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Green Lantern Review

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by Simon Crust Oct 24, 2011 at 2:20 PM

  • Just as DC and Marvel have been battling it out in the comic-book arena for years, so too are they against each other in the cinema. And DC, just like Marvel, are now looking to lesser known characters to make up their cinematic output. An inflammatory statement, perhaps, and I don’t mean to suggest that comic characters, from both stables, don’t have their legion of fans and followers – but when compared to stalwarts like Batman and Spiderman, Green Lantern and Thor aren’t as instantly recognizable, nor do they have their backstories ingrained in your psyche in the way that one associates with a better-known comic-superhero. And, as is customary for the first film, we are to look at the origin story. However, when you know the origins of tonight’s lead, Green Lantern, the problem starts when you consider that he is not confined to Earth, but is responsible for an area of galactic proportions. Indeed the very nature of his power is by galactic proportions that are bestowed and not gained by some ‘accident’. Thus to tell the origins of the Green Lantern, you first have to look at the overall picture, before peeling back the vast expanse to reveal the man behind it all. As such there is an awful lot going on in a very short amount of time and if not handled correctly the story will fall apart. Unfortunately, the makers got it wrong, and the resulting film commits the cardinal sin for a super-action-hero film. It is boring. Even with all the elements that make up this universe, many of which are included, the balance was askew and we have ended up with a turgid mess. So, slip on and charge up your bling, and let’s take a look inside the Green Lantern.

    The opening scenes spend a great deal of time laying down the back story for the main antagonist as well as describing the universe according to the ‘Lanterns’; twelve immortal Guardians harnessed the power of ‘will’ and forged rings to be wielded by Lanterns each responsible for one of the sectors that the universe has been dived up into. This is, of course, necessary information, but the way it is delivered is so ordinary – pure exposition – wouldn’t a far better approach have been to just dive into the action, Parallax’s murder of Abin Sur, the escape and finding of Hal. Since Hal knows nothing outside of his own existence, he is the perfect foil for all explanations of the ‘universe’ – at least the exposition then has a purpose. It would also have given the film a far punchier beginning. But alas this is not the case and we have to sit through scene after scene of introductory information. It is dull to those that already know the character from the comic-book incarnation and it is delivered so ordinarily that those that don’t have to suffer being ‘talked at’. Still at least things dramatically improve once we get to Earth and are introduced to our protagonist.

    Except they don’t. The actor chosen to play Hal Jordan/Green Lantern was Ryan Reynolds, who I’ve seen in (amongst others) Van Wilder: Party Liaison (a truly terrible film), Just Friends (which is even worse) and Buried, in which he held the film for the full run time almost single handedly and in which he seriously went up in my estimations. However, I still don’t think he is the ‘super-hero’ type; he doesn’t have, to me, the emotional quality needed to pull that off. Sadly my reservations came true. Now we know the guy can act, Buried is a testament to that, but that was a very different kettle of fish. A super-hero needs to have a certain look and a certain emotional core. The core has already been established in the comics, all Reynolds has to do is to emulate it, but sadly, a combination of his talent and the direction he was given lead to a distinctly average characterisation. When we first meet him, he has overslept from a night of passion and is late for a test flight. His day job is a test pilot, and I guess this scene is meant to endear him to us as an ‘everyman’ who, while he has a high-powered, risk-taking job, is really just ‘ordinary’. Well, no, a test pilot would never be so crass as to act the way he does with regards to his job. I liked the fact that he flew the aircraft against the robot drones to destruction, but the scene is meant to show us his ‘no fear’ attitude towards life, the pre-requisite needed for the Lantern Core, however it just comes off as, at best, reckless and, at worst, cowardly. It is during this scene that we discover the emotional background to his behavior – basically he’s never quite gotten over the death of his father while on a test flight. Now I like this aspect of the character, it gives him a drive and desire which would cause him to act the way he does, outside of his piloting career, but at least it is used effectively later when he needs to call upon untapped reserves in the climactic battle. So; emotionally unstable, father issues and a reckless nature, but with potential make him the only person in the world capable of receiving the Lantern Ring, an item that harnesses the power of the combined Will of every living thing in the Universe, and whose previous pre-requisite was that of having no fear. Circumstances dictate that the ring is bequeathed to Hal, he accepts, but is given no indication of what he has received, no instruction in what it means or what power he now wields, so he just goes about his normal life, that is until he inadvertently activates the Ring’s power and is thus drawn from Earth to the Guardians home planet of Oa, where he will finally receive full instruction.

