Friday, June 17, 2011

GREEN LANTERN: A Film Review

Entertainment
GREEN LANTERN
Release Date: June 17, 2011
Director: Martin Campbell
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Mark Strong, Peter Sarsgaard

It's very different coming into a GREEN LANTERN movie than, say, THOR or GREEN HORNET--both comic-related movies this year that I've enjoyed. GREEN HORNET is one I went into with such low expectations and limited knowledge of that I had no preconceptions. As a result, I was able to watch it strictly on its own merits and as such, it worked and had me laughing from start to finish. THOR was quite different. There's a comic mythology at work there and visual design from Jack Kirby that hits me deep within and I was pleasantly pleased by the way that film unfolded as it's own story but also as just another set-up chapter in the Marvel Movie-verse rolling towards the big AVENGERS movie next year.



Now we have GREEN LANTERN. The Green Lantern as a concept has been a part of the comic book pantheon of heroes since 1940 when the original version (Alan Scott) found his magic ring, dressed up like a Douglas Fairbanks Jr. swashbuckler, and devoted himself to combating evil wherever he found it. He spoke his solemn oath as he charged his power ring on the magic lantern:


...and I shall shed my light over dark evil.



For the dark things cannot stand the light,


The light of the Green Lantern!

That version of the Green Lantern lasted until 1951 and then he just...disappeared.

Eight years later, in 1959, DC Comics dug the concept out of mothballs and reimagined the "magic" ring with science-fiction instead and came up with the idea of fearless test-pilot Hal Jordan (thinly modeled on Chuck Yeager) being chosen by a dying alien to receive a fantastic ring powered by his will, limited only by the color yellow (originally because of an "impurity" in the ring but later explained that yellow is the power spectrum of "fear"). The idea was unique to the super-hero genre in that "Green Lantern" was not unique, he was one of 3600 other alien "Green Lanterns", a universal police force that patrols the billions of worlds and combat the greatest of evils throughout all creation.

Which brings us to the film adaptation.


Overall, it is a film that glimpses greatness but always seems to be afraid to achieve it. It's almost like the film itself is metaphorically represented in the opening Earth-bound sequence in which brash pilot Hal Jordan nearly pulls off an impossible feat but chokes at the last minute and bails out of his plane, leaving the plane spiraling down into an expensive explosion.

Now, I'm not saying the movie is an explosive wreck. What I am saying is that I almost think the director choked at some point.

The film crams almost too much into this one film and as a result, the film never feels fully complete. But it's still a fun ride from beginning to end. Any real disappointment is just that it felt like it could have been more. The individual sequences are good, and some are great. It was the weaving them together into a single story that got iffy at times.

In terms of structure, the story begins with a lengthy narration, with visual effects, from Tomar Re detailing the history of the Green Lantern Corps and what Parallax is. Then it jumps to Earth so we can set up a few aspects of who Hal Jordan is. Hal is directionless, reckless, a bit foolhardy, but also an amazing pilot. We learn he is haunted by seeing his father die in front of him in a horrible fiery explosion. We learn he has a bit of a rough sibling relationship with his brother but a close relationship with his nephew. And we learn he has a lifelong complicated relationship with Carol Ferris, the daughter of his employer, Carl Ferris of Ferris Aircraft.


In the comics, Carol is not a pilot but an executive at Ferris Aircraft. In the film, they merge Carol with the more current character of "Cowgirl" who is one of Hal's fellow pilots. This way, Hal (Highball) and Carol (Saphire) can get some action sequencing in while also demonstrating that they know way too much about each other to be "just" co-workers.
I really was a bit shocked when Blake Lively first came on the scene as Carol because it seemed like she was extraordinarily stiff and bland. I will say that as the movie went on, it seemed like she loosened up and I came to like her more by the end. In fact, the sequence that sort of spoofs the sequence from the SUPERMAN movie where Superman comes to visit Lois on the balcony was hilarious and received a huge reaction from the audience. It hit all the right notes.

The sequence where Hal meets Abin Sur, the alien, and receives the ring was outstanding and had resonance. The first time he uses the ring and conjures up that huge fist to take out the three guys beating him up. That was great. The trip to Oa was an amazing visual treat that pulled me right in. I wanted more on Oa. Sinestro, Kilowog, Tomar Re, and the Guardians were all fantastically visualized. Mark Strong's Sinestro commanded the screen whenever he was on it.

