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June 17, 2011

Review: Green Lantern

Posted by on Jun 17, 2011
Green Lantern

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the past few summers have been full of blockbuster comic book movies. Obviously since the very first of this new crop of comic films started being made with the original X-Men and Spiderman, nerds everywhere have been excited about the mainstream embrace of (at least some of) their culture. Of course, even within the comic book world, there are arguments over which characters and properties should and should not go to the silver screen next, and virtually every comic blockbuster to come out over the last decade has been based on characters from the Marvel Universe. The only exceptions that I can think of right now are Superman Returns, which was laughable at best, and Chris Nolan’s excellent Batman series, which has the feel of a much more serious film and is hardly in the same vein as Iron Man or Thor.

As of today that is no longer the case, thanks to the newest entry in the DC universe, Green Lantern, starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, and Peter Sarsgaard.  The film tells the story of how former Air Force and current commercial test pilot Hal Jordan becomes a member of the Green Lantern Corps.  Here are my thoughts on the characters, the story, and the use of 3D in movies.

The Characters
I love Ryan Reynolds.  I think he’s very talented, extremely funny, and I just can’t get help but getting lost in those eyes of his…   Where was I?  Right. Anyway, despite his cross-universe casting, I was pretty happy when I first heard he had been cast as Hal Jordan, as I was confident that he could display the right blend of humor, charisma, and arrogance that is so necessary for the character.  He doesn’t disappoint.  I think he delivered this role extremely well.  The inevitable “figuring out all the cool shit you can do with your new-found powers while trying to cope with having a secret identity” sequences were hilarious and awesome, and his shift from irresponsible flyboy to Green Lantern of Sector 2814 was overall well paced and enjoyable to watch.  I’m looking forward to seeing what he might do with this character in additional Lantern installments, or perhaps in a future Justice League flick, if such a thing ever happens.

Blake Lively.  My girlfriend tells me that she was annoying and that she didn’t like the way she was supposedly a strong female character but went all doe-eyed every time Hal Jordan was around.  I disagree some, but mostly just think she should be in every movie ever for all time.  That’s all.

Anyone who wants to get me a power ring for my birthday should feel free.

The other performances were pretty good across the board, I thought.  Certainly nothing blew me away, but they were all sufficient for the summer blockbuster that this movie is trying to be.  Peter Sarsgaard is very creepy and becomes fairly grotesque as the movie progresses, but I found it hard to feel any of the sympathy for him that I think I was supposed to feel initially.  Mark Strong, who plays Green Lantern Sinestro (and Lord Blackwood from the recent Sherlock Holmes), is quite good and I’m looking forward to seeing him in more things in the future.

The Story
Now we get to the problems with the movie, and that is the movie itself.  The plot for this film has some major issues that I’m surprised made it out of the writers’ room.  Fans of comic book movies — and indeed summer action movies in general — should know most of the formulas at this point.  You set up the premise, in the case of the first installment in a comic franchise you have some sort of origin, the villain is introduced, there’s a couple battles, usually resulting in the temporary defeat of the protagonist, he or she regroups and figures out what went wrong, and you have a big climactic finish.  Credits role.  Samuel L. Jackson shows up after.  Pretty typical right?  Now I’m not saying every movie needs to follow this exactly, and many excellent ones do not.  But when a movie stays on the rails the whole time and then suddenly the track runs off Anti-climax Cliff and plummets down into Credits Lagoon, it leaves you feeling a little cheated.  Up until the moment the credits appeared, I was convinced that there was about 20 minutes of additional story, during which the bad guy would make a surprising re-appearance.

"In brightest day, in blackest night..."

Part of the issue, of course, with comics movies in general and this one in particular, is that the first installment does have to take a fair amount of real estate to do the origin story, which leaves less time for the traditional rising and falling action.  Green Lantern probably presents a few additional challenges for screen writers because you aren’t just telling the story of how one Guy (or Hal, in this case), got his powers.  You have to tell a sufficient backstory for the entire Green Lantern Corps and the extremely cool way their powers manifest themselves.  That’s one thing this movie accomplishes incredibly well.  People who had never heard word one about the Green Lantern Corps before going to the movie last night told me they felt they had an excellent grasp on it and thought the concepts were all awesome. The trick is then to combine that backstory with a good, fulfilling conflict between hero and villain.  It’s not impossible, and if you need a movie that is ten minutes longer to make it ten times better, you should do that. Unfortunately, the makers of Green Lantern did not.

That is the thing that is the most disappointing about this movie:  The production values are all incredibly high (I even got to like Reynolds’ CG lantern outfit).  The actors are all quite talented.  The writing is all very good.  None of this matters because the story that the witty dialogue and cool special effects tells isn’t any good.

One last thing.
Don’t, under any circumstances, pay the extra money to see this in 3D.  I saw it in 3D because I had a free ticket, but there was literally no point in the film that I noticed it being in 3D or thought a scene was enhanced by it.  If studios are going to take audiences into the third dimension, they’d better start filming the third dimension instead of post-converting it.  Until they do this, they will always suck.