Green Lantern (Extended Cut, 2011) – Directed by Martin Campbell – Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Angela Bassett, Temuera Morrison, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jon Tenney, Jay O. Sanders, Clancy Brown, and Tim Robbins.
GREEN LANTERN is a major disappointment, but not because it’s awful. Rather, it’s a disappointment because it’s so darn mediocre. Despite the action-directing acumen of Martin Campbell and the earnestness of Ryan Reynolds, LANTERN is a dull, lifeless movie that fronts so much heart it doesn’t notice it’s completely lacking in any kind of soul.
Green Lantern has always been my favorite DC character (I was a Marvel kid, but because of Steve Englehart’s writing and the awesomeness of the Green Lantern Corps, GL was my way into the DC Universe), Martin Campbell directed one of the greatest action movies of all time (Casino Royale), and I’ve liked Reynolds going back to his Two Guys, A Girl, and a Pizza Place days. Stars seemed to be aligning for Green Lantern to deliver an amazing cinematic experience: there’s the steady hand of a veteran director, a rising star looking for a franchise, the state of CGI film making has never been better, and there is no hero in comics more tailor-made for CGI than Green Lantern. Add to that the fact that both Campbell and Reynolds were genuinely stoked to be working on the film, with Reynolds taking great pains to assure longtime GL fans that this would be a film that respected the comics, and I was firmly behind the attempt …
Until that first trailer came out, and there was the dorky suit and the crappy CGI and I decided to stop looking at trailers and reading reviews. What I said about the trailer was this: “I do leave convinced that Reynolds is going to be great in this movie and I’m sure the CGI renderings will be cleaned up between now and then. [...] What we ultimately get in the first GREEN LANTERN trailer is the reassurance that the movie won’t suck without the promise of it actually being any good.”
Look, sometimes you watch a trailer and they’re deceiving, and sometimes they are exactly right, and in this case, it was pretty spot-in. My take on the LANTERN trailer is much more right than wrong; after seeing the film, I’d say Reynolds is very good instead of being great but LANTERN is a movie hits that forgettable middle.
GREEN LANTERN is a bit unique in that it’s not the trailer that’s deceptive – it’s the poster. Most of the movie posters and the Blu-ray/DVD packaging emphasize the Corps, but stare at the cover for 15 minutes and that’s just about as much Corps as you get in this movie. Astoundingly Earthbound, GREEN LANTERN’s visual packaging does everything it can to play up the Corps and outer space, yet the film does everything it can to stay AWAY from OA and the Lanterns. It’s a horrendous choice and speaks to just how confused Campbell, Reynolds, and the rest of the production and marketing staff are over what they want to do with this film.
Take Hal Jordan. He’s endearing because he’s a kid who sees his dad get blown up. Then he’s a scoundrel because he grows up, sleeps around and doesn’t take his job seriously. Then he’s a brilliant pilot. Then he’s a dick who screws up a test and ruins the company. Then he’s a great uncle. Then he’s whisked across the universe. Then he runs away. Then it turns out he didn’t ruin the company, after all. Then he saves lives. Then he’s dressed down by the woman he loves for being a coward. Then he admits he’s afraid. Then he’s all heart. I mean, all heart. He’s so all heart that he runs back to Oa and makes an impassioned appeal to the Guardians, and then he’s so all heart that he goes back to earth and makes an impassioned plea to Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) to not be mean, and none of it – absolutely none of it – feels like anything more than a random set of attitudes. It’s not character development as much as it is character contrivance.
And here’s the thing – Reynolds is good at all of it. He’s been doing snark for years but he does a surprisingly decent job doing heart, too. The problem is they push it too far, turning him too earnest too fast so that it just rings false. It’s compounded by having Hal be such a convert to earnestness that Reynolds comes off in the back-half of the movie as naive, or even brainwashed.
There’s a naive quality to the whole movie, like we’re trying to shoehorn the contemporary Green Lantern concept into some old-fashioned throwback idea. The good guys are super gorgeous and the bad guys are super ugly. The whole opening with Hal as a kid, and Carol Ferris as a kid, and Hector Hammond as a kid … it just doesn’t work. Especially since the big payoff is that Hal watches his dad (a test pilot for Ferris Industries) crash his jet and then, as Hal runs to the scene of the accident, beating everyone else, the jet blows up just as daddy is climbing out of the cockpit. It’s unusually cruel and, more damningly, there’s no effective payoff for it. (We even get to watch it in flashback about 15 minutes after we watch it the first time.)
There’s no effective payoff for anything in GREEN LANTERN. Hal watches his dad blow-up and then tries to live up to his dad’s legacy by never being afraid of anything. Of course, as Carol (Blake Lively) tells him, his dad was afraid, he was just good at hiding it. When Hal admits he gets afraid, too, that frees him up to become a hero. It’s a nice transitional moment but Hal’s transformation to Mr. Earnest just sort of happens instead of feeling like a breakthrough.
