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Green Lantern (2011)

GREEN LANTERN suffers, in our post-IRON MAN and THE DARK KNIGHT world, from feeling like a film from a time in which the superhero movie wasn’t an established film genre. It’s spends most of its running time trying to find a way to hook the audience, by being steadfastly familiar. It makes GREEN LANTERN an oddly tentative experience, as if it doesn’t know how far it can go with its own fantastical elements, and it consistently sides with convention over imagination.


GREEN LANTERN suffers, in our post-IRON MAN and THE DARK KNIGHT world, from feeling like a film from a time in which the superhero movie wasn’t an established film genre.  It’s spends most of its running time trying to find a way to hook the audience, by being steadfastly familiar.  It makes GREEN LANTERN an oddly tentative experience, as if it doesn’t know how far it can go with its own fantastical elements, and it consistently sides with convention over imagination.

Martin Campbell, in particular, is noticeably out of his element.  Campbell is a journeyman director, aping styles as needed for whatever project he’s tackling at the time — Spielbergian adventure for Zorro, Bourne-inspired action for James Bond.  He’s been vocal in the press about thinking of GREEN LANTERN as a superhero riff on STAR WARS, but the STAR WARS films he’s drawing from appear to be the prequel trilogy.  The visual effects, while totally in service to the cosmic story, feel like they’re from a decade ago — a time before directors had conquered the nuances of creating entire worlds or living characters with computers.

 It’s not to say the effects are “bad,” exactly, they just bear an unusually dated feel.  The Green Lantern Corps, aliens represented in the film as thousands of anonymous CGI doodles, fail to make any impression at all as actual beings — they’re weird-looking enough for a retail action figure aisle, but not alive enough to convincingly sell their power as defenders of the entire galaxy.  The base concepts of GREEN LANTERN — the existence of an intergalactic neighborhood watch, bearing rings that harness the “green energy” of willpower — are just funky enough to let the visuals get a pass; competent, but never confident.

 The film opens in outer space, so those effects set the tone for the entire movie.  Also setting the tone is a voice-over from Geoffrey Rush as Tomar Re, alien Green Lantern and narrator.  He speaks directly to the audience about the writhing otherworldly cloud of fear named Parallax, mentioning that it was captured by the Green Lantern Abin Sur.  After we hear this, we see Parallax escape, not from Abin Sur, but from its prison, an event that takes place before the narration.  Then, instead of revealing how Abin Sur was able to capture such a fearsome creature, we jump to the moment where the narration left off, with Abin Sur already carting Parallax around in a spaceship.

 So, in GREEN LANTERN’s opening minutes, we’re confused and disappointed.  Confused by the chronological order of the narration with what we’re seeing on screen, and disappointed that the film is already skimping on big moments.  This general sloppiness carries on through the story of Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), Abin Sur’s successor, a brazen test pilot from Earth selected by the ring to become a Green Lantern, and charged with picking up where Sur left off by stopping Parallax from spreading fear across the universe.  Jordan’s got his own set of emotional baggage to deal with while wrestling with the offer, hamstrung by the worry that he’ll never be as fearless as his dead father.

 The film hits all the reliable beats of the origin tale, and what little bits of surprise it finds are in the casting.  Mark Strong makes quite an impression as the cold Green Lantern Sinestro, sharing more on-screen chemistry with Reynolds than Reynolds’ love interest Blake Lively.  Peter Saarsgard, playing Hal’s intensely jealous rival Hector Hammond, stands out as an understated, believable weirdo amidst all the usual Summer movie bombast.  In fact, if you really want to nail down how ineffectual Martin Campbell is here as a director, watch closely the scenes between Saarsgard and Angela Bassett as Amanda Waller, perfunctory government stooge.  Bassett plays it phony, like she’s in a cartoon (arguably, she is), all stuffed shirt, severe haircut, and line readings that seem to say, “I have no idea what kind of movie I’ve gotten myself into, but here goes nothin’.”  Saarsgard, on the other hand, seems to be aiming for an Academy Award.

 If Campbell can’t be bothered with making sure his actors are on the same page (this inconsistency comes up again in an poorly staged confessional scene between Reynolds and Lively), and he isn’t demanding enough for bleeding edge special effects work, and he doesn’t care if the clumsy editing keeps his film from ever truly taking flight, then what good is he?  He’s not the anchor; he’s the albatross.  The fact that GREEN LANTERN succeeds at all can be pinned directly on the general appeal of its willing cast and the movie’s own adherence to its oddball comic book source material.

 I’d call GREEN LANTERN a success almost in spite of itself.  Much like the first X-MEN film, it’s carried through a connect-the-dots screenplay by its own strong concepts and characters, and leaves the door open for potentially more satisfying adventures.  A tentpole blockbuster can get by on awesome stuff.  Awesome stuff is awesome.  There’s a bunch of awesome stuff packed into this movie, but the movie itself is just diverting enough, never awesome.  It gets by.

 GREEN LANTERN succeeds as an almost literal adaptation of the comic (which should soothe fans), but as a film?  General audiences have moved past this kind of standard “getting to know you” phase.  They’ve bought into the concept of superheroes already, thanks to dozens of films before this, so you’ve got to bring more to the table than a hero’s tired soul-searching before he finally becomes a superhero.  GREEN LANTERN feels like a decent rough draft of a pretty cool sci-fi fantasy flick, but, in truth, completed films shouldn’t feel like rough drafts.


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