However, it seemed to me as if the director, Martin Campbell, was almost afraid to dwell too long on Oa. Branagh really let us take in and relax within the hallowed halls of Asgard. I wanted to lose myself in Oa too, but Campbell wouldn't allow that. In fact, he burned through Hal's "training" by Kilowog in just a couple of minutes and then let Hal get his ass handed to him by Sinestro -- one in a long line of humbling moments for Hal that help prod him through his character arc of maturation, responsibility, and self-less heroism. I am sure the same criticism that some had of THOR as to how quickly his transformation from selfish-boy to self-less hero occurred will also be painted on to the criticisms of this film. It's a legitimate criticism, but not a heavily-weighted one because this is a super-hero film and the transformation is going to happen. It's a conceit of the genre. You either accept it or not. I accept it as a means to an end. That end being Hal fully in charge of his powers and coming up with a plan to accomplish the impossible.

Which is exactly what he does.

Criticize it all you want, but everything was set in place very well by the director to make sure that there were very few plot holes. You may not like how he filled them in, but the holes are few if any.

My feelings about Oa and the other Green Lanterns is that they really should have gone with an almost entirely Earth-based story (with just a glimpse of the bigger picture at the end as a tease for a second film) or downplayed Earth altogether and made this movie more about Hal and his extended training and inculcation into the Green Lantern Corps. Instead, we have a movie unsure about which way to go with all of that and it makes it all seem a bit uneven in terms of storytelling.

The parallel origin arc was excellent. The way Campbell cut back and forth between Hector Hammond's descent into villainy and Hal Jordan's ascent into super-heroism was perfect. In fact, Hector was such a sad character that the audience feels no malice toward him. The setup for him and Peter Sarsgsard's performance won everyone's empathy and made him a very sympathetic villain. Sinestro's arc was also excellent as the audience sees a stern, but basically good soldier, not corrupted BY fear but by the power to CONTROL fear. He also goes from outright distaste and disgust in reaction to Hal to a grudging respect teetering on the brink of outright jealousy.

Ultimately, the bottom line for me really has to do with how I felt about Hal once he was up and fully going with his ring and costume. I have absolutely no complaints there. The costume was amazing. It's heart-stopping for me to see it so perfectly visualized and look so real and believable. I couldn't take my eyes off of it, soaking in how the power just seemed to be pulsing through it at all times. The costume itself reflected Hal's emotions, which makes sense in the mythology of the Green Lantern Corps where the different colors are reflections of emotional states.


I loved the way his imagination used the ring to construct things. His first constructive use after his training on Oa had the audience I was with whooping and laughing through the whole sequence. The manner in which he confronted and defeated the Parallax entity was brilliantly simplistic and consistent with the reckless heroism he had demonstrated earlier. And the appearance of the other Green Lanterns who are a bit dumbstruck by this lowly "human" pulling off what none of them could was uplifting and satisfying.

The greatest moment for Hal, as a character, and the audience, in terms of cheering for the hero has to do with the moment in which Hal finally digs down deep inside and with that will that only he has, pours out his oath from the deepest parts of his soul building in intensity before blasting Parallax with a force the corrupted Guardian has never felt before:

In brightest day,
In blackest night.
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil's might.
Beware my power
GREEN LANTERN'S LIGHT!

Like I said, the film has its flaws but I could do a lot worse in terms of my first live-action GREEN LANTERN movie. I thoroughly enjoyed myself from start to finish. Ryan Reynolds totally sold me on his version of Hal Jordan. He was identifiable, flawed, but intrinsically good. And it takes this story to draw that out of him and make him realize the potential within him he has squandered all these years. The audience I was with (a capacity crowd) was rambunctiously into it and launched into spontaneous applause at the end. My teenaged son couldn't wait to get his hands on a light-up Green Lantern ring of his own after seeing it. My wife and daughter went into the movie with no idea what it was about and came out totally digging it. This is a movie that can be enjoyed more than once and I will surely be seeing it again in the theaters. 
As a friend of mine put it after she came out of a midnight showing:  "That was wonderfully Silver Age."

And I totally agree!

I saw it in 3D and can confess that the difference in the 3D for this movie and, say, THOR, is exponential. The 3D effects in GREEN LANTERN are the best I've ever seen them. 

*Note for fans of the GREEN LANTERN comics* Yes, you will want to stay past the first round of credits at the end to get to a payoff scene that you will have been waiting to see...and it is worth it. Also, as the great pounding GREEN LANTERN score plays over that first credits sequence, you will notice the space effects giving us just the barest visual hint about the other color lantern corps. It's subtle, but an obvious homage for the comics fans.



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