    Oa is the centre of the ‘Universe’ insofar as all the sectors spread out from that point; it is also a safe haven for the three thousand plus Lanterns meaning they can go about their business unmasked. It is here where Hal’s ring first generates his costume. This is an idea taken directly from the comics and I think it works really well, no matter how much it has been derided. I think a suit made of pure energy, the way it is portrayed looks fine, it ‘sparkles’, no, my problem with it is the fact that it is not correct. Ok, movies have long altered the costumes of its super-heroes, in every incarnation; some have worked very well (Spiderman) some have drawn a lot of criticism (nipples on the Batman suit) but all have been correct in their interpretation – Hal’s suit is missing one crucial element. Where are his white gloves? It is a very small point, but the Green Lantern has always had white gloves, why change such a fundamental aspect, because it makes the suit look wrong, no matter how CG animated it looks. But I digress. On Oa, Hal is given the information he needs to understand what has happened to him and the weight of the responsibility he now carries. He is also instructed on what his Ring can do, how it is powered and then given training on how to use it. It is during this time that we are introduced to a number of the other Lanterns, all famous in their comic-book incarnations, each with their own individual characteristics and stories. Here, in the film, we’re given scant information about them, but at least they look like how they’ve been envisioned over the years. Tomar-Re is voiced with enigmatic authority by the great Geoffrey Rush, and mentors Hal in the ways of the Ring and his responsibilities; this role means he also acts as the film narrator. His discussion and instruction informs both Hal and the audience, and really should have been used to better effect rather than pure exposition. Kilowog is voiced with grim menace and absolute relish by Michael Clarke Duncan; who instructs Hal on how to use the Ring’s power to create constructs, citing that anything can be made, provided you have a strong enough will. This battle montage is also very well seen and a lot of useful information is conveyed in a concise and entertaining way. We are then introduced to Sinestro who is given form by ‘villain of the moment’ Mark Strong. He plays his character gruff and purposefully and ‘without fear’ whether it is beating Hal to a pulp, or arguing with the Guardians about how to handle Parallax. Though he has little more than a glorified cameo, Strong give a commanding performance for what is one of the fan’s favorite characters. If a sequel is ever commissioned it will be on the back of Strong’s performance.

    Back on Earth there are a slew of background characters that fill Hal’s life and, again, are meant to put some meaning to his journey. Childhood friend, on and off girlfriend, test pilot and company vice president Carol Ferris is played by a far too good looking Blake Lively for the part she is meant to be; not a complaint, just saying. She has very little to do other than look pretty and act as a late bit of peril for our hero, she does that very well. Taika Waititi plays Tom Kalmaku, Hal’s go to best friend in a pretty wasted amount of screen time. Hal’s family lay on the guilt about his reckless flying but at least he knows how to cheer up his nephew! Tim Robbins phones in his performance of Senator Robert Hammond, which is a shame as his character is the father of the earthbound antagonist and it’s that father/son relationship that is the root cause for the hardship that follows. This could have been another aspect looked at in comparison to Hal’s own issues, but it was sadly left dangling. Bringing us to Peter Sarsgaard as Dr. Hector Hammond, whose own daddy issues are a source of great antagonism. After becoming infected with some of Parallax’s yellow energy left over in the body of Abin Sur, Hector’s body becomes incredibly deformed and his mind expands to gigantic proportions granting him psychic powers. These, together with his dark-fuelled mind, see him descend into an abyss of hatred towards his fellow man, little wonder then that he and Hal will do battle.

    Finally we have the main villain, Parallax himself, voiced by Clancy Brown, though you’d never recognise him. Whilst Parallax the idea, a being that uses the yellow force of fear, is great and has worked extremely well in the comics, his visualization in the film leaves a lot to be desired. The premise was this: one of the most frightening things witnessed in recent memorywas the dust clouds tumbling down New York’s avenues after the awful attacks of September 2001; and the makers wanted to recreate the look of that horrific event by having vast amounts of alien dust, engulfing everything in its path, as it shoots down city avenues. Great. So why does the entire being have to be made as such? In space the entity that is Parallax just looks daft, a swirly mass of debris with a huge face in it – where is the fear in that? And what is worse is that we are never given any opportunity to feel frightened of it; how can we be expected to fear an entity that feeds on fear, when we’re not frightened of it? This is a fundamental flaw in the film, as even the climactic battle, which rages on Earth and in space, fails to engage as there seems to be nothing to lose, on either side. With no emotional connection it’s just a series of happenings or events unfolding, and honestly, as I said right at the beginning, ends up as plain boring. This is such a shame as the Lantern Universe is so vast and there is so much to explore and become involved in, yet the makers concentrate on such a small scale. Even when Hal makes his final standoff, and becomes the ‘hero’ of the comics, we, the audience, are still not connected to him – he never inspires, or has that ‘hero temperament’ to bring out the best in himself and others and, as such, leaves us out in the cold.

    No, the Green Lantern is a very flawed film and one that is made all the worse when you consider the vast amount of comic-book lore the film could have called on to inspire and engage. A film that is insipid towards it’s fan and does nothing to a new audience. A terrible shame.