The Good: Amazing special effects, Good character development, Wonderful acting, Smart characters.
The Bad: Rushed quality/editing, Underuse of Corps.
The Basics: Green Lantern arrives and no one is more surprised than I to discover that it is not the best movie of the year (or even this Summer Blockbuster Season), though it entertains thoroughly.
Superhero movies have a lot to live up to since The Dark Knight (reviewed here!). The Dark Knight illustrated that super hero films could be smart, psychologically deep and entertaining and while I've remained in the minority in my belief that Watchmen (reviewed here!) did all that and more, I can recognize that many people are still waiting for the film that will top The Dark Knight or serve to fill the same niche in their collection while providing them something new. This summer, the DC blockbuster in a Marvel-heavy summer is Green Lantern. And after all of the hype, I am pleased to say Green Lantern comes close, even if it does not quite live up to the impossible standards fans might have had for it.
Green Lantern is a bigger superhero film and it reflects a story that is much bigger. Going into the screening tonight, I figured the movie could only disappoint me if two things happened: 1. Ryan Reynolds made a joke out of the role of Hal Jordan and the Green Lanterns and 2. Sinestro, who has been shown in all of the promotional materials for the movie as a Green Lantern, turned to the Yellow Side. I'm not against ambitious moviemaking, but with it well-leaked that Hector Hammond and Parallax were going to be villains in Green Lantern, adding the fall of Sinestro into this first volume seemed like it would be overkill. Fortunately, Reynolds manages to not make Green Lantern the laughing stock of the cinematic superhero universe. As for the other, my stomach tightened when a yellow ring is forged, though the creative staff managed to not make the ultimate mistake with rushing Sinestro's turn.
All I truly know about Green Lantern, the comic book upon which the film Green Lantern is based comes from reading the Blackest Night Saga. But the whole idea of the power rings are related quite succinctly in Blackest Night: Tales Of The Corps (reviewed here). The basic premise of the Green Lantern Corps, though, is that the Green Lanterns are interstellar police officers monitoring sectors of space from threats to entire worlds. The Green Lanterns derive their power from willpower and with that basic understanding, I felt both up to speed going into Green Lantern and not tied to the specifics of the Green Lantern mythos. In other words, this is a very pure review of the film Green Lantern. Fortunately for those who do not have the background in the comic book, the film Green Lantern adequately explains all of the principles. And for those with more familiarity with the source material, there are in-jokes like Carol's code name being "sapphire" that fans will appreciate.
To protect the universe, the Guardians divided the universe into 3600 sectors, each with a Green Lantern responsible for patrolling and protecting the sector. One Green Lantern, Abin Sur, was responsible for imprisoning the ruthless, fear-based creature Parallax on Ryat. But there, a guardian becomes possessed by Parallax and it kills a team of Lanterns and begins to hunt Abin Sur. In an altercation, Parallax wounds Abin Sur and the Green Lantern escapes to the nearest planet in Sector 2814 to find his replacement. On Earth, test pilot Hal Jordan is engaged in a test with two drone planes and his human partner, Carol Ferris, where he manages to defeat the Ferris Industry Sabre 3 drones, at the cost of his plane. Reeling from the likely loss of an important contract, Hal Jordan is on his own when he is engulfed in the green light from Abin Sur's ring and Jordan meets Abin Sur who gives him the green ring of power before dying.
While Hal Jordan begins to learn about the powers associated with the green lantern ring, the Green Lantern Sinestro appeals to the Guardians of Oa to allow him to take a team to attempt to destroy Parallax. As Hal Jordan trains on Oa under Tomar-Re and Kilowog, on Earth Hector Hammond, the reclusive son of a powerful Senator, is brought in to autopsy the body of Abin Sur. While he does, a fragment of Parallax infests Hector, which causes him to develop powers like the ability to read minds and puts the man in touch with the main body of Parallax. As the Guardians contemplate Sinestro's desperate plea for an ultimate weapon, Parallax zooms in on Earth with only Hal Jordan standing to save the planet.
As one might guess, Green Lantern is a big summer special effects-driven film. Right off the bat, it is worth noting all of the special effects truly are incredible and this is one of the most visually spectacular films I have seen in a long time. The characters that are virtual look good, there are seamless transitions between Ryan Reynolds and his digital counterpart and the constructs Hal Jordan imagines into being look cool. Green Lantern would have been d.o.a. if the effects looked cheesy or if Hal Jordan, whom the ring chose, did not adapt to creating compelling or interesting constructs with his willpower. As the movie goes on, Hal Jordan's imagination and willpower - in combination with a rocking special effects team - develop cooler and cooler constructs and they look great.
