– Summary –
Director : Martin Campbell
Year Of Release : 2011
Principal Cast : Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Mark Strong, Peter Sarsgaard, Angela Bassett, Tim Robbins, Voices of Temuera Morrison, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clarke Duncan, Clancy Brown.
Approx Running Time : 114 Minutes
Synopsis: Hal Jordan, a test pilot for Ferris Industries, encounters a dying alien who informs him that he’s been chosen to bear the green ring of a Lantern, the galactic police corp established to seek out and defeat evil, wherever it may lie. Jordan’s cocky attitude and disregard for authority bring him into direct conflict with Sinestro, the leader of the Green Lantern Corp, while on Earth, a scientist by the name of Hector Hammond discovers the downside to an internal exam of the dead alien.
What we think : Nowhere near as bad as the critics suggested this was, it’s less The Dark Knight and more Fantastic Four, only without the four. Bright, shiny production values, coupled with Ryan Reynold’s almost pitch-perfect performance as the iconic Hal Jordan, ensure that even if the story doesn’t generate much tension, the film is still pretty fun to watch. It’s entertainingly stupid, the kind of film the kids can watch with little fear of being too frightened out of their minds, while still dreaming of having a power ring all their own. Harmless, goofy fun.
We’ve all done it. Dreamed about having superpowers or some magical device that would enable us to smack down the bullies, right the wrongs, and make us rich. Comic books have tapped into this desire since the early part of the 20th century, paving the way for creations such as Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man and all the rest – all imaginary folks who struggle with powers far beyond those of mortal men (ha), who must balance the weight of having the power with the responsibility of using it for good. Essentially, comic books are morality fables, as the titular Hero fights evil while at the same time dealing with his own internal conflicts. Green Lantern is less a film about internal conflict than it is a story of whup-ass. Which flies in the face of comic book movies these days, I think. Green Lantern as a concept hails from the hallowed halls of DC Comics, the direct major competitor of current comic-to-film powerhouse Marvel. I was always a DC guy, preferring to enjoy Superman, Batman and the rest of those heroes, instead of your Spider-Man’s and Hulks – I think the fact that DC had a longer, more iconic history than Marvel (in my eyes, at least) made this choice a little easier. What hasn’t been easy, however, is watching Marvel kick goal after goal with its own film productions of it roster of heroes, while DC’s roster sits unused, undeveloped, with the only exceptions being a critically derided Superman Returns, and the highly applauded Christopher Nolan Batman franchise. The Big Seven from DC, the major players in their arsenal of characters, includes Green Lantern, amongst other iconic genre characters like Wonder Woman, The Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Superman, Batman and the Flash. And yet, until now, only two of them have ever recieved the genuine big-screen treatment they deserved. Marvel, meanwhile, go from strength to strength building their cinematic world in the lead-up to The Avengers. Green Lantern, perhaps more than any of the other DC characters, lends itself perfectly to the modern blockbuster superhero movie – the scale is epic, the potential for cool visual effects is massive, and the stakes are astronomically high. Why, then, was Green Lantern derided by critics and fans alike? And were they right to do so?
Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a cocky, irresponsible test pilot for Ferris Aircraft, crash-lands his plane while performing a dogfight demonstration with his boss’s latest weapon – some sort of high-tech new aircraft designed for the military. Hal’s disregard for authority, and his love for Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) have given him a self-assured attitude which most of his friends treat with disdain – heck, even his family think he’s reckless to the point of suicide. When a dying alien crash-lands on Earth, and gives Hal a mysterious green ring, Hal’s life takes a turn for the worse. It seems the Ring has chosen Hal to become a member of the galactic police force known as the Green Lantern Corp, which draw upon the green power of Will for their strength in combating evil wherever they find it. As the new guardian of Earth’s sector of the universe, Hal has to establish himself quickly within the Corp, with lead Lantern Sinestro (Mark Strong) disbelieving his ability to wield the power well enough. On Earth, meanwhile, the dying alien is given an autopsy by Jordan’s childhood friend Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), and unwittingly ingests the yellow power of Fear from within it – the alien, Abin Sur, was fighting a galactic menace known as Parallax before he was injured, and the power of Parallax is now transferred to Hammond. At the same time as Jordan’s getting used to his own new-found powers, Hammond’s body and mind are also changing, becoming more deformed whilst developing telepathy and telekinesis. Hammond’s jealousy of Jordan, and his own personal attraction to Carol Ferris, draw out a primal rage that threatens to bring the full power of Parallax to Earth – and only a Green Lantern can stop it.
