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Monday, July 13, 2015

Summer Not-Busters: Green Lantern (2011)

Director: Martin Campbell
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Peter Sarsgaard, Blake Lively
Domestic Gross: $116,601,172

Poor Ryan Reynolds. So close to being a movie star, yet so far. Of course, he isn't the first actor to fail to make a hit out of a superhero movie, nor will he be the last (though he will get a second chance with Deadpool), but he hasn't exactly had much success carrying other types of movies either, so you have to wonder why Warner Bros. would sink $200 million into a Reynolds-anchored movie. You also have to wonder where, exactly, all that money went since Green Lantern, in addition to all its other problems, looks so bad on a purely aesthetic level. I mean, just look at that picture of Reynolds. How goddamn ridiculous does that costume look? It's not often that a film can claim to reach Batman & Robin levels of garishness, but Green Lantern gets there without any apparent difficulty.

Reynolds stars as Hal Jordan, a brash test pilot who likes nothing more than to push the limits. At work he flies alongside his childhood friend, Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) who, as the Iceman to his Maverick, spends a lot of time telling him that he's too dangerous and too reckless. However, it's this fearless abandon that brings him to the attention of the intergalactic Green Lantern Corps, a police force fueled by the green essence of willpower, when Green Lantern Abin Sur crash lands on earth and commands his ring to seek out his successor. While Hal struggles in his new role as Green Lantern, and the powers that come with it, scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) begins to undergo a transformation as a result of performing an autopsy on Abin Sur and being exposed to Parallax, an entity fueled by the yellow energy of fear. With Earth on the verge of destruction from Parallax, and the rest of the Green Lantern Corps having decided to sacrifice Earth in order to save their own planet Oa, it is up to Hal alone to stop Hector and Parallax and save Earth.

I'm not a comic book reader, so I have no idea how compelling Hal Jordan's story is in that medium, but on film, and as directed by Martin Campbell from a script by Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, and Michael Goldenberg, it just never gels. While the stakes in the story are high (the destruction of Earth), the film itself is a light and fluffy affair, designed to be appropriate for as many ages as possible, where the violence is never too violent or graphic and the hero is never too brooding or tortured by the weight of responsibility that has just been placed on his shoulders. This isn't a bad thing, in and of itself, as there's definitely a place for silliness and lightness in the superhero genre and, if anything, DC comic adaptations have tended to go a little too far into the realm of seriousness and darkness. The problem with Green Lantern's lightness is that it never really feels comfortable with it and instead of turning into the skid whenever things threaten to get silly, it instead pulls back and fights against it. The effect is that it ends up feeling like it's existing in between tones, where it's never ridiculous enough to be pure, dumb entertainment, while still being too ridiculous to transcend its status as a popcorn/genre movie. As bright and loud as Green Lantern is, it's never very much fun, which is at odds with the way that CGI is used throughout to render the film's onscreen world in such an overtly cartoonish way.

All told, Green Lantern feels like a film in which a lot of people had a little bit of input but in which no one person was exercising final and complete creative control. Even at a basic narrative level, it doesn't feel like the film has a central sense of purpose, an idea of what it wants to do beyond launch another superhero franchise. It's not just an origin story, but an origin story within an origin story, as it's about both the creation of the Green Lantern Corps. itself and Hal's incorporation into that much larger tapestry. Yet despite the potential richness of those stories, particularly in light of the fact that, unlike characters like Superman or Batman, those stories haven't already been mined in multiple live action films, Green Lantern wastes that storytelling opportunity. Instead of actually exploring in any depth the Guardians of the Universe and their creation of the Green Lantern Corps., or Hal discovering his place within the larger context of the many other Green Lanterns, or Hal learning to balance his responsibilities on Earth with his new intergalactic responsibilities, it instead gives a Cliff's Notes version of all of it that provides the story with the shallowest kind of context and characterization, including the fact that all of the human characters have father issues of varying degrees. Hal watched his pilot father die, which, rather than making him more cautious, has driven him to take unnecessary risks; Carol wants to prove herself as a worthy successor to her father, whose company she and Hal fly for; and Hector is in a constant state of seething with resentment for his father, who he eventually kills once he gains telekinetic powers from Parallax. None of these issues are really developed enough for it to feel like an actual theme, however, they're just nuggets of detail that are periodically dropped into the narrative to make it seem like the characters are being given actual depth.

Through virtually no fault of their own, none of the actors in Green Lantern fares well. Hal is the most developed, for lack of a better word, of all the characters but even Reynolds' easy charisma can't hide the fact that Hal is as one dimensional as if he never left the pages of his comic book. The film's supporting cast is stacked with such overqualified actors as Sarsgaard, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins, Geoffrey Rush, Mark Strong, and Michael Clarke Duncan (there's 2 Oscar winners and 2 Oscar nominees among them, for those keeping score), all of whom are utterly wasted in roles that I have to assume they only accepted for the paycheques. It's that sense of going through the motions that ultimately pervades Green Lantern, which feels like it exists less because the people involved in it passionately believed in it and more because having a Green Lantern-anchored movie was an obligatory move if DC was going to attempt to follow in Marvel's shared universe footsteps. However, instead of being the jumping off point for a series of superhero films, Green Lantern instead set those plans back, leaving it to 2013's Man of Steel to make a new attempt and bumping the Green Lantern character all the way down to the bottom of the list so that he won't get another chance at a starring role until 2020, a full nine years after the release of this film. Green Lantern wasn't just a box office failure, it was an ill-conceived disaster both on its own terms as a film and as a piece in a puzzle that execs at DC and Warner Bros. have been desperately trying to put together ever since Marvel unleashed phase one of their plot for total cinema domination. The only noteworthy thing about Green Lantern is that, in these days of 3D-inflated ticket prices, a movie this bad, this critically reviled, and this lacking in fan affection can still manage to make $116 million dollars (and be a massive financial failure regardless).

Should It Have Been a Blockbuster?: In brightest day, in blackest night... no.


Dell said...

Totally agreed. This was a misfire, starting with the casting of Reynolds. The Green Lantern has always been a rather humorless chap which is completely at odds with Reynolds' strengths as a performer. He is far better suited to Deadpool, so that's a plus. You nailed everything else wrong with this movie.

thevoid99 said...

Yeah, this was a bad movie. Awful visual effects and a very familiar storyline that never goes anywhere. Plus, I just don't like the idea of Peter Sarsgaard screaming like a girl.

Norma Desmond said...

@Wendell Ottley - I didn't realize that about the Green Lantern character; in light of that it makes even less sense that they tried for something so cartooney.

@thevoid99 - In fairness, nothing else Sarsgaard does here works either.