seem to stem solely from the contents of his kid nephew’s toy box. And I don’t believe it was necessarily a smart decision to deal so definitively with two of the most important Green Lantern villains in the very first film.

I personally would struggle to recommend Green Lantern when you can currently watch something as slick, well written and well acted as X-Men: First Class (read my review here). If you’re a Green Lantern fan or are just curious about seeing this potentially very important DC comic adaptation, go for it, but brace yourself for something as aloof and jarring as Ang Lee’s Hulk. If you want a far more gratifying Green Lantern experience, I advise you to seek out the new animated movie Green Lantern: Emerald Knights instead.


Grant_ZA said…
Nice Review, Although I thought the Guardians were terribly portraid, Totally agree with examination table, WTF was he onit for.

With regards to Hal being likeable, Hal is kind of a douchebag when he 1st becomes Green Lantern, so I didnt mind that.

The Major thing for me is they left out a Major part of what Hal is about. They dont even mention that the Green Lantern Corps are weak against the colour yellow, which Hammond and Paralax both use. Hal was intertgral in showing the GL corps that not only Sinestro could fight agaisnt yellow

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