Review: Green Lantern (2011)

Green Lantern

Rating

Director
Martin Campbell
Screenplay
Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, Michael Goldenberg
Length
114 min.
Starring
Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong, Tim Robbins, Jay O. Sanders, Taika Waititi, Angela Bassett, Tamuera Morrison, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Clarke Duncan, Clancy Brown
MPAA Rating
PG-13

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Review
I used to watch several cartoon programs as a kid. Among them were the Green Lantern and the Justice League which. I remember the show somewhat well, simply because the ring itself made an impression on me, so going into the latest DC comic adaptation carries with it a measure of nostalgia that may, in the end, have been too palpable to avoid influencing my opinions.

Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is a hot-shot pilot whose egomania gets in the way of his emotional relationships with friends and family. The film opens on a flustered Hal rushing to a corporate flight range where, along with his frequent flying partner and desired love interest Carol (Blake Lively), he’ll be testing a new remote-controlled drone programmed by his close friend Tom (Taika Waititi) and the lynchpin of a multi-billion dollar government contract his employer is trying to land. Instead of showing how capable the drones are, he decides to break a number of flight rules to thwart the altitude-susceptible machines. In the process, he crashes the expensive fighter jet he’s piloting.

The plot itself stems from a tragic childhood where Hal’s father, also a prominent pilot was killed in a fiery explosion right in front of him. His father’s tenacity and personal motto of never being afraid leads Hal to a lifetime of personal disappointment as his fear and confidence take frequent blows from various outlets, forcing him to overcompensate with cocksure acts of defiance. When a mysterious alien craft crash lands on Earth and its pilot sends a mystical ring in search of the planet’s most noble and capable individual to wear it, Hall is drawn to the site of the crash where he’s informed that the ring has chosen him and that he must now activate it with the giant lantern the alien carries with him and act as his sector’s galactic defender as part of the prominent Green Lantern Corps.

The ring eventually whisks him light years away to meet with the Corps to train and understand his role as a universal defender, but his impudence and lack of confidence lead him to fail the training session and earn the ire of the group’s leader Sinestro (Mark Strong). With his tail between his legs, Hal returns to earth, shows off his nifty trinket and performs cheap tricks to save a handful of party attendees at his company’s latest flesh-pressing event.

Ryan Reynolds has many of the qualities his character requires, but may have been a bit too rugged to take on this role. Hal Jordan doesn’t feel like the kind of person who needs to have a chiseled body. He reminds me more of Bruce Banner (the Incredible Hulk), a man of estimable skills but otherwise seemingly innocuous. That doesn’t prevent Reynolds from doing a serviceable job in the role, which keeps the audience from becoming bored by the series of truncated plot pieces that weave into a sometimes confusing, other times pointless overarching plot. Said plot involves a malevolent, gaseous space cloud of fear, growing as it consumes planet after planet of living creatures, eats its way towards earth, the ultimate smorgasbord of fear and trepidation. Hal must face his fear and understand that it doesn’t control him but informs his decisions, making him a stronger man than for which any would give him credit. Hal is supposed to grow as the film progresses and while the alterations are minimal, Reynolds does his best to keep things grounded.

The rest of the cast delivers perfunctory performances as underdeveloped characters that enter and exit the hero’s life without leaving an impression with the audience. This is a bit surprising when actors like Oscar nominee Angela Bassett, Oscar winner Tim Robbins and accomplished actor Peter Sarsgaard can’t ham it up enough to make the film into a self-parody. And since I know that Reynolds has the capability of creating believable characters, the fault for the film’s failures lies in a combination of directing and writing.

Screenwriting teams may work for episodic or variety programs on television but on the big screen, there’s only one place that I’ve seen a multi-member team work and that’s at Pixar. Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg have delivered a amorphous screenplay that meanders for nearly two hours and then ends with no measurable fanfare. The one thing they did well was set the film up for a sequel (as witnessed in the post-credits bonus scene). Several heads can deliver witty one-liners that don’t necessasrily conform to a script, but they seldom blend together well enough to make for a concentrated and tightly plotted narrative.

Director Martin Campbell has done some strong work in the past, but this film seems to be a thematic mess. It jumps from location to location without considering its starting point or its conclusion. Some scenes feel unnecessary, serving as exposition and nothing more. And while I love exposition, doing so with throwaway scenes that have no bearing on the plot or provide no major thrust to the film is frustrating. Campbell’s Casino Royale and GoldenEye, both Bond franchise reboots, show us that he’s got the capability, but Green Lantern makes me wonder if those previous efforts were simply produced or written into quality pictures. This suggests taht perhaps Campbell knows how to direct a good script, but doesn’t know how to fix a bad one.

Fans of the comic aren’t going to be as impressed with this film as they were with the likes of The Dark Knight or the Avengers films. Part of this comes from a lack of creative control exercised by DC when its products are adapted to the big screen. Marvel faced similar problems several years ago when it saw a handful of disappointments like Elektra and Daredevil. It saw this as an opportunity to push in and take ownership of its properties. The result is a string of successful and popular films that showed the genre doesn’t have to be mindless entertainment (à là Michael Bay) to be celebrated. If DC would step back and focus itself on a consistency with its film licensing, they might have more successes like Dark Knight and fewer flops like the failed Superman Returns franchise reboot.

Yet having a director that has passion for the characters and stories, and looks to bend the genre to his will instead of letting the conventions manipulate his decisions may be a bigger benefit. As Christohper Nolan proved with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, you don’t have to worry about artistic control when you have someone fiercely dedicated to the project on your side. Campbell feels like a director-for-hire on a project like this, subjected to the whims of an overzealous production studio wanting to make buckets of money, but not necessarily buckets of esteem.

For all of the many frustrations and failures in Green Lantern, there’s a glimmer of hope for the series. The studios have greenlighted a sequel and with the critical drubbing the film has received, producers may look to retool the franchise and seek a strong screenwriter to craft the second film. If they don’t, they could face a similar fate as the poorly written Fantasic Four films. The first wasn’t too bad, providing the audience with a measure of excitement and a promise of future improvements, yet when the final film came out, it collapsed under its own poor conception. Perhaps Green Lantern 2 will learn that lesson, but unless DC gets its act together and starts insisting on script approval, I’m afraid we might not be so lucky and being gobbled up by a formless cloud of fear will feel like a more satisfactory fate.
Review Written
August 5, 2011

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