Saturday, October 1, 2011

Green Lantern's Might! Or Might Not!

I can't really explain why I wanted to see Green Lantern. Yet, there I was, in the theater, on the last (well, penultimate) day it was showing because I just wanted to. I've mentioned before that I was a DC kid. I read very few Marvel comics. I never could get into Spider-man or the Fantastic Four or the Hulk or whatever.

For me it was Superman, Batman, The Flash, Green Arrow, The Atom...and Green Lantern. Green Lantern was actually my bud's favorite (just as mine was The Flash). And Green Lantern—well, green is a very good comic book color, and CGI color for that matter.

But the buzz on this movie was just horrible. Like this was an awful, awful film with no redeeming qualities, that was just a bad idea all around.

And, frankly, it's not.

It's a little far out. Green Lantern's story is basically a space opera, a comic book version of Doc Smith's Lensmen. Though, from memory, I don't recall all that much sci-fi from the comic book. (The parts that I do remember, this movie nails, though, like the whole planet of Oa and the Lantern Corps.)

But it's a lot like Thor, really. Half the story on Earth, half in space. And with the same kind of goofy comic book science I love so well. In this case, it's colored energy. Green is the color of will and yellow is the color of fear. The former is good and empowering, and the latter is corrupting.

The story is that one of the Guardians (the hyper-intelligent/advanced beings that created the Lantern corps), long ago tried to harness the power of yellow energy, but instead became corrupted and evil (and newly christened as Parallax), so they had to lock him up on a far away planet, encased in green chains. An opportunity arises for Parallax to suck the fearful souls out of some unwary travelers, and he breaks free and begins to wreak havoc, mortally wounding the Lantern who was his turnkey.

And that's just the opening sequence. The wounded Lantern flees to the nearest inhabited planet which happens to be Earth, where cocky jet pilot Hal Jordan is sleeping with hot chicks and crashing expensive planes, in between the occasional fugue where he freezes thinking about his father's fatal crash 20 years earlier.

The magicscientifically advanced ring gives Hal a nifty costume and flies him off to Oa where he undergoes training under the supervision of Michael Clark Duncan as Killowog, and disdain at the hands of the supercilious Sinestro.

There's a lot of plot here getting in the way of the story, as Joe Bob Briggs would say. But I mostly wasn't bored, which was my real concern. I thought the CGI mostly worked. I didn't think the suit—which was roundly critiqued for being CGI—was bad. For me, the space stuff in this movie worked better than the stuff in Thor. GL doesn't have the fun fish-out-of-water aspect that was the best part of Thor.

Some of the critics seem to fault it because Hal is kind of a traditional alpha male type—no struggling Peter Parker here—but it really wouldn't have been exactly fresh to have it be the other way. The macho guy who gets superpowers is at least as common as the nebbish who gets them. Neither is particularly more valid dramatically than the other.

In this case, Hal's fear of dying like his father (sorta) acts as his own weakness, and it works pretty well, if it feels a little movie-of-the-week-ish, as the premise is offered that he's a cocky jerk who can't hold down a relationship because of it.

Hal's counterpart is Hector (Peter Sarsgaard, looking a bit less suave than he did in An Education), a nerdy xenobiologist who gets a dose of the Evil Yellow Energy and becomes even more hideous and an even greater disappointment to his charming but evil Senator father (played with conviction by Tim Robbins, natch).

There's a very funny, spoiler-laden takedown of this movie at Topless Robot, but I think it's wrong in spirit. You can always pick apart these things, no matter how widely regarded the movie. Even The Dark Knight or Spider-Man 2 or any of them. It's that you choose not to. It's not a matter of suspending disbelief, it's a matter of the film engaging you to the point where you say "I don't get why he did that but I'm rolling with it."

And obviously this film failed to do that with a lot of people. (It'll make its money back, though. It just throws the next episode into doubt. Which is a shame, really, because a follow-up could be much better.)

No, I think, apart from a few issues, the main problem is the story being crushed under its own weight. Superman? Rocketed from the planet Krypton, has magic powers on earth. Batman? Dead parents, vengeful spirit, lots of training and money. Spider-Man? Radio-active spider bite confers magic powers.

Here, you've got an under-developed love triangle between Hector, Hal and Carol Ferris (who carries about as much weight as Pepper in Iron Man and Jane in Thor), un-resolved parental issues for both Hector and Hal, government contract shenanigans with the Senator and Carol Ferris' father (Jay O. Sanders), un-resolved extended family issues (Hal has a nephew—but we didn't even know he had a sibling, presumably a brother?), un-resolved labor contract disputes (Hal gets a lot of people fired, somehow), and all that's just on Earth.

There's all kinds of stuff going on on Oa that is under-developed.

Beyond that, there are conceptual issues with the Green Lantern character. His ring can do anything he can focus his mind on. Only, you know, green. Well, that's basically god-mode, right there. No upper-bounds to his power—a problem that's plagued Superman, too.

In a more concrete example, Hal's first use of his ring evokes, more than anything, that '90s Jim Carrey movie The Mask. In fact, a lot of the uses of his ring evoke cartoon-ish comparisons.

Combine that with film's tendency to double-back on itself and contradict itself within seconds (as described in detail in that Topless Robot breakdown), and the whole space opera thing, and it's not hard to see why it wasn't more popular.

For me, I thought the director (Martin Campbell, who made the greatest Bond movie ever: Casino Royale) did a great job with the patchy script, and I think the acting was really very strong, too. Reynolds had a tough role and contra that Topless Robot thing, I found him likable. (It felt like he wasn't bad, he was just drawn that way, if you can grasp that. The actor trumps the script.)

Blake Lively didn't register any more than Natalie Portman did in Thor. Not their faults, really. Fun voice acting from Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clark Duncan and Clancy Brown. The best drawn character and the most standout acting was done by Mark Strong, as Sinestro. (In the comic, Sinestro is GL's arch-nemesis, so I kept expecting him to turn evil, but I guess that was planned for the sequel. Which is good; it would've been overkill here.)

So, I get why people think it sucked, and I don't disagree, but I liked it anyway. To hell with you.

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