Sunday, June 19, 2011

In Theaters: Green Lantern

Poster and IMPAwards link
Green Lantern plays like a mid-air collision between two superhero movies. Half of it is an epic space opera detailing a threat to the entire universe, and the other half is a smaller, more traditional masked hero picture where a man gains extraordinary powers and is caught up in a personal threat. Either one of these would have been a fine approach to bringing the emerald avenger to the silver screen, but sadly together they crowd in on each other, and the results are less than satisfying. It’s not a badly made movie, and it has a lot of good elements, but it fails to develop anything fully and ends up less than the sum of its parts.

Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a test pilot for an aeronautics company. Owing in part to some obligatory past drama, Jordan is cocky but insecure, prone to freezing up, and a few fancy maneuvers in a demonstration dogfight end up costing him his job. Soon after, however, a green sphere of energy carries him to the wreck of an alien spaceship, where a being named Abin Sur hands him a ring and a lantern. The ring makes Hal into one of the Green Lanters, an association of cosmic policemen bringing peace, order, and justice to the universe, and he is spirited away to the planet Oa to learn the ring’s powers. With the ring Hal can fly, understand alien languages, and conjure glowing green constructs out of sheer willpower. The Green Lantern Corps on Oa are fighting a powerful fear entity called Parallax, which killed Abin Sur and manages to infect Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a nerdy xenobiologist who begins to develop telekinetic powers, an enlarged cranium, and a growing resentment of all the successful people around him. Parallax itself is on its way to Earth, and Hal must master his fear before he can confront the beast.

The good news about this film is that a lot of the hard parts of the Green Lantern mythos have actually been handled well. Though the opening is a little exposition heavy, it sets up the concept of the Corps and their role as intergalactic policemen very well, and the scenes on Oa are pretty enjoyable. A lot of fun is had with Hal’s ability to make constructs- though trailers show off his attempt at a minigun, he gets more creative later. The basic thematic clash between will and fear is straightforward and well-rendered, but Hal also has to be clever and resourceful when it comes to the final confrontation.

If the film had just been Hal and the Lanterns battling Parallax, all of this might have worked. But the story of Hector Hammond feels like a sidetrack; he’s obsessed with Hal’s girlfriend and co-worker, the lovely Carol Ferris (Blake Lively), and lives a rather sad life as a high school science teacher, and the Parallax infection turns him into a sort of uber-vengeful nerd, which is almost a good idea. But he still seems more pathetic than threatening, and throwing objects around just doesn’t seem as impressive as creating objects and energy out of pure will, so it’s not really convincing when he threatens our hero. He frankly feels like a Spider-Man villain, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it feels out of place next to the cosmic saga that’s supposed to be occupying our attention.

Really, the whole movie suffers from this problem. The film switches back and forth between the two scales of action instead of really blending them (as Thor did), and neither gets enough screen time to register. When Hal Jordan makes his heroic Earthly debut we’re already halfway through the movie, and he has a crisis of confidence in his new role that seems contrived. The Oa material, while fun, is sparse, without the other Lanterns being much more than just ciphers (though Geoffrey Rush is great as the fishy Tomar Re) and the small blue Guardians who created the order have the classic sci-fi problem of being so hidebound you wonder how they accomplished anything to start with. (The effects are a mixed bag- while I like the overall 50s aesthetic and the bright colors, they do rely on CGI to a fault, with even Hal’s costume being a digital creation.)

I will say that Ryan Reynolds does a pretty good job in the lead role, believably conducting Hal Jordan’s transition from overconfident hothead to a man who understands his place in the universe. The film has a lot of entertaining individual parts, but there’s a lot of downtime between them and the picture feels sluggish more than anything. It’s nowhere near as bad as some other reviews say, I don’t regret seeing it at all, and I’m sort of hoping it does well enough to merit a more focused take on the material. But I can’t recommend it or call it a good film. It has the makings of a good film, but they haven’t been mixed properly.

Based on characters created by Marty Nodell, Bill Finger, John Broome, and Gil Kane.
Screen Story by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, and Marc Guggenheim
Screenplay by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, and Michael Goldenberg
Directed by Martin Campbell

Grade: C+

No comments: