Friday, June 28, 2013

“Green Lantern” Review (2011)

After waving it off for some time, I was pleasantly surprised to find Green Lantern watchable, faint as that praise may be. The first half-to-three-quarter hour is pretty solid, with Ryan Reynolds accurately portraying comic book jerk Hal Jordan in his natural jet jockey environment. You get a good sense of who Jordan is and what he can bring to the intergalactic peacekeeping corp that recruits him when one of their best gets murdered. A decent supporting cast gets built, and you can see an arc forming for Jordan's character.

It all falls apart with the introduction of Hector Hammond, balding sweatpants loser scientist. Ever since Batman Returns, super-hero sequels have been plagued by too many lesser villains hogging the spotlight, but it's rare that filmmakers bungle the balance right out of the gate. Usually, the first movie is all about establishing the hero's origins and introducing an arch-rival. This movie has three, the least of whom is Hammond. After nearly a half century in comics, Hammond is still considered the poor man's MODOK, so unloved that he never even got a codename. Hammond could have been a great geek-baiting background character, like Dylan Baker's turn as Dr. Curt Connors in the second Spider-Man movie. Peter Sarsgaard has a lot of fun with the role, initially sympathetic, eventually slimy, but the character's questionable arc (stripped gears shifting from first to fourth) hijacks far more of the film than should have been allowable. It doesn't help that the character's dad is played by Tim Robbins, which brings back all the worst Howard the Duck memories.

When the Hector Hammond story isn't eating up space, the planet Oa is. Hal Jordan flies off to receive one whole scene of training as a Green Lantern before he up and quits the corp. That means that after going through the trouble of casting an entire Jordan family for one scene, replacement alien supporting players Tomar-Re and Kilowog (celebrity guest voices Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan) also up and vanish for the rest of the movie. I suppose it helps to demonstrate Jordan's detachment and irresponsibility, but it also means that the audience has few places to turn to in order to sustain interest. Seemingly, his only friend is Tom Kalmaku (Taika Waititi,) who serves as his cheering section during a test piloting sequence, gives him a ride when he's stranded after meeting his benefactor Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison,) and pressures Jordan into showing off his new costume. Then it's so long to Pieface.

Hector Hammond also has his own thin, perfunctory supporting cast. This mostly consists of his manipulative senator father (Robbins) and the woefully miscast Angela Bassett as Amanda Waller. In the comics, "The Wall" was basically Nell Carter as a morally compromised right wing military conspiracy on two legs, the same character introduced to broader audiences in the Justice League Unlimited cartoon. In this movie, "Doctor" Waller is a scientist who doesn't even throw around a buck fifty in weight. Bassett's talents are wasted in such a thankless role as written, and the fantastic character of Amanda Waller is reduced to unconvincing cosplay. Martin Lawrence in a fat suit could have done more with it.

I've heard folks say that what they really wanted from this movie was Training Day in outer space, which could have been good. Second adversary Sinestro pops up throughout the movie, and like Sarsgaard, Mark Strong gets the most out of a flat character. Aside from pomposity, there isn't much of Sinestro on the page, and shortcuts taken in this feature (especially the ill advised closing credits teaser) undermine his character further in the event of a sequel. The biggest bad is Parallax, yellow entity of fear, who I've heard described as a diarrhea cloud with a face in it. Not since Galactus in the Fantastic Four sequel have filmmakers so thoroughly misunderstood the appeal of a villain through an abstract manifestation. Only the hard-dyingest of fans care if Parallax is a possessed human or a bug or whatever, but no one wants him to literally look like a glowing Hershey squirt amoeba. None of the villains have any emotional resonance, at least two of them look laughable, and they crowd the movie mercilessly.

Perhaps recognizing this, a love triangle is haphazardly grafted on between Hal Jordan, Carol Ferris, and Hector Hammond, but it registers merely as a delusion in the increasingly unstable Hammond's mind. Given the company and circumstances, Blake Lively fares well enough as Ferris. Reynolds has better than a decade on the actress, so their "growing up together" romance is a little skeevy. At the same time, it's right in Hal Jordan's wheelhouse *cough*Arisia*cough*. In truth, the dynamic is more mother-child, given that Jordan is portrayed as such a wimp that he constantly needs reassurance in order to function as a Green Lantern. Despite the physical disparity between Jordan and Hammond, they really are both pathetic mama's boys basking in the glow of Ferris' tepid, inconsistent support. Unintentionally, the filmmakers have created an emotional dynamic in which there are no true heroes and few villains, but instead a universe full of emotional cripples unable to fully function even when granted power rings whose only limitations are imagination and will. As spectacles go, it's a sad one.

One final note: I can't believe that a movie with a reported 200 million budget has such rubbery CGI, and only spent about $35 on the soundtrack. Sum 41? I can't even name a Sum 41 song that isn't actually by Blink-182. This isn't exactly a big money cast either, so what secret windfall did The Producers reap from this flick's global earnings shortfall?

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