Another issue with the film is that the CGI is for crap. Almost all of the events in space (the few times we actually go to space) look completely phony. The opening sequence of the film introduces us to Parallax (voiced by Clancy Brown) looks like a cut sequence from a Halo knock-off, not a major motion picture. When Hal goes to Oa, it doesn’t look much better. Tomar Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) is the same. So’s Oa. It all looks incredibly cheap, stilted, and phony, and these ridiculous uniforms the Corps wears smacks of someone on the movie end deciding they could do it without wondering if they should.
The CGI does work in regards to the ring effects. Parallax looks good, too, once he gets to Earth, menacing Coast City like some alien Cthulu, but it’s not enough.
I realize it is a bit hypocritical of me to complain that the film doesn’t spend enough time in space at the same time I’m arguing that the space CGI looks cheap, but as I mentioned, it’s a conflicted film.
Back to the lack of payoffs: little ever comes back around to be worth our time in the first place. We see Hal, Carol, and Hector as kids and then see them as adults, but there’s no emotional connection between them. Hector reveals that he’s always been in love with Carol but that Hal got in the way, but it’s just a line. I don’t ever feel that Hector really loves Carol; I feel like his fascination with Carol is more a reflection of his general unhappiness at how his life turned out.
Which, to be honest, seems to be a general dissatisfaction with his own ugliness and awkwardness and failure to be loved by daddy (Tim Robbins).
Which brings me to Carol. I’ll say this for Blake Lively, she’s the only actor in the film who wholly belongs in the film. While everyone else is busy playing superhero or politician or intergalactic soldier (the GLC don’t do any cop things in the film) or crazy-head-expanding scientist, Lively seems to realize this is an absurdist story about a little boy in a man’s body struggling to please his absent father. Carol is a daddy’s girl pilot-slash-businesswoman (with no daddy issues) who’s into Hal yet continually frustrated/disappointed by him. I say “into” and not “in love with” because Hal and Carol demonstrate all the chemistry of two really good looking people who decided one day that they were always going to be the two most good looking people in any room they were ever going to be in, so they might as well have attractive person sex together. After Hal tells her about Oa, she doesn’t ask him, “Are you stoned?” She just accepts that he’s now part of an intergalactic police force and then scolds him for running away, yet again. The alien space cops don’t matter – running away does.
Lively delivers the best line in the movie; when Hal-as-GL shows up after he’s saved her life, Carol recognizes him. “How did you …?” “I’ve seen you naked,” she answers, “you think I’m not going to recognize you because I can’t see your cheekbones?” It’s a good line, but there’s not enough of them. Reynolds delivers a few early on when he’s in jerk/snark mode, but the film is so interested in getting him past that personification that there’s not enough of it.
Another big problem with LANTERN is that it doesn’t properly set-up its villains. We have a binary with Hal and Hector (the two little boys in adult bodies) but Hector’s not a real threat. He gets infected by a bit of Parallax’s yellow energy and gains the ability to hear other people’s thoughts. Then his skull starts expanding, turning him horrendously ugly. It’s so childish and old-fashioned and it doesn’t work because Hector’s not the real bad guy. He’s just the cinematic patsy to get Parallax to Earth.
Parallax as the villain doesn’t work, either, because the film spends loads of time telling us he’s the Big Bad and the biggest threat the Corps has ever faced, but then the Corps and the Guardians are all like, “You got this, Newbie,” when Hal comes and asks them for help. They decide they’ll make their stand someplace other than Earth and they’re completely willing to sacrifice Earth in the process.
No, really, that’s what they do.
Seriously, how does this make us like the Corps or the Guardians? Why would we want Hal to side up with these elitist space pigs?
I kept waiting for the Corps to realize the error of their ways and show up at Earth anyway to help take down Parallax, but apparently the film makers are more interested in showing that now that Hal admits he’s afraid of things he gets to be the Greatest Hero Ever. When Sinestro (Mark Strong), Kilowog (voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan), and Tomar Re show up it’s just to stop Hal from falling into the sun, not to actually help defeat Parallax. Kilowog crows about how he knows how to train Lanterns and Sinestro tosses some compliments Hal’s way at a meeting of all Lanterns (as I said, the Lanterns don’t police, they soldier with Oa as their base), but it all rings false since none of them were there to help. It’s like the cool kids in high school making a show of liking the uncool kid because they find out the uncool kid has a car and free access to booze.
The only time all film when I became emotionally invested was in the epilogue when Sinestro tries on the yellow power ring. As his costume turned yellow and the best villain in the DC Universe was born, that gave me chills, but only because of the fanboy in me. The film doesn’t make Sinestro a compelling character; it just makes him look like a small-headed weirdo.
On the whole, GREEN LANTERN is a truly frustrating movie. Neither good nor horrible, with some parts that work and others that don’t, with bad CGI, a truly horrific score by the usually solid James Newton Howard, LANTERN never gets up and running. It’s the kind of film that’s always searching for what it wants to be, and while Reynolds is game for all of it, he never embodies an actual person.