It’s a well known fact for comic books films that the first one usually needs to be an Origin Story – you have to set up the characters and conflicts within the franchise to enable those unfamiliar with the core creation to understand what’s going on. Comic books are a serialized, ongoing format, by and large, so the history and background to a lot of comic book characters can be quite convoluted, which, if you’re going to put up on the big screen, may send non-fans running for the hills. It’s a difficult thing to balance, a good Origin Story, and some, like Superman’s for example, almost need no introduction in the public mindset. Spider-Man and Batman too, I think, have become saturated in pop-culture consciousness, thanks to the many film iterations they’ve enjoyed down the years. Green Lantern, however, is different. Hal Jordan’s only had one parent killed (an accident), nor has he been orphaned by his homeworld’s destruction, nor has he been bitten by a radioactive animal – no, his powers are derived from a ring he wears, a ring which gets its power from the collected will of all living things, a power harnessed and utilized for good by the Green Lantern Corp, created by the immortal Guardians. Sounds a bit weird, I know, but Green Lantern has long been a staple in the DC Comics firmament, and I think he deserves the kind of big screen treatment only a major Hollywood studio can provide. Thankfully, DC is owned by Warner Brothers, perhaps the most famous and successful of all the Hollywood film studios. Which means we can enjoy plenty of money being thrown at the screen in the name of entertainment, all to bring Green Lantern to life. And first, you need his origin.
Green Lantern is directed by Martin Campbell, the man behind such cinematic outings as Goldeneye (the reinvention of James Bond for the 90’s), The Mask of Zorro (the reinvention of Mexico’s most famous hero), Vertical Limit, Casino Royale (the reinvention of Campell’s own reinvention of James Bond, this time for the New Millennium) and the film remake of his own British TV series, Edge Of Darkness, starring Mel Gibson. Campbell’s done enough around the industry to give me reason to believe his take on Green Lantern might be a worthwhile affair. He usually, to use a phrase the youth are using to describe quality action, “brings it”. Unfortunately, Green Lantern stumbles more often than it soars, and although I think the problem stems from an unfamiliarity with the character, as well as a screenplay that feels half written, it’s a film you’d consign to the same level as Superman Returns than you would The Dark Knight. It’s not a bad film, don’t get me wrong, but there are a number of issues than bring it undone from time to time. The screenplay was written by a committee – Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg are all listed as scripters for this thing, and you can kinda tell that too many hands touched it before it made it to the screen. The plot tries to incorporate far too many subplots; Jordan’s ongoing grief at the death of his father years prior, Hector Hammond’s chasm-sized distance emotionally from his father (played by Tim Robbins), the political interests of the Guardians and their impossible-to-read decisions regarding the fate of the Green Lantern Corp and the rebirth of a long-imprisoned Parallax, as well as numerous ancillary characters begging for time, adds up to an overwhelming concept for most audiences to understand. Fans of the character will rejoice in the appearance of all their favorite characters – and thank Campbell for deciding not to include Guy Gardner, no doubt – but those of you who have never picked up a comic book before will probably be sitting there wondering what on Earth you got yourself into. And that’s one of the problems with this film: it isn’t a film for the superhero novice. It’s a film better enjoyed and more understandable if you have at least a basic working knowledge of comics books, and Green Lantern comics specifically. Which isn’t what you want in a film like this – anybody, regardless of their appreciation for Green Lantern, should be able to watch this without having to have read a comic book before.
