Saturday, June 18, 2011

Green Lantern

"In Dullest Day, the Weakest Light..."
"Oa, the Humanity!"

When the silver-age of comics began in the late 1950's, the '40's age of super-heroes were being replaced with westerns, horror and science-fiction tales.  So, those earlier mystery-men were re-incarnated with sciency origins that no longer depended on mystic powers and a sense of right-and-wrong.  Befitting the times, the original Green Lantern was a railroad engineer, who happened upon a mystic rune that gave him extraordinary powers.  The modern GL was a test-pilot, bequeathed a magic ring by a dying alien who'd crash-landed his spacecraft while on patrol.  As the story progressed, the pilot Hal Jordan, found he had been made a part of an intergalactic police corps (based in no small part on E.E. Smith's "Lensmen" series and its "Galactic Patrol") led by a clutch of identical blue-skinned big-headed "Guardians of the Universe," who supervised the Corps on a planet in the middle of the Universe, Oa, where was built the Corps central battery from where all green power originated.  There are a lot of Green Lanterns, patrolling every corner of the Galaxy.  And they had two weaknesses: you had to recharge the ring or it would run out of juice after 24 hours, and it didn't work on anything yellow.

That's a lot of back-story.  Probably too much for one movie, and it pushes the credibility envelope that science-fiction movies can push before leaving general audiences in an anti-matter cloud of skepticism, if not downright derision.*  And the movie version of Green Lantern, written by a bullpen of the comics' writers crams enough emerald exposition to make any viewer green around the gills.  I know there are a lot of fan-boys out there who will probably cry crocodile tears if their favorite Lantern isn't in the movie (where's Ch'p?  And G'nort?), but it's only a two hour flick—you can't put the whole Universe (and Mogo) in it, though this one tries (Me, I just wanted to see that staple of Hal Jordan tricks—he can create anything he wants, and the thing he uses the most is a boxing-glove—I was not disappointed).

It took the rest of the movie to do that.  TMI is the least of this movie's problems.  As much as it pains me to say it, Green Lantern just isn't very good.  Casting is fine: Ryan Reynolds makes a great Hal Jordan, Blake Lively is merely okay as over-dependent on-again/off-again g-f Carol Ferris, and Peter Sarsgaard has a fun time screwing around with arch-villain Hector Hammond, affecting a John Malkovich whine before he turns into an ├╝ber-brained cross between Joseph Merrick and Truman CapoteMark Strong does nice work as the devilish looking "bad" Lantern Sinestro.  And with that, it's a kick to see some of these characters brought to life. needs a bit of a power battery charge.  The pace is a little sluggish**—with all the global and galactic goings-on, there's a little too much Carol Ferris interaction for the movie's own good—she's not as integral as, say, Lois Lane is to Superman, and she never really came into her own as a character until she became a super-hero, too (don't ask), and it's not as if Blake Lively was demanding that she had more to do.  Fact is, the scenes between Reynolds and Lively are the worst of the picture, as they're stuck with Screenwriter 101 dialog*** and little chemistry between them to make it in any way interesting.****  The tone is just a little too proud of itself—the Corps is taken VERY seriously, even though that's the part that should have been the most fun, and although Hal Jordan has the most wise-cracks with his "fish-out-of-water" learning curve, this is the latter-day mythos Jordan, suffering from "The Marvel Curse" of being angst-ridden over some lack in his life, in this case "absent-father" syndrome.

And The Guardians are even worse useless ideologues than they are in the comics, their pretentious dithering and superiority making their scenes sound like they were transcripts from the U.N.

But, there's something else about The Guardians that solved the riddle of what bothered me about the movie from the start.  It's one of the darkest movies I've ever seen, as if it was a 100 watt movie projected with a 20 watt bulb (I saw it flat, so I can't imagine what the 3-D version, which is always less bright, must be like).  There is just no "brightest day" in Green Lantern. It's when The Guardians show up on their too-high-seats (that should give you a clue about them) and you can barely make them out—they look plasticine and animatronic, less life-like than the Lincoln at Disneyland.  But that's not the worst of it, the sight of the entire Corps must surely be impressive, but you get the sense that the crowd scenes are merely composed of randomly moving blobs, and the design of the main bad-thing, Parallax—a Guardian possessed of the essence of fear—looks like a particularly gnarly piece of Brillo-pad that's been set on fire, with a blocky Mt. Rushmore face in the middle of it.  It all points to one thing—the FX shots are substandard enough that the film-makers—partcularly director Martin Campbell, who directed (and invigorated) the two best Bond movies of the past 20 years had so little confidence in so many of these shots that the entire film has been desaturated to keep the bad shots from standing out from the goodIt's not all bad.  The FX-wizards did impressive work with the GL costumes (completely CGI) and the couple of Lanterns that we see wellTomar-Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush) and D.I. Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan)—some of the flying works, but the landings are a little rocky.  But the ring-constructs are kinda dull (that's the scripters' fault)...lasso's and jets and guns and...Hot-Wheels tracks???  If we're doing product placement how about beating people over the head with a bottle of Coke (label out)?  "The only limits are what you can imagine."  Earth is in trouble.  But the retailers should do fine.

But, I think the worst thing about Green Lantern is that nothing resonates, nothing inspires, nothing evokes a sense of wonder or service.  Nothing even made me crack a smile—except that the green energy coming from the most powerful accessory in the world is apparently painful (as well it should be).  As a fan of the comics who wanted it to be good, watching the movie was painful for me.

Now, if you would, please repeat after me Yojimbo's empowering adaptation of the Green Lantern oath:

"In dullest day, the weakest light,
the SFX might look all right.
To cure the need to see the sight
of comic-flicks...
Green Lantern might."

Because it's just a Cable-Watcher.

"Green Lantern ponders the Universal Question: "why is there so much yellow paint in the world?"

* The secret is to couch your sci-fi in legend or familiar genres—so Star Wars gets a pass because it borrows liberally from westerns, samurai movies and old sci-fi, but A.I. Artificial Intelligence featuring robot-mother-love, melted ice-caps and "the mechas will inherit the Earth" provokes superior chortling.
** But then, so's Hal.  A couple of times during battle scenes I was thinking, "This guy can jet across the Galaxy.  Shouldn't he be showing up now, before anybody gets killed?"

*** "Nice." "Impressive, isn't it?"  "I was talking about your dress."  Really?  Is that a line they use at Comic-con's?

**** The only interesting aspect to her is that she sees GL is Jordan almost immediately: "I've seen you naked, you think I wouldn't recognize you by hiding your cheek-bones?"  Good point.  Although he DOES lower his voice as is par for the course in superhero movies. 

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