Tuesday, August 30, 2011

We Agree: Green Lantern

(read David's take)

2011, Martin Campbell

As I stated in my review of Captain America: The First Avenger, I have a big problem with movies that are so obviously made by a committee. Green Lantern is the worst offender since X-Men: The Last Stand. It's bluntly a terrible movie that is so obviously the product of too many cooks in the kitchen. The film lacks a consistency in tone throughout, as if it's trying to be all things to all people... space opera, comedy, drama, horror, science fiction, fantasy, romance, tragedy, etc. and it succeeds at none of it.

As a comics fan I'm more than intimately familiar with the Green Lantern Corps, with Hal Jordan and his origin story, and it's simple: an alien crash lands on earth, found by ace pilot Hal Jordan, he bequeaths upon him a Green Lantern ring, one of the most powerful weapons in the universe, making him a deputy in the intergalactic space police force. The film executes this origin story in an exceptionally convoluted manner, involving an extensive and unnecessary Top Gun-style action sequence and a supremely overwrought flashback sequence about Hal's father dying in a plane explosion (the flashback was so incredibly cheesy, the events of which are mentioned at least three times throughout the film, negating the necessity of the flashback itself).

Then the film ties Hal's Green Lantern origin story into that of b-grade villain Hector Hammond. The whole Hammond storyline seemed out of place like it was happening in another film world altogether. Peter Sarsgaard's portrayal of the nebbish Hammond is actually quite entertaining, but, again, almost pointless to the plot of the movie.

Once Hal receives the ring, he has no idea what to do with it and the film tries to play his confusion for laughs, and then wraps his discovery of its power into a forgettable sub-plot about Ferris Aircraft possibly losing a military contract. It's a good 15 minutes before Hal is scuttled off to Oa by his ring, something that, for good pacing, should have happened as immediately as he received it.

Oa is a planet without any logical or habitable structures. It's a place where Green Lanterns gather in large clusters to shoot their rings up in the air like Yosemite Sam after a rousing speech. They're led by the eternal Guardians of the Universe, a cranky group of large-headed, blue gnomes who seem to have it all figured out, that is except how to defeat their greatest nemesis, the embodiment of fear, Parallax. But that's okay, because Hal will do what hundreds of other GLs couldn't and defeat Parallax permanently, and in only about 20 minutes, which has to be some kind of record.

While on Oa, Hal gets about 12 minutes of training from Kilowog and Sinestro, then turns tail and runs home, thoroughly embarrassed. From what little they've established of Hal's character, turning tail from a fight or getting shamed into quitting something just doesn't seem his style (especially from someone who is supposed to represent the ultimate in willpower, I mean really). Yet, home he goes to sulk, until Hector causes a catastrophe at a Ferris Aircraft party, and Hal saves the day, I guess, proving that, hey, he's actually pretty good at this hero stuff.

Then Hector summons Parallax to Earth, Hal asks the Guardians for help in saving Earth from it, which they turn down (as I think the guardians were hoping to turn earth into and interstellar overpass anyway). Rejected, Hal gives a rousing speech about overcoming fear (a speech repeated at least three times in the film) and asks permission (why?) to go off and fight it alone. It's as confounding and inept a scene as I've seen in a major motion picture in years.

The green screening in Green Lantern is pretty bad... special effects in the film are ever-present so doubtlessly the effects budget was spread pretty thin, and everything suffered for it. The CGI characters didn't look very good, the CGI settings looked more fake than matte paintings, and the figures in action seemed to have so very little weight to them, like they were balloon people.

The film's editing was baffling, large sections of the film are comprised of quick jumps between sub-plots in 20 - 30 second increments, as if the editor was attempting some type of Paul Thomas Anderson/Magnolia-type emotional parallel between storylines. There was no emotional parallel, it was just bizarre, noticeable and even a little frustrating.

The film was, from frame one, overdesigned. The original Green Lantern costume and power battery are quite simple in their design, but the film goes overboard in attempting to give them an "alien" aesthetic, and winds up just looking fake. Abin Sur's space-ship, Oa, the adaptation of Tomar Re and Kilowog to the screen, all overdesigned, made more complex and ugly in the process.

The film utilizes two largely recognizable actors in Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett in tragically inept ways. These roles are not for stars of their caliber but for bit character actors used to slinging a half dozen lines with an off-beat gravitas. Bassett plays Amanda Waller, a comic transplant, who transitions from being a bad as show-runner of a covert government agency to an ineffectual government scientist.

And let's not forget that, in the film Hal has a best friend whom I'm not certain is ever given a name. I know from comics history class that he's Tom Kalmaku (aka Hal's Eskimo buddy Pieface, here played by New Zealander Taika Waititi best known, perhaps, as a director of various Flight Of The Conchords episodes) but he's never called "Tom" that I can recall and only saw reference to his name in the IMDB credits.

As far as the acting, it was acceptable. Mark Strong makes the perfect Sinestro, and Ryan Reynolds is a passable asshole as Hal Jordan, and even Blake Lively, who was singled out as terrible in the trailers wasn't as bad as the material they were presented with delivering. This film won't be making anyone's highlight reel.

The flaws of this film are great, in fact the entire film is perhaps one big folly, and yet, I want another Green Lantern film, just next time, do it right. Just don't go so overboard. I looked at the posters for this film as they were scattered around town at bus stops and on subways, images of Sinestro and Tomar Re cropping up everywhere, and it could have be so wonderful, it could have been a star-spanning epic that kids would embrace like my generation embraced Star Wars, getting excited over the minutia of the alien characters on display, alas, the suits and the hands wanted something different. They wanted a moneymaker, they wanted something that everyone would want to watch, and as a result got an unsuccessful flop that nobody should watch.