The scale of the film is so widescreen, so epic in size, that not even the largest screen can fully transmit the breadth of the narrative here. The GL Corp straddle the entire universe as protectors, and yet they seen consigned to stay on their home base planet of Oa, which is given a brief voice-over description by the wonderful Geoffrey Rush (who also plays one of the Lantern characters in the film) at the outset, but it’s an emotionless vacuum we’ve stumbled into here. The Corp are universal police, and yet there’s almost no attachment for us to them as characters; they exist simply to serve the story, and their internal mythology is poorly developed by the script. Killowog and Sinestro, two of my favourite GL characters outside of Jordan himself, are well portrayed here – Sinestro is performed by Mark Strong, while the CG Killowog is voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan, and yet for all their class, they seem reduced to the level of plot exposition at its worst – there’s almost no empathy generated by the paper-thin script here, and as a result, anything that happens to the Corp is met with a resounding “meh”.
Jordan, played by Ryan Reynolds, is a character perhaps best suited to the actors style. Reynolds met a lot of criticism for his portrayal of Jordan, not only from fans but from cinema patrons around the world – I’ve always enjoyed Reynolds in most of his films, and while I can see that he has some annoying traits some may find grating to watch, Green Lantern represents a perfect match of personality with a character. Reynolds is Hal Jordan, his cocky attitude and unrelenting smile encapsulating the smug arrogance the comic character enjoyed. Blake Lively is hardly a revelation as Jordan’s main squeeze, Carol Ferris, and while she’s nice to look at, her performance isn’t anything revelatory. That said, her character arc is like watching a cardiac patient flatline, it’s so devoid of life. Peter Sarsgaard hams it wonderfully as Hector Hammond, although the treatment of his character in this film indicates a very obtuse knowledge of the legacy his comic-book counterpart enjoyed, and it’s obvious the writers don’t quite know how to handle him. And his final fate, towards the end of the film, will be met with a giant “that’s what they decided to do with him?” sense of incredulousness. Then again, this isn’t a film you watch for carefully constructed characters and a meaningful plot – this is a comic book movie designed to work like a comic book. Flashy visuals, slick one-liners, tortured and malevolent villains, all work in combination to create a complete escape for the viewer for at least 90 minutes.
While the story tends to go nowhere in terms of emotional content, and the delivery of the performances are hit-and-miss, I still managed to enjoy the sense of wonder this film has going for it. That being said, the film did lack the one-two punch it needed to make it truly awesome, a lack of Hal Jordan using that fantastic ring to right wrongs and defeat evil through a large portion of the film means that we spend far too much time watching people talk than we do watching them brawling. Jordan has a few key moments to shine, namely saving a helicopter from killing dozens of folks when it crashes at a party, and trying to save the day when Parallax eventually reaches Earth. Jordan’s relationship with Carol is something of a bugbear for me, it’s the kind of plot device which should be almost second nature to Hollywood these days, and yet comes across as clunky and fake, no matter how hard Reynolds and Lively sell it. But they try, and you can see that, so any negativity I have towards the film is polarized by a sense of attempt, something I would normally overlook. Oa, the Green Lantern homeworld, is not quite as awe inspiring as the filmmakers would like us to think it is – it looks like a generic Star Trek creation cast aside for being too CGI. And it is too CGI, something plaguing the intergalactic feel this film has going for it. Green Lantern has a vast array of visual effects, and I’d be a pretty piss-poor critic if I didn’t at least mention the crazy decision to CGI Hal’s Lantern costume. It’s horrific, an eye-wateringly terrible effect, his suit – the green and black color design is lifted directly from the comics, but the execution of it inside the computer, instead of using real fabric and cloth, is jarring. I understand why it might be easier to do it this way, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.
This is a film with plenty of problems, not the least of which is an unforgiving fan-base who will be critical of every creative decision Campbell pulled out on this one. Some of the criticism Green Lantern received was justified, and some of it was not. The script is uneven in both tone and sense of wonder, the performances of the cast range from very good (Mark Strong) to okay (Reynolds) to totally over-the-top (Sarsgaard) to wooden-boat rubbish (Lively), and the effects are, by and large, pretty awesome. James Newton-Howard’s score is suitably epic, given the large scale the film’s narrative enjoys, and Campbell handles the action well enough without really managing to create a memorable moment out of any of it. It’s an enjoyable piece of popcorn fluff, and although there’s problems with it, if you check your brain at the door and just enjoy it for the razzle-dazzle it provides, you’ll have a good time.