So, why am I not absolutely bowled over by Green Lantern? The main problem with the film is that it is rushed. The story is rushed and the editing is poorly done, lending the feeling that the movie was put together, more than it flows. So, for example, the viewer does not see Abin Sur's ship crash on Earth. Instead, we see him escape Parallax, then we see the crashed ship in the water and Abin Sur sending the ring bubble out to find his successor. I'm not saying the audience is not smart enough to realize Abin Sur has crashed, but the movie would have flowed better had that transition been included. Hector Hammond is abruptly dropped into the film and while the connection between him, Carol Ferris and Hal Jordan comes out, some backstory that included all three would have been nice.
And while the Yellow Power Ring makes its appearance, that, too, feels rushed. Hopes that there would be a sequel, Green Lantern: Fall Of Sinestro wherein the complicated struggle Sinestro has as he is overcome with the power of fear in a complex character study, are dashed during a scene midway through the closing credits (waiting until the very end of the credits only yields an advertisement for Green Lantern graphic novels. The only saving grace of this rushed scene is that it is entirely out of context: the tease could be for a scene midway through the next movie, for all we no. Yes, there is still the potential for a sequel laced with character depth, not just a lame conversion of the most powerful Green Lantern seen in the film by curiosity.
Fortunately, on of the real strengths of Green Lantern comes in the characters. Hal Jordan is cocky, but likable and all of the characters are reasonably smart and have some adult sensibilities to them. While Hal Jordan struggles to rise to the occasion, the whole point of the initially pointless plane testing scene that is the first big sequence in Green Lantern becomes to make it plausible that Jordan has a fearless quality to him. The testing scene also allows the viewer to witness the key backstory element for Hal Jordan's characterization as we see him lose his father. The strength of Hal's father lives on in him.
In this regard, Hector Hammond makes for a compelling foil. Hector's father is very much alive, but is so disappointed in his xenobiologist son that he keeps Hector at arm's length. Moreover, Hal Jordan's power comes from his willpower and Hector is pretty much the ultimate villain. Hector Hammond is not a villain so much as he is collateral damage, a bystander who is randomly infected with the evil Parallax. From that, his body begins to undergo horrible changes that are outside his control and while he manifests similar powers to Hal Jordan, his are powered by the fear others have for him.
Even as the transformation happens, Hector Hammond asks the right questions and this is the reason I suspect this movie might age better for me than the impression I had from my first viewing. Hector is smart enough to understand that he and Hal have been given great power, but he cannot understand how their lives are diverging so much. Carol Ferris is similarly smart, recognizing Hal Jordan despite the fact that his cheekbones are covered. Carol does something few people do in any movie, much less superhero films; she effectively denounces the binary view of the protagonist. Ferris observes the immaturity of treating the world in absolutes and that moment, very early on in the film, is very refreshing and disarming. Even Hal Jordan's best friend is smart enough to realize that Hal Jordan is developing some serious powers.
While all of this is good, the scenes on Oa are far too brief and Tomar-Re and Kilowog are essentially relegated to being cameo appearances and Sinestro is not given nearly enough time to develop. Even in their limited roles, Geoffrey Rush (Tomar-Re), Michael Clark Duncan (Kilowog) and Mark Strong (Sinestro) are distinctively performed to make one believe they are higher beings than the human Hal Jordan. Similarly, Peter Sarsgaard is great as Hector, with his ability to emote so much through just his eyes. Blake Lively plays Carol Ferris as smart and sassy enough to hold her own in all of her scenes.
But it comes down to Ryan Reynolds to sell Green Lantern and he lands it. First, Reynolds makes Hal Jordan likable and he does it without his usual smirk and slouching. Instead, he is boisterous when Hal is piloting and he is quiet and human when he is on his own. The subtle scene wherein Hal and Hector converse shows off Reynolds' serious abilities and helps to define Hal Jordan as something other than a dumb jock type. As important, Reynolds manages to play the extraordinary Green Lantern in a completely different way from how he played the extraordinary Wade in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (reviewed here!).
Green Lantern is fast-paced, even to its own detriment, and while it did not leave me feeling as excited as I did after seeing The Dark Knight the first time, the potential for the franchise looks good and all of the pieces are in place for a grand continued adventure.
[NOTE: Having seen the film twice now, spend the extra money for the 3-D version; this film uses that exceptionally well!]
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© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.