Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Green Lantern

It isn't easy being green, especially in such a hollow, CGI'd fashion, devoid of personality.  So goes the joyless affair that is The Green Lantern, a paint-by-numbers comic book adaptation that appears less interested in itself than the sleepy audience watching.  Even with the loud-as-can-be sound mixing, the snores might drown it out.  Directed by Martin Campbell, a typically far more sturdy conductor of popcorn fare (The Mask of Zorro, GoldenEye, Casino Royale, all proficiently made if not quite artful) puts a polished sheen over the DC Comics hero, but it never soars, it stays stubbornly earthbound, and seemingly derivative of a million sub-par properties before it.  And while it may not be fair, especially coming from myself, a guy who has a grown-up appreciation, if not zealot fanboy lust for comic book superheroes, and as one who has never picked up an edition of The Green Lantern in his life, I ask the question: Is this guy supposed to be soooo lame?  With a mythology less synonymous in pop-culture than say Batman, or Superman, or even the X-Men, I, admittedly have little to back this up with, and while it may not be fair to expect more from the less doted on of masked men, this film is my first encounter, and perhaps also my swan song, I started rolling my eyes from the first bit of narration and shifting in my sit within the first reel.  A few years ago, a decent film was made up of Iron Man, a less-than culturally heralded of comic book hero, last year a decidedly different fate took from with a another hero in Jonah Hex; Green Lantern (aka Hal Jordan) falls somewhere in the middle, embracing its generic, if watchable mediocrity.

The exposition is pretty easy to settle with, and it's repeated a lot, so one never has to worry if they've missed it.  First it's explained to us, than to it's soon-to-be hero, than our hero's social circle, and recapped at the end...napping will not interfere with the plot, in fact it might be encouraged.  You see, there's this intergalactic police force of sorts known as the Green Lantern Corps; they oversee everything and there's a representative from each sector of the universe, who with a nifty ring, and by sure will govern the galaxy.  This ring chooses who the Green Lantern will be; one of those suspension of disbelief gags that you either accept or not.  The "one" (oops wrong movie) this time is Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a playboy pilot with an only-in-the-movies devil may care stride, whose physique belies charm or any sort of development.  He also has pretty messed up daddy issues, played up for false emotional cues.  He's got a lady friend, as he must, played with Gossip Girl-frigidity by Blake Lively, there to reprimand his irresponsibility and wait idly for when the script decides it's time for them to kiss.  He's the first human to join the ranks of the Lanterns, so Jordan, who spent the first quarter of the film as a Top Gun-tool must be worth it if the ring says so.

We get some backstory to Lanterns, led by all knowing group of elder types, reminiscent of Yoda, and a nondescript alien dude named Sinestro, played by British actor Mark Strong (the go to guy for big-budget intensity (of Robin Hood, Stardust and Kick-Ass fame) who speaks in similar vocal rhythms to that of Laurence Fishburne's Morpheus in the Matrix movies; every syllable is pointed and succinct; a speech therapist might be proud.  Their planet, all good and ruled by the will of the universe, which in turns powers the rings of the chosen ones, is a mist of green shrouding a grungy and dark (quite dark if you journey to this exercise in 3-D) land.  Visually reminiscent of everything from Tron, to The Flash, to last months Thor, there's a sense of a mechanical aesthetic behind The Green Lantern, which features plentiful special effects, many in which are fairly impressive, but it all adds up to "so what."  In moments where artificial magic seems a given, like Hal's first flight, or his training exercises showcasing the green-y splendor the ring's power, there's such a rushed, get-to-it sensation of the franchise machine at work, there's precious little time to dwell on mythic charms.  And while logic has no place here, it does seem curious that such an amateur at intergalactic hero work takes to it so quickly.

Rushed screentime is also parted to the villian; there's two in The Green Lantern.  The first a nebbish scientist type amusingly played by Peter Sarsgaard, who tops Hal Jordan's father issues with increasing mania.  Then there's an alien (or whatever) baddie named Parallex, a black blob composed of energy that's built on fear; one has the sense if they really capitalized on the cheesy potential here, this might be a fun, if mindlessly stupid enterprise.  But franchise movie-making is a serious venture, and all involved, including CGI villains must look steadfast in their professionalism.  Since character study, visual wonderment, or a perfunctory story take a back seat, there's enough time arch speeches of the power of will over fear (those two words in particular likely make up half the dialogue, credited to four screenwriters) and for veteran actors like Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett to stop by and collect paychecks; Bassett in particular distracts in a few brief scenes if only to agitate with memories of the few golden years in the early 90s when she seared the screen.

The silliest thing about The Green Lantern is that even with a premise made up entire of sci\fi hokum, there could still have a been a fun ride here.  Reynolds has a blank, sullen stare half the time, but is game enough, especially in the action sequences, and with a lighter approach it might have worked...Iron Man, for example, wasn't written off for having a sense of humor.  Instead, with its graver production, and perhaps graver movie-going environment, we're stuck with a joyless, flightless, altogether sodden superhero.  C-

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