Green Lantern (2011)
Friday, June 17, 2011 at 11:20PM
Ian Simmons in Green Lantern [2011]


I had zero expectations going into Martin Campbell's Green Lantern. The trailers looked terrible, and I figured this was just DC Comics's way of jumping onto the "Let's Make Obscure Comic-Book Characters Cool" bandwagon that Marvel kick-started with 2008's Iron Man. It didn't help that early reviews were not just negative, but scathing on a near-personal level. After having seen the film, I'm happy to report that Green Lantern pleasantly surprised me.

Wait! Come back!

I'm not endorsing the movie, nor am I surprised by its current 24% critical approval rating. I was surprised by the mediocrity of almost everything on screen, by the sheer blandness of this sugar-free, green oatmeal.

I can't explain why the ninety-percent-stolen screenplay, poor casting and ignorantly proud lack of internal logic didn't upset me; maybe because, after a few short minutes, picking the movie apart as it was unfolding became an unavoidable game. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but Green Lantern's problems are too numerous and glaring not to notice (unless you're the degree of fan who will show up to the theatre wearing a Green Lantern t-shirt, in which case there's probably no room for debate, anyway).

Let's start with the film's mythology. In an impressive opening sequence that didn't at all remind me of Thor, we're introduced to the Guardians, a race of god-creatures who created and oversee everything in the universe. In the beginning, they used the glowing, green power of will to establish a home world from which they forged 3600 magical rings; the rings sought out one being from each of the 3600 sectors of space to become an enforcer of justice. United, they formed the Green Lantern Corps.

Congratulations, if William Shatner's line, "What does god need with a starship?" just popped into your head.

Yes, the all-knowing, all-powerful Guardians--who, mind you, can do or manifest anything with their minds (except when they can't)--need an army of space cops to keep the universe safe from...them, I guess?

Moving on, we learn that one of the Guardians went rogue and harnessed the power of yellow energy, or fear, and became so consumed that he turned into the life-force-sucking entity called Parallax (voiced by Clancy Brown). After an epic battle that we never see, Parallax is imprisoned within an asteroid by the noble Lantern, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison). As the film's main story begins, a trio of explorers crashes through the asteroid's unstable surface and lands in front of the green-energy prison in which Parallax has been confined. He opens his eyes, sucks them dry, and floats off into space.

Six months later, Parallax shows up in another system and attacks Abin Sur, mortally wounding him. Clinging to life, he steers his ship towards Earth in search of a worthy successor to the ring.

Let's back up a moment. If I were a council of omnipotent gods who'd somehow managed to foil an unstoppable monster, I would certainly have tried to destroy it (not hard to do, I'd imagine, for a group of omnipotent gods); short of that, I would have confined it to a remote sector of space, sealed off by a series of twelve-thousand force fields. At the very least, I would have installed an alarm, so that it couldn't sneak up on my people half a year later.

Hey, Ian, isn't Ryan Reynolds in this movie?

Boy, is he! And if you were worried that he'd try to break free of the hot, smirking frat-boy-type that he's perfected in the last decade in order to play the serious test-pilot that his Hal Jordan character is supposed to be--don't worry: he's still Van Wilder at heart.

Hal crashes a fighter jet while testing his skills against two state-of-the-art, pilot-free planes. He's fired from the aeronautics firm run by his best-friend-since-childhood, Carol (Blake Lively), and mopes home. On his way, he's picked up by a ball of green energy and flown to the spot where Abin Sur wrecked his spacecraft. The alien hands Hal his ring, mumbles something about being "chosen", and dies. Hal quickly discovers that the ring can manifest any form that his mind can imagine and he uses it to pulverize a gang of drunks who attack him outside a bar.

It's interesting to note that the moment when Hal clobbers these guys using a giant cartoon fist is played for laughs (or at least cheers). Sorry, but I sided with the attackers, who were laid off from Hal's firm because his cavalier attitude and subsequent accident forced the business to make cuts. Not that I agree with people beating up on each other, but I would've been pissed, too, at this wisecracking, entitled fuck.

Emerging "victorious", Hal is transported through space to the Guardians's home planet, Oa. There, he is outfitted with a green hero's costume and introduced to other members of the Corps. A training montage ensues; first with a giant dog-pig-thing called Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan, who advances the idea that no matter how far one goes into space, one can always find a stereotypical, black bad-ass to toughen up a stereotypical, soft cracker), then with the erudite, pink-skinned Sinestro (Mark Strong).

Based on his name, you'd probably think Sinestro to be untrustworthy. And I have to give screenwriters Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, and Michael Goldenberg credit for the movie's one surprise: that Sinestro is a grouchy but stand-up guy from beginning to end. That doesn't include the end credits, however; an Easter Egg sequence containing the most unconvincing character turn since Anakin Skywalker's Revenge of the Sith switch.

Jesus, this review is all over the place. I might as well as have just snuck my laptop into the theatre and live-blogged Green Lantern. In a way, though, it's the only way to effectively describe the film, which is itself so ramshackle and poorly edited that we're barely given time to register anything but the inconsistencies--until the end, when every scene drags on to utterly predictable conclusions.

For the sake of brevity and clarity, allow me to present the rest of the synopsis as a word problem. Read the following description, and then pick the lettered answer that best describes the movie from which the plot elements have been stolen:

Hal doesn't think he's up for the challenge of being a Lantern, so he quits. After Hal returns to Earth, Parallax wipes out a large contingent of the Corps, leaving Oa exposed to greater attacks. Meanwhile, an improbably named, weaselly scientist named Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) comes into contact with a piece of Parallax, which causes his body to mutate into a hybrid of the alien, complete with swelled head. Hal must save Earth and his newly non-platonic friend, Carol, from the fear-feeding scourge, which looks like a cloud of CG white-guy dreads with a face.

A. The Last Starfighter

B. Spider-Man 3

C. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

D. All of the Above

Bonus points if you noticed that the earlier fighter-pilot sequence is almost beat for beat the climax from Iron Man, in which Tony Stark takes his armor into the atmosphere to scramble his high-speed pursuers' electrical equipment.

Despite all of this, I don't think Green Lantern is the worst movie in the world. It's just not really worth your time. The only decent actor here is Strong, who made me wish the movie had been called Sinestro and the Green Lantern Corps; Lively continues to confound by being consistently worse on the big screen than she is on Gossip Girl. The CG is distracting, busy, and seems to exist solely to show unimaginative comic-book readers what their favorite characters look like moving around (if that's enough for them, maybe Fredrick Wortham was right). And the story's old hat.

In an era where new comic-book movies come out every month, you'd think that studios would be hip to the fact that everyone's down with the formula now. With the exception of X-Men: First Class (which kind of cheats), all of these movies are the same. They spend two hours introducing the same primary and secondary characters we've seen a hundred times before, having those characters square off against an unimpressive foe, and then fading to black with the promise of more "breathing room" (i.e. budget/balls) in the sequel.

Green Lantern is just more of that, except with about twenty Parallax-sized plot holes and zero charisma. It would have been nice if the creators had learned something from their characters and delivered a movie whose only limits were those of